SUBJECTS:  Liberals’ cuts to schools hurt public schools and Catholic schools most; uni cuts; citizenship; Batman by-election; Shadow Cabinet.

SAMANTHA MAIDEN, PRESENTER: Well Labor has seized on new data from the Parliamentary Budget Office showing that some low fee Catholic schools and public schools will be worse off under the Government's new schools’ policy. Joining me now live to discuss this and other issues is Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek and education spokesperson. So what does this Parliamentary Budget Office data show?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: So we've got data from the Parliamentary Budget Office and the National Catholic Education Commission that shows that the vast bulk of the cuts over calendar year 2018 and 2019 will hit public schools and low fee Catholic schools. So 86% of the cuts hit public schools. Another 12% hit Catholic schools and just 2% go to independent schools.

MAIDEN: When you talk about cuts what are we comparing it with? Are we comparing it with Labor's policy that, you know, got unpicked a couple of years ago or, like, what's the-

PLIBERSEK: Well Labor's policy, the legislation that we introduced and the agreements we signed with the states and territories was the status quo. That's what existed last year until the Government changed it. Tony Abbott did try and cut education funding in the 2014 Budget but he was never able to get those changes through the Parliament so we're comparing what would have been the case in 2018 and 2019 under Labor's arrangements with the legislation that passed the Parliament last year. So it's a total of $2.19 billion of difference to Australian schools for just 2018 and 2019. And parents-

MAIDEN: What is that in the forward estimates?

PLIBERSEK: You're challenging my memory, it's just over $5 billion over the forward estimates I think.

MAIDEN: OK but are you going to commit to put that whole $5 billion back?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. We have said that we will restore every dollar of the $17 billion cut over the decade. Every dollar of that $17 billion and what's most important is that the biggest increases should go in the fastest time to the neediest schools and what this Parliamentary Budget Office and National Catholic Education Commission data shows is the biggest effect, negative effect, the biggest cuts are actually hitting public schools and Catholic schools under Malcolm Turnbull's arrangements.

MAIDEN: OK. Now the university funding debate has also been bubbling along. You haven't actually promised though to put back all of the Government's university cuts. When are you going to explain to voters what your plan is for universities?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we're in a crazy situation where we have been able to stop all of the cuts that the Government have tried to make through Parliamentary arrangements and what they've done now is go around the back door. They have cut where they don't need legislation. So we are in most respects of this $2.2 billion announced just before Christmas as a cut, not able to stop it-

MAIDEN: But that doesn't stop you as a future Government coming in and reversing it, putting the money back. Why would you-

PLIBERSEK: No and we are, we continue to be committed to a demand-driven system. What this Government's done is stop the demand-driven system. They've said that's it, we're closing the door on future student number growth, and the universities are estimating that that means 10,000 kids who would have gone to university this year won't get a place at university. This year.

MAIDEN: But a lot of the universities say that the problem is the demand-driven system and that you should put a brake on that, that you should-

PLIBERSEK: No. I don't think that's right. If you look at, there was a very fast increase in early years, so we saw 190,000 extra students going to university because of the demand-driven system. And very important increases like a 26% increase in the number of Indigenous kids, 30% increase in the number of kids from regional and remote areas going to university - we want that in our country. We want more kids going to university because we know that work is becoming more complex, the sort of skills you need to do the jobs of the future are increasingly high level skills. So we want more kids going to university. What we saw in the more recent years in the, you know, just the last few years, is that the fast growth in the number of kids going to university has really tapered off and it was growing at just about population growth more recently. So I don't accept the argument that there's a blowout, we need to put the brakes on. I'd say very clearly we want a larger proportion of Australians to have post-secondary school education, whether it's university or TAFE and the kind-of argument that the Government’s putting that it's unsustainable to continue to open up our universities just doesn't cut it on the numbers.

MAIDEN: OK just on the citizenship fiasco, how hard do you think it's going to be to win the seat of Batman. A lot of people that I speak to in Victoria really think that the Greens are going to pick that seat up.

PLIBERSEK: Look I think Ged Kearney is a fantastic candidate. She was a nurse for 20 years, she's used to standing up for working people through her years in the Nurses' Federation and the ACTU. She's a progressive strong voice, articulate, great candidate, but it's a tough seat for us. She's facing a candidate who I think is now running for the fifth time, in the Greens candidate. The Liberals are too gutless to put up a candidate of their own. It makes it very difficult for us. She's, I mean Ged's doing a fantastic job but it's tough seat for us to win.

MAIDEN: Do you think it was a bit gutless then of David Feeney not to just stick around and go out there and face the gunfire? I mean if the seat is probably lost...

PLIBERSEK: No I don't agree that it's probably lost. I'm saying it's a tough one to win and we've got a real fighter who is campaigning for the seat and she gives us the best possible chance of winning. I'll be down there, I'll be campaigning with her-

MAIDEN: Do you think she has a better chance of winning than Feeney would have?

PLIBERSEK: I think so. I think-


PLIBERSEK: Because David's going out in these circumstances where he's not been able to locate the documentation that he has to show that he's renounced citizenships that he might be entitled to, I think that would be a very hard background to run a campaign on.

