SUBJECTS: National Inquiry into Post-Secondary Education, Citizenship, Barnaby Joyce, Prime Ministerial Code of Conduct

SAMANTHA MAIDEN, PRESENTER: We're going to go live now to Melbourne where the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, Tanya Plibersek, is standing by to discuss these new reforms that the Labor Party is announcing today in relation to education and specifically TAFE and the vocational education and training space. Just take us through it Tanya, what is the Opposition announcing today?

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Sam. Look we know that there are jobs that people are doing today that were unimaginable 5 or 10 years ago, and that pace of change is speeding up all the time. So we want a post-secondary school education system that prepares our young people for the jobs of the future. We want an excellent, strong TAFE system and an excellent, strong university system, we want both of those to be equally attractive options to students making a choice about where to study, and we want TAFE and university to work better together. This is the first big review of post-secondary schooling in many years. It's about 10 years since the review into universities - the Bradley Review - but it's 44 years since we've done a major review into TAFE and in a world that's changing as quickly as it is, with jobs changing as quickly as they are, we want a system that's fit for purpose.

MAIDEN: OK, so this is a really interesting issue because we went through this during the Howard years, this idea that every child was really being encouraged that university was the be all and end all and yet there's this huge shortage of people in some cases in the trades. Do you think that too many kids are going to university that should consider TAFE as an alternative?

PLIBERSEK: No I don't think that at all. I actually think it's really important to continue to increase the proportion of young Australians who get a university education, and we know that there's a real uneven distribution of this as well. We particularly need to make sure that kids from regional and rural backgrounds, indigenous kids, non-English speaking background, get an opportunity of a university education. There's some suburbs in Sydney where more than 60% of - right around the country this is the case - some places where more than 60% of people have a university degree, and there's other places where it's fewer than one in five people. So we definitely need more people continuing to study at university. That's why we uncapped places that's why we're so angry that the Government has effectively recapped university places. But we also need more people studying at TAFE. We know that by 2020 two-thirds of all jobs created will need a TAFE or university education to do them. Only a very small number will be jobs that you can do with just a high school education. So we want people considering the best post-secondary school option for them, and Sam the other thing we know is that more and more people will retrain throughout their working lives. They'll continue to upgrade their knowledge and skills. They might do a university degree and then go to TAFE for a while to pick up some technical knowledge in a particular area. They might do a TAFE qualification and then go on to a university after that. We genuinely want people to be life-long learners because we know that many people won't just be changing jobs throughout their working lives, they'll actually be changing careers too. So we need a system that recognises that.

MAIDEN: OK and just finally on this, you've been critical of state Liberal governments for taking money away from TAFE and vocational training, you've been critical of the Coalition for cutting or threatening to cut university funding, but you haven't actually confirmed that you're going to put any of that money back or all of that money back, have you?

PLIBERSEK: Well we've fought the Liberal cuts to universities every step of the way, and the most recent cuts of $2.2 billion before Christmas, the reason that the Government are doing them in this way is because Labor's powerless to stop them. They've gone around the Parliament to cut $2.2 billion. Of course we're opposed to those cuts. When it comes to TAFE in the last budget alone the Federal Government cut more than $600 million from TAFE education. We've said we will restore every dollar that's been cut and we've got another $100 million on the table to upgrade our TAFE facilities. That's before this review. So we are absolutely committed to proper funding for TAFE and universities but the question is not only about proper funding, as important as that is, it's about how will this system be fit for the future, in 10 and 20 and 30 years' time. And I'll say this to you Sam, the Federal Government has cut $2.75 billion - 2 and three quarter billion dollars from TAFE and vocational education and training, and the impact of that is seen throughout the system throughout the country. We’ve got 140,000 fewer apprentices, We've got about a decline of about a third of Government-funded hours taught in TAFEs across Australia. We've got fewer students today in TAFE than there were just a few years ago. The system is under enormous pressure and we have to meet those pressures. But we also have to look to future, to the long-term future. How do we rebuild in a way that makes TAFE and universities future-proof, responsive to the jobs of the future.

MAIDEN: OK let's go through the latest, I don't know what you'd call it, dramas in Federal politics. But let's start with the citizenship fiasco. Parliament resumes next week or at least the House of Representatives does. Why would you not refer your any remaining MPs to the High Court at that stage, so we can just put this nonsense behind us?

PLIBERSEK: We would. We tried to at the end of last year. We just said that we're happy to refer our people as long as the Government refers their people that are in similar circumstances. We're still happy to do that. Bill's written to the Prime Minister again to urge him to do that, to do one job lot, let's get this over and done with. We voted to refer our own people in the final sitting weeks last year. The only thing that's not fair is that we would refer our people and the Government would run a protection racket for their people in similar circumstances. Let's do one job lot, let's get on with it, people are sick of talking about it, you're quite right.

