SUBJECTS:  Senator Cash; Bullying in schools; University colleges; Universities.

KIERAN GILBERT, PRESENTER: For more on the Cash matter I spoke to the Deputy Labor Leader, Tanya Plibersek, and began by asking her what exactly would Labor like to see from the Minister?

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well it's a withdrawal you give when you don't want to make a proper apology. ‘If anybody was offended I withdraw’ - that's actually very mealy-mouthed. She should just apologise. She should walk down to Bill's office and front the women that she's offended and say sorry to them.

GILBERT: So your conversations with staff, have they been upset by the remarks?

PLIBERSEK: Oh look, people around here are pretty tough, you have to be a bit thick-skinned to work in politics, but yes, they are, I suppose they're really disappointed that they're highly professional, hard-working, dedicated young women, and we're back at this 1950’s attitude that if there's a woman in the office she's a obviously some sort of distraction and I don't understand it. You know when Elizabeth Reid was first appointed Gough Whitlam's Women's adviser in 1973, you look at the media coverage - it's the same sort of stuff that Michaelia Cash was saying yesterday.

GILBERT: So you don't want her to go to into the Senate Committee or Parliament, you want her to face up to those individuals?

PLIBERSEK: Look I don't care really where she apologises. I think common decency would say you front the person that you've offended in this way, but if she wants to do it in the Senate Chamber or in the Estimates Committee, that's fine.

GILBERT: In relation to the questions being asked at the time, this is no defence of what was said but is it time that Labor also ease up on the staff questions?

PLIBERSEK: What we were curious about are the movements between political offices and appointments in agencies that the Minister controls. Now there is a legitimate public interest in working out whether political staffers are being appointed to public sector organisations for political reasons. I think that's legitimate.

GILBERT: Onto schooling and education matters, do you welcome the Prime Minister's move to write to all principals and urge them to be a part of the national day against bullying coming up in March?

PLIBERSEK: Any highlighting of the issue of bullying is a good thing. I think most principals are very, very aware of bullying as a problem in their schools. I think anything that reduces bullying in schools is to be welcomed, but don't forget the $17 billion extra that Labor has on the table for schools. Of course that's about reading, writing, science, coding, all those basics, but it's also about the social and emotional well-being of kids. If you cut funding from schools it's harder to deliver the programs that make a difference to bullying.

GILBERT: Does that include awareness campaigns for the kids themselves via the teachers? What exactly works here?

PLIBERSEK: There are a lot of programs that work. I've visit a lot of schools and some schools have a very strong anti-bullying culture. It really helps if you start early, it helps if you start from kindergarten and build up positive behaviours in kids, but there's a lot of evidence of what works. You just need to have to resources to deliver those programs and there needs to be a culture in the schools so that it's not just one lesson a week that talks about issues like bullying but that all relationships in the school from kindergarten onwards model -

GILBERT: The health thing?

PLIBERSEK: - good behaviours, inclusive behaviours.

GILBERT: To the other end of schooling and education, to the higher education area where we've got, you're giving a speech today in fact which addresses this issue of hazing in university colleges and assault and harassment. Should you just withdraw any taxpayer funds? I mean, if you win the election, can you just pull the money from these colleges if they don't lift their game?

PLIBERSEK: The funding arrangement between the Federal government is mostly with the university itself rather than with the college so we don't have that very easily as a lever, but I'm not ruling anything out at this stage.

GILBERT: But a lot of the colleges would have wealthy alumni as well that fund them?

PLIBERSEK: They do, yes they do, but I think if colleges can't provide a safe living environment for their residents, the universities should consider severing ties with them.

GILBERT: Shut them down?

PLIBERSEK: Well yes. From the first step would be colleges actually taking this seriously and properly changing their culture instead of just seeing another 30 years of talk. It's been 30 years that I've been hearing these stories.


PLIBERSEK: There's been report after report. Some colleges have definitely changed their culture but there's still too much of this behaviour going on, so in the first instances the colleges should act. If the colleges can't get it right then the universities should use whatever levers they have with the colleges to provide a safe environment.

GILBERT: To change the culture like we were talking about with primary school kids, but it's the same principle isn't it, at universities, about building a better culture?

PLIBERSEK: Yes and don't forget a lot of these people are straight from high school. They're 18 or 19 years old. You have to provide a safe living environment. Parents are entrusting their children to a college. They don't expect them to have to be frightened that they'll wake up in the middle of the night with 3 strange men in their bedroom and one of the really disturbing figures I read in the reports I've been reading Keiran, is that over 5 years, close to 600 assaults or sexual misconduct reports, about a quarter were actual rape, 6 people expelled for almost 600 reports of assault. 6 people expelled, so universities can act, making sure -

GILBERT: So will this be a big priority for you if you win the election, in terms of acting on this as quickly as possible?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, absolutely. We need to have real action rather than just talk, and there's been too many reports and too many talk fests. Enough is enough.

GILBERT: Finally, in relation to your speech again today, why a 3 year funding agreement? Why is that important to return to that 3 year arrangement?

PLIBERSEK: Well we've said that we will return to stable 3 year funding arrangements because the universities have been facing 1 year funding agreements. It's very hard to plan ahead if you don't know -

GILBERT: Isn't that just because the Government can't get the deal through the Parliament?

PLIBERSEK: It can't get its cuts through the Parliament is the right characterisation of that. We're not intending to be pursuing cuts the way the Government is. We think universities need to have 3 year funding cycles so they can plan ahead.