MAIDEN: Susan Lamb's very emotional defence of her circumstances in Parliament yesterday, it's a very sad story, many families have stories like that, but isn't it really irrelevant to the law, I mean what is the point of this? I mean there's nothing in the Constitution that says thou shalt not follow the Constitution if your mother abandoned you when you were 6 years old, it's just not the rules.

PLIBERSEK: And that's actually not what Susan was claiming at all yesterday. She has, she's sent off her paperwork, she's sent off the fee for renunciation, the paperwork was received, the fee was processed, this is all after that, and-

MAIDEN: But if you're arguing reasonable steps, that's an admission that it's going to go to the High Court, and if it's going to go to the High Court just, why not just send her to the High Court?

PLIBERSEK: Well fine, and we moved at the end of last year for a bulk referral that included Susan Lamb and everybody on our side that the Government says have questions to answer, and everybody on the Government side that we say have questions to answer. Like good for the goose, good for the gander. A recent report-

MAIDEN: But it's a protection racket now. I mean if you, if you believe, wouldn't the honourable thing to do, you know, her lawyer’s own evidence is that she was a dual citizen at the time of nomination. If the argument is reasonable steps and you're confident she's got a good case, why just not send her to the High Court, but why do you have to-

PLIBERSEK: We're sitting here pretending that we're Constitutional lawyers or High Court judges. We are not.

MAIDEN: So send her to the High Court.

PLIBERSEK: OK we tried to at the end of last year. Malcolm Turnbull voted against it. All the people now who are saying she's still got questions to answer voted against sending Susan Lamb to the High Court. We simply say that if we're going- we say she's fine but we're willing have that tested in the High Court. People on the other side who are in very similar circumstances should submit to the same scrutiny. Job lot. Let's send them all.

MAIDEN: But is the absolute bottom line at this stage is that you won't budge on that job lot, you will not refer her?

PLIBERSEK: Why would we? I mean it is only fair that people are subject to the same degree of scrutiny if they have similar circumstances, similar questions around their eligibility.


PLIBERSEK: Let's just refer them all. Honestly people are so sick of this. I'm sure you're sick of asking questions about it, I'm sick of answering questions about it. Ordinary people watching this on TV today would be thinking for God's sake just get on with it. They're worried about their pay and conditions, their education system, the health care that they're going to get. These are the things that concern people. They do not want any more talk from our Parliament about this. The only way to resolve it is to send it to the High Court.

MAIDEN: Fair enough. You'll love my next question even more then. Anthony Albanese has been accused of essentially trying to fuel expectations that Batman should won when it will probably be lost. Niki Savva in a column today says that she's shown, Anthony Albanese has shown a level of subtlety somewhere between a meat axe and Tony Abbott, mischievously suggesting Labor could win Batman - some people are already talking about that Bill Shorten could face a leadership challenge before the next election. What do you think the reaction of the Labor Party would be if Bill Shorten was to face any leadership destabilisation or challenge before the next election?

PLIBERSEK: I think we learned our lesson when we were in Government. I don’t think there's anybody on our side who would tolerate any sort of bad behaviour or destabilising. Bill will lead us to the next election and we have, you know, we always say polls come and go and you've got to take all of this stuff with a grain of salt, but we have consistently been ahead of the Government because we have been talking about the things that matter to ordinary people - their jobs, their pay and their conditions, their healthcare, education-

MAIDEN: OK so is Albo being a naughty boy, is he being mischievous as Niki Savva says?

PLIBERSEK: No I don't think so. I think it's absolutely proper that all of our front bench are out there arguing in the media for a Labor agenda. We are a strong and united team and if we are disciplined and focus on the things that matter to ordinary Australians we can win Government. There's no guarantee but we can

MAIDEN: Yeah. Because I've been told in the past and obviously debates happen in Shadow Cabinet, that's part of what makes Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet good, but I've been told in the past for example that Anthony Albanese opposed in Cabinet or had concerns in Cabinet, Shadow Cabinet, about the negative gearing reforms, that he thought that is was not the right time in the real estate market cycle to basically be going in there with that policy. Did you share Anthony Albanese's concerns in relation to the negative gearing policy?

PLIBERSEK: Sam, how long have we known each other, and when have I ever told you what happens in Shadow Cabinet or Cabinet?

MAIDEN: No you are very respectable, you are very respectable.

PLIBERSEK: We have to honour the confidentiality of these discussions, because if we want to be a really good decision-making body-

MAIDEN: But you had a debate, you had a debate about the negative gearing-

PLIBERSEK: I don't even remember all the debates we've had in Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet. We have to. We don't make good policy unless you've got a contest of ideas, that's how we make good decisions. And when Cabinets start to leak as they did when Tony Abbott was the Prime Minister and Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop were hunting him down and leaking every 5 minutes out of Cabinet, that's when bad decisions happen because people can't test ideas.

MAIDEN: OK well thank you very much for your time today Tanya Plibersek.

PLIBERSEK: Always a pleasure.

MAIDEN: You are fantastic adornment to democracy and very respectable behaviour in relation to not leaking Shadow Cabinet secrets. I'll have to go and find some people who do.