MAIDEN: One thing that I'm left a bit confused though in the case of one of the Labor MPs involved, and you know obviously there's this very sad situation with her mum, that she hasn't been in contact and all the revelations that she didn't have the birth certificate, but we now know that she can go to the Department and get one in Queensland, this is the Member for Longman. Why does she not do that and how on earth does she propose to fight a by-election if she doesn't get that sorted out? When is she going to renounce her citizenship?

PLIBERSEK: Well of course that will have to be sorted out, but like I say, we will are willing to test- 

MAIDEN: But why hasn't it been sorted out yet?

PLIBERSEK: - the validity of the - all of our legal advice was that Susan took every reasonable step and when you look at the information available on the Births, Deaths and Marriages website in Queensland, anybody who tried to go through those processes themselves would see that the website tells you that you're not able to get the certificate in these circumstances. But like I think Sam, again, we're into, kind of, grubbling through the details of this. Let's just let the Court decide it, I mean, don't forget the Prime Minister said to us Barnaby Joyce was fine.

MAIDEN: I just don't understand why she doesn't go and get it sorted out.

PLIBERSEK: We're not lawyers, let's just let the High Court decide.

MAIDEN: No, no, no but like when we talk about reasonable steps, all reasonable steps, clearly she now knows she can go and get the birth certificate without her mother's permission. Why doesn't she do that and renounce it? You know that she's still a dual citizen?

PLIBERSEK: But that doesn't, well, we don't know that because the British Government said that they couldn't tell whether she was a dual citizen. But that doesn't actually deal with what happened before the last election anyway. That is still an issue to be determined and if we're going to refer as a job lot to the High Court I think people would be grateful to put of all this behind us. I agree with you. People are tired of talking about it. We've all become Constitutional legal experts in more detail than we ever expected or wanted to be in the last six months, but at the end of the day it's only the High Court that can decide. We had the Prime Minister saying that Barnaby Joyce was fine, and the High Court will so hold, and yet the High Court didn't. Let's leave it to the Court but let's refer everyone about whom there are questions at the same time, not use Government numbers to refer Labor MPs in a way that the former Attorney-General George Brandis said would be a very dangerous precedent. Let's just refer anybody about whom there are questions. And don't forget, David Feeney is someone who couldn't satisfy us to the extent that we needed to be satisfied. We were happy to refer David Feeney. We say that our people have taken all reasonable steps. The Government says their people have taken all reasonable steps but it's only the High Court that can be the final arbiter of that. Let's get it done.

MAIDEN: OK just quickly now that Barnaby Joyce is facing a sexual harassment complaint, should he stand down from the job while that is investigated?

PLIBERSEK: I'm not going to go into the details of the complaint because there's not enough publicly available information for me to make a sensible comment. All I would say about these most recent allegations is that the National Party should assure Australians that they will be properly investigated and the findings properly made public so that all Australians can have confidence that the National Party has investigated properly. I mean it didn't really take this for me to think that Barnaby Joyce needed to stand aside. He's been caught out. He's been caught out ignoring the Prime Ministerial Code of Conduct on multiple occasions. He's refusing to answer questions still about some of the travel that he's done, whether it's been on the taxpayer or not. He's obviously taken fee accommodation from a mate and not properly disclosed it and a mate, as it transpires, that benefitted to the tune of thousands of dollars of money from a Department that Barnaby Joyce was responsible for as a Minister. There's all sorts of problems here that are glaring breaches of the Prime Ministerial Code. If the Prime Minister had any guts he would actually take action to get rid of Barnaby Joyce on the basis that he's breached the Code again and again and again.

MAIDEN: Front page - and again and again - front page article of The Australian today is confirmation of the first confirmed case of a mother and a baby born overseas to a dad who was an ISIS fighter are back in Australia. Does that concern you and do you agree with Peter Dutton that the law needs to be changed to make it easier to strip some of these foreign fighters of citizenship if they hold dual citizenship which obviously could also affect whether or not some of these kids can come back and grow up in Australia?

PLIBERSEK: As far as the fighters go I think they should be dealt with as far away from Australia as possible and if they never make it back I won't be shedding any tears. But where the children are concerned I do feel differently. These children are, who've been either taken there against their will or born in a conflict zone, I think they're the victims of child abuse. Their parents have been as reckless as a parent could possibly be and however much blame I attach to the parents I don't attach blame to the children, so we need to be sensitive to the needs of these kids, some of them are tiny babies, born in a war zone.

MAIDEN: OK Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for your time today in Melbourne, you've been very generous with it.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Sam, great to talk to you.