By Tanya Plibersek

20 April 2021




SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan for TasTAFE; The Liberals’ consent campaign; The Tasmanian economy under the Tasmanian Liberals.  

MICHAEL O'LOUGHIN, HOST: A very good morning to Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Education and Shadow Minister for Women. Good morning. 


O'LOUGHIN: I'm well, thank you. Thank you for your time. Should we start with a your visit to Tassie? I gather that it's not that much of a sightseeing tour as more to support the state Labor party?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I met yesterday with parents from Montello School in Burnie, and I was with Antia Dow and Michelle Rippon and Anne Urquhart there. And I went to Devonport TAFE yesterday as well. This morning I've been meeting with women's groups in Launceston with Michelle O'Byrne. So I have been focusing on the things that I've got responsibilities for, for federal Labor, but it's been great to catch up with my state colleagues as well and see a little bit of the campaign. 

O'LOUGHIN: Well indeed TAFE certainly has been an argument between both major parties. You did pay a visit as you said to TasTAFE in Devonport yesterday. Tell us about that.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I went to TasTAFE Devonport yesterday and I stood on exactly the same spot I did three years ago and what really shocks me is that things are worse not better. Three years ago I spoke to a young mum who was desperate to do a TAFE course so she could get a job to support herself and her daughter. She couldn't afford the money for the TAFE course. And I come back down here now and I hear there's this plan from the state government to hive off TAFE into a government business enterprise and to consequently put up TAFE fees by up to 600 per cent. That would be a disaster. About half of young people leaving school in Tasmania aren't going on to a job or to the further education that would help them get a job. We should be making it easier for people to get a TAFE qualification, not harder. And I'm really proud of the proposals that Rebecca White and the Labor party have got to make TAFE free in a whole range of areas where there's shortages, to employ more teachers, to fix up the TAFE campuses. That's the sort of plan we made for TAFE, not cutting or privatizing. 

O'LOUGHIN: I know there's $22.5 million from the ground up to be invested I gather from what I was reading. But Peter Gutwein of the state address mentioned the PESRAC report, I'm sure you were aware of that, and saying the TAFE needs to be more flexible to meet the needs of business. Do you believe TAFE needs to be more flexible? 

PLIBERSEK: I think TAFE and business working together is a recipe for success. We know that in any state, like Tasmania, there’ll be some regions where you want TAFE to be focusing on viticulture, and some places you'll want to focus on tourism. And some places you want to focus on forestry or fisheries. And some places where you've got a terrible shortage of nurses or carpenters or plumbers or butchers. Yes, of course TAFE has to be responsive to local needs and the best way to do that is to work with employers on those local needs, but you can't do that when you're starving TAFE of funding. When you want people to learn commercial cookery, you can't have them learning commercial cookery in a kitchen that was built in the 1960s. If you want people to be skilled up in a particular industry, you have to have the sort of equipment that those industries are using today. Not what they were using 40 years ago. And if you continue to starve TAFE of funding, that's what happens.

O'LOUGHIN: Well, if elected Labor would invest in regional TAFE, provide free TAFE courses, I was reading across the building and construction, hospitality you just mentioned, aged-care, disability service sectors to address these skills shortages. Yet a Liberal government would keep TasTAFE in government hands, yes in government hands they've stated, and invest in 100 new teachers, improve facilities, more courses, flexible learning across the regions. Now when you say that things are being cancelled and courses etc possibly, as Labor has said, the Liberals have said four students applied this year for certificate qualifications in IT training for example in the North West making the courses unviable, but it would be offered if there was more demand. So realistically is that the fact that we just don't have the people wishing to go into these courses? 

