By Tanya Plibersek

03 May 2020


SUNDAY, 3 MAY 2020

SUBJECTS: Return to schools, Federal Government’s confusing comments, immigration.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Well, thank you very much for coming out this afternoon. I just wanted to start this conference by sending a great big thank you to our teachers, who have been working so hard in such extraordinary circumstances to prepare our kids for learning from home. Most teachers have been working right through the school holidays to get ready for term two so that they can really support their students with online and distance education. It's been very hard and they've done a wonderful job. I also want to send a shout out to the parents who've been helping their kids at home - it's not easy. I can tell you, it's really not easy. We know that these are extraordinarily difficult times and what doesn't help is mixed messaging from the Commonwealth Government. A few weeks ago Scott Morrison was saying 'listen to your state Premiers when it comes to sending your kids back to school' and this morning we saw the Federal Education Minister sending the most confusing messages to parents about sending their kids to school, saying that they should do so immediately. This is a very difficult and stressful time for families. Families are doing the very best they can in extraordinary, unprecedented circumstances, and to have a big political fight between the states and the Commonwealth when it comes to schooling is the very last thing they need. At this difficult, stressful time parents should be listening to their state Premiers about schooling. In every part of Australia states have made clear that if parents have to work they can send their kids to school. If kids are educationally disadvantaged they can send their kids to school. And beyond that, we don't need the Federal Education Minister trying to bully and harass state education ministers and state governments.

JOURNALIST: Did the Minister's comments represent a breakdown in the bipartisan nature of National Cabinet?

PLIBERSEK: I think this is the most disappointing thing. States and territories have been working so well with the Commonwealth Government, in so many areas there's been cooperation and really that's what Australians want to see. We're all worried about our health, we're all worried about our kids’ education, and what we respond to as parents is getting one set of advice about the right thing to do. Everybody wants to see kids back in the classroom as quickly as possible. We know that the best thing for kids is learning in the classroom when they can. What we don't want is the mixed messages about whether it's safe or not.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree that keeping some schools open is important for vulnerable children?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely, look I think it's very clear that vulnerable children will be disadvantaged by not being in the classroom, but educational disparities that the Federal Government's pointing to, they existed long before COVID-19 became an issue in Australia. And in fact this Federal Government has reduced funding growth in public education. So this Federal Government has actually ensured that no public school will ever meet its fair funding level and yet every non-government school will. If the Federal Government is really concerned about educational disadvantage then it should properly fund all schools based on need. They're not doing that so if you'll excuse me for being a little bit sceptical about their new found interest in disadvantaged students. This is the government that restored the funding they had cut to Catholic and independent schools but kept the funding cuts to public schools.

JOURNALIST: Is the Victorian Premier out of step with his counterparts in most other states who are planning some sort of staged return next week?

PLIBERSEK: Well what’s been made very clear by the medical advice is that it is possible, and indeed necessary, to interpret that medical advice based on the specific circumstances of each state and territory. The Deputy Chief Medical Officer has been very clear about that. So it doesn't make sense to have the same approach in South Australia that hasn't had any transmissions of COVID-19 for weeks as it is in Victoria or New South Wales, where there is still active transmission of the virus. We need to take a state by state, territory by territory approach. That makes sense. What doesn't make sense is sending parents mixed messages about one state and territory, where the Prime Minister and the Premiers are giving completely different, absolutely opposed messages about what parents should be doing. It is hard enough being a parent, supporting your children in learning at home if you're getting different messages from your Premier and your Prime Minister about what happens next.

JOURNALIST: What's more important in your view, listening to the view of a panel of experts or one Chief Medical Officer? Do you think that the consensus view holds more weight?

PLIBERSEK: I'm not privy to any of the detail. I can't, without having read or examined any of the advice myself, I can't say which set of medical advice is more compelling. If the Victorian medical advice to the Victorian Premier *inaudible*… has led to the Victorian Government decision about Victorian schools, and until recently that's exactly what the Prime Minister was saying. He was saying ‘Listen to your state Premier’. I think it’s just unfair to parents to change that advice and to try and override what the states and territories are saying to people. States and territories run the schools day to day, and the Government has been saying ‘Listen to your state and territory advice.’ Now suddenly they are trying to cajole or bribe schools to return against medical advice in those states, well that makes no sense at all. And I have to emphasise, everybody is keen to get students back to school as soon as it's safe for students and staff to be in the classroom. We don't want fights between the federal and state governments about when that should be.

JOURNALIST: *INAUDIBLE* …Australian immigration after the restrictions of travel are lifted?

PLIBERSEK: Our view is, as it always is, immigration needs to be in the national interest and the size of our immigration intake has to be also in the national interest. We are obviously going to watch unemployment numbers in Australia very closely as the economy begins to recover and it’s quite right Australians should have the first chance, the best chance of getting the jobs that become available. We also need to make sure that during this period our education and training systems are working properly so that Australians are training and re-training for jobs that become available as the economy recovers. For too long our training system has not been delivering in the way that it should be. We've had many skills and occupations on the skill shortage lists for years, many years. That shouldn't be the case. We should be training Australians for the jobs that become available as the economy recovers.

JOURNALIST: *INAUDIBLE* … so is the Labor Party saying we should have a consistent cut in temporary immigration?

PLIBERSEK: Immigration's a really important part of our economic success story. One of the reasons that the Australian economy has been growing, well at all frankly, in recent times is because of strong immigration numbers. In fact we were already in a per capita recession before COVID-19 hit so immigration is an important component of Australia's success story in the past, it's made us the terrific multicultural society we are. We simply say as we always say, that the number and the composition of our immigration intake should meet Australia's needs first and foremost as the economy recovers. Immigration in recent times has filled a number of skill shortage areas. As those skills shortage areas re-emerge as the economy picks up again after this shutdown, it should give priority to Australians who are trying to find a job. Thanks everyone.