Subjects:  Government suspends Parliament; Bennelong by-election; Government’s cuts to school funding. 

LAURA JAYES, PRESENTER:  I want to go now live to Melbourne where the Deputy Labor Leader, Tanya Plibersek, joins me now. She is at a Labor national schools forum today. Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much for your time, hope to get to policy in just a moment, but the Parliament has been delayed by a week.  Is this a good call?

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I think it's an extraordinary call. I think this is the sort of thing that happens in a dictatorship, when Parliament becomes inconvenient, the Government suspends democracy.  It is outrageous, it is unacceptable. There are dozens of pieces of legislation before the Parliament that could be debated next week, and the Government's just decided that because Parliament doesn't suit them, they're going to suspend it.  It is extraordinary.

JAYES: But it's my understanding that the offer was made to deal with non-controversial legislation in the meeting with Penny Wong and I believe Bill Shorten when this legislation or when this deal was done to sort out the citizenship issue, but that offer was not taken up by your leader nor by Penny Wong, so what's going on there?

PLIBERSEK:  Well, hang on a minute - why on earth should Labor agree not to pursue the things that matter to us, like a banking Royal Commission, like restoring cuts to the penalty rates of 700,000 Australian workers. The Government has its own legislation that it could be debating, over 50 pieces of legislation I've just glanced through the list earlier, on things like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, like their own big business tax cuts, child support agency change. I mean there's dozens of things that we could be debating next week, and because the Government can't get its own house in order, it's decided to suspend democracy.  It's really the sort of thing that happens in a dictatorship. Christopher Pyne said in 2011 something like if you can't govern the Parliament you can't govern the country.  Well we know what happens, you just suspend democracy if it suits you.

JAYES: Is this just a bit of politicking from your side of politics though. This is not reducing the number of weeks that Parliament will sit for this year, it's just putting it off the ensure that the same sex marriage legalisation is passed?

PLIBERSEK: Well what nonsense.  Genuinely what nonsense.  The same sex marriage legislation could be debated next week and it could be through by the end of the week with some good will from the Government, so let's just set that aside as an argument.  But that doesn't excuse them, even if same sex marriage couldn’t be through next week, the Government have dozens of their own legislation which presumably they think are important because they have introduced them to the Parliament already. Any of those could be debated next week. Just this morning we had the Treasurer talking about how big business should get out and argue for big business tax cuts.  Well why aren't we debating tax cuts next week if that's so important that he's urging big business to get involved with it.  Why isn't that a priority for discussion next week? This is a Government that has lost grip on reality, if it thinks it can just suspend democracy when democracy becomes inconvenient.

JAYES: Can I ask you about Barry O'Sullivan?  He's used the Dean Smith private member's Bill as a precedent.  He's no supporter of same sex marriage, of marriage equality, but he's pointed to the Dean Smith Bill and said, well, this sets a new precedent, this is one pathway, Dean Smith has proved in a way that you can get legislation through the Parliament.  Do you think that's a cynical move on behalf of Barry O'Sullivan in a way to get a banking inquiry up?

 PLIBERSEK: Just setting aside that for a moment, the Dean Smith Bill as it's called is actually a consensus Bill that has been through a detailed Senate inquiry process. It's certainly had input from other Liberals, from other Nationals, it's got the support of the Labor Party, the support of the Greens and the Xenophon Team, so pretending that this has somehow come about because one person has had a brainwave and introduced a Bill into Parliament is just not true. This is a Bill that's had extensive consultation, it's been to public inquiry, and I think it's a bit disingenuous to pretend that it's the work of just one person and that gives license to other people to introduce any Bills that they may choose without going through this sort of process. Now on the substance of looking at the behaviour of the banks, well we're all in favour of a proper look at the behaviour of the banks, but we think that a banking Royal Commission is the right way to go about that.

JAYES: Legislation is not required for a banking Royal Commission, this can be done by the Executive. Now the numbers as I see it, on the floor of the House of Representatives, doesn't change even by this delaying of a week.  Will Labor seize this opportunity and be talking to Government backbenchers like Barry O'Sullivan, like George Christensen, to try and get this done in those final two sitting weeks?

PLIBERSEK: I think the Government really needs to get its own house in order. If you have got, not just one or two, but a number of backbenchers agreeing with Labor policy that the behaviour of the banks ought to be investigated, perhaps the Government should actually take that seriously. Yes we'll continue to talk to backbenchers and others in the Coalition and on the cross benches about the need for a Royal Commission.  There's no surprise in that. The big surprise is that the Government thinks that the right thing to do in the face of this is to suspend democracy, because democracy has become inconvenient.  That's the surprise.

JAYES: Can I ask you about the race for Bennelong now? It's been reported today that a Productivity Commission report showed that Kristina Kenneally as Premier of New South Wales cut around $318 million from New South Wales schools, including from public schools as well.  So the question here is if Kristina Kenneally is running on her record does she really have a good record when it comes to education funding?

PLIBERSEK: Well I'm not surprised that Simon Birmingham's trying to get this story up when he's cut $17 billion over the next decade from our schools.  I can show you Productivity Commission reports that show that hundreds of millions of dollars of increase in the years that Simon Birmingham's trying to point to.  I think it is a bit rich to be lectured from a Government that's cutting $17 billion from our schools, including $10 million over the next two years alone from the electorate of Bennelong.

JAYES: But to be fair you say the Labor Party will spend $17 billion more than the Government on education.  How much will Bennelong get? There's really not a lot of detail about where this money will be spent. That's fair, isn't it?

PLIBERSEK: Well we've got a Government that's been in office for five years that can't tell you what's happening to school funding next year, so again, a little bit rich to be lectured by people who are cutting $17 billion, have no agenda for school reform. They've in fact taken the reforms that we had agreed with the states and territories and junked them - they're now going out to consultation. They say they're going to do better in schools - they're starting a consultation process now after having been in office for five years, about what they're going to do in schools. We've got very clear plans based on what we did at the last election, and when it comes to school funding, the biggest increases will go in the shortest time to the neediest schools. We won't have a system like the Government's got, that gives schools that charge between $25,000 and $30,000 a year in fees big fat multi-million dollar increases and actually cut funding to public schools. So in New South Wales you'll see more the $800 million cut from schools in the next two years alone, but you'll see very wealthy schools that charge tens of thousands of dollars a year in fees get multi-million dollar increases. You won't see that under Labor.

JAYES: Just one final question on the citizenship issue that will be finally dealt with in the last two sitting weeks of Parliament no matter where the dates land –

PLIBERSEK: Well, if we have them.

JAYES: - Well it looks like we are going to have them. Bob Katter certainly says he wants to see Parliament sit next week, but I don't know how successful he'll be at getting that pushed through. Just on that quickly, is there any pressure that Labor can bring to bear with a crossbencher like Bob Katter to reinstate next week's sitting week?

PLIBERSEK: I actually can't tell you the answer to that Laura.  I honestly don't know.  I've never been in the situation like this where the Government finds it inconvenient to face the Parliament and so they just press the pause button on democracy.  I honestly don't know what our options are. It is unprecedented, extraordinary behaviour from the Government to know that they've lost control of the Parliament and so they think they don't have to face the Australian people. I don't know what Bob Katter's got in mind. We'll certainly talk to him but it's pretty crazy times I've got to say.

JAYES: Well he'll be in Canberra if Parliament's sitting or not, he's told the nation via a media conference but we will see where that lands. Tanya Plibersek, as always, thanks so much for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Laura.