PLIBERSEK: That is not my experience of talking to both employers and students, young people graduating from school and older people who need a career change. They're desperate to get in, they can't afford it. In many instances the course isn't offered in a place that they can get to. Last time I was in Devonport. I was talking to a butcher who wanted to employ an apprentice. There was nowhere where they could find that apprentice a place to get the education they needed to do the work. I mean how sad is it, that at the same time as Tasmania's got some of the highest unemployment in the country, some of the highest youth unemployment in the country, you've got skills shortages in these good jobs that people want to do. Employers who want to put people on. All that's lacking is the affordable training pathway for those people and for those employers. What a waste, what a waste for people.

O'LOUGHIN: Would you agree though, Labor's fully costed $10 million TAFE plan doesn't even come close to covering course fees collected each year by TasTAFE. Would you agree with that? 

PLIBERSEK: Labor's looking at investing a lot more than $10 million in TAFE. We're talking about $40 million for the free TAFE courses on its own. 80 new TAFE teachers, 80 paid scholarships to get teachers directly from industry because we know that those people who've got current skills in an area are really great teachers. Getting current teachers to spend more time giving them the time to go back into industry and updating their skills. Promoting TAFE to parents and to students. Of course we want kids have the opportunity to go to university, if that's the path they're after, but we need to make sure that parents and students know that a TAFE qualification is valuable qualification to have. And then it's the upgrades as well, like investing $29 million across the Allendale, Burnie, Devonport and Clarence campuses to make sure that they've got high training, high quality training facilities there. This is an opportunity of rebuilding TAFE. It's all very well for the Gutwein Government to say they're going to do this, they're going to do that. Well, they've had an opportunity over years now to improve the accessibility of the TAFE system they haven't done that. They've done the exact opposite. They've made it harder to get a TAFE education. I don't know why people would trust them to fix it now. 

O'LOUGHIN: If I can then move on to, which I think is quite a very sensible idea, but mind you Liberals have offered a similar deal. Tasmanian Labor's announced if they're elected May 1, they'll fund a healthy school lunches for all public primary school children in Tassie. I mean, you've obviously heard about that. I think that's a great idea but of course funding and when would that start?

PLIBERSEK: You'd have to ask the Tasmanians exactly when that would start. I know it would start with 25 schools and then roll out to more schools, as they have the opportunity of upgrading kitchens and employing the staff and doing all of the necessary work to get those school lunches into schools. It would roll out over the next six years, but I couldn't say which schools would start with at what time. We know that kids who are getting a healthy lunch at school concentrate better, they learn better and they learn good habits and nutrition as well. And if you start those habits early, they last a lifetime. 

O'LOUGHIN: What about the public stoush, if I may, with members trying to block Dean Winter for preselection, then referred to the national executive, which you would be aware of, forcing Rebecca White's hand to support Winter for preselection. I mean the infighting of course, it's all over the media that was fairly obvious, not good timing. 

PLIBERSEK: I'm just going to stay out of that stuff. What I'm focused on is what people are talking to me about when I visit Tasmania, which is our TAFE system, our schools. The health crisis you've got here with waiting lists blowing out for elective surgery, with emergency room waiting times blowing out, with ambulances was parked in the driveway of the hospital trying to get their patients into the hospital. That's what people are raising with me.

O'LOUGHIN: Well, I mean, is Labor's health action plan achievable? Because in part, and reading through it all it does sound grandiose and fine, but the part that interests me, return maternity services to the Mersey Hospital as part of the Northwest Hospital plan. I mean, the Liberals have asked why they've changed position on birthing services at the Mersey community hospital. The move to centralize birthing services of Burnie was made on expert medical advice for the safety of both mothers and their babies. These changes improved access for mothers and their babies to critical care, paediatrics and other support services, which are life-saving in an emergency. Now it was supported by Australian Medical Association, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Association, Burnie Council, La Trobe Council. The state Labor party and health spokesperson at the time Rebecca White, even Dr Seidel himself as head of the RAC GP said it was necessary. Therefore is this change surely, it appears to be only for political interests? 

PLIBERSEK: I'll tell you what, I am a former federal Health Minister and I know that the best thing you can do in any health system is provide high quality care as close to home as you safely can. I'm not going to make comments about particular services, in particular hospitals, that's not my job. But I know that people who live in the North West have a very strong attachment to the Mersey. I know that they want good quality health services as close to home as possible. I'm sure that's exactly what Labor in Tasmania is determined to do. When you look at some of the health statistics here at the moment though, you've got ambulance response times that are the worst in the country. You've got those response times increasing under the Liberals. The surgery waiting list has increased over 70 per cent since the last election. More than 50,000 Tasmanians are waiting to see a specialist. I met a man yesterday who's wheelchair-bound and it is likely to wait 500 days for the surgery that he needs to get out of that wheelchair, to get back on his feet. Nearly half of people turning up to emergency rooms are not seen on time. I mean, these are really serious, really serious problems in the Tasmanian Health System.

O'LOUGHIN: Speaking of health though the Covid vaccine. How do we get Australia's rollout back on track? I mean you more than anyone would be aware of how it's failing and we need to get this right back on track sooner than later. 

PLIBERSEK: Yes. Absolutely. And I'm really pleased that the Federal Government is finally trying to work with the states a little bit more cooperatively on this. Because the truth is that the states have mostly done a great job during Covid in managing the day-to-day things that the states are responsible for. The Federal Government in contrast has blown it with aged care. They've blown it with the useless Covid tracing app. They've left too many Australian stuck overseas and now the vaccine rollout. They wanted to big note themselves and say, ‘this is our job leave it to us’. Well, they're stuffed it up from beginning to end. So it is good that the states are getting more involved. We should of from the very beginning had more contracts with more pharmaceutical companies, to have a range of different vaccines available to us. We should have been working with the states and territories who have really good systems in place for rolling out vaccines, instead of a commonwealth trying to go it alone. And then when it all turns to custard, going back to the states and saying ‘can you help us out now?’ We not only need to get this vaccine out, because of course that's the only way we're going to get life back to normal, right? The sooner we can get vaccines in people's arms, the sooner it is that we can have people traveling more confidently, booking ahead, functions can go ahead more, our tourism and hospitality sectors can get back to what they do best. Even things like, you know, I'm in Launceston today, I know what a contribution international students can make in a city like Launceston. If you keep locking them out for years to come, those landlords, the restaurants they eat in, the services that they're using, they're not making any money. We do need to get things back to normal and we need to do that with state governments using their health facilities, like hospitals, with GPs, with pharmacists - all hands on deck.

O'LOUGHIN: Can I mention to you Minister? You would have seen it - the Morrison Government's recently released a new consent education campaign for schools featuring videos, I mean when I looked at other there's a woman smearing a man's face with a milkshake etc. Have you seen these clips? 

PLIBERSEK: I have unfortunately.

O'LOUGHIN: It's just it to me, I think first of all they should go back to the drawing board on this one. I mean with the teenager that's offering a  partner the milkshake before smearing it over his face. That's, I gather, a crude metaphor for forced sex. There's another clip with a woman being pressured to swim in shark-infested waters. And I'm sure you've seen that too, as a way of talking about being pressured into sex. I don't know who thought of it. 

PLIBERSEK: Yeah. I think it's so important that we have good relationship education and consent education in our schools and in our community. It's so important that we get it right. And for me this really doesn't hit the mark, it really misses the mark and it's so disappointing because of course we'll end up spending millions of dollars on this, it won't make any difference, people will not change their behaviour. They won't respond well to it and people will go, ‘oh well it's hopeless, we can't change, you can't change anything’. We need really good quality consent education and there are experts in our community who could have helped the Government with this. They should have been brought in to help. These ads, I think teenagers will look at them and laugh.  But one of the things that worries me most - 

O'LOUGHIN: Well they're are confusing. Sorry to interrupt. They're confusing. 

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, they're confusing. They’re confusing, the messages are wrong in some cases. I think that they're sending the wrong message. But our kids, like the average first age of watching pornography in Australia today is 10 years old. These kids are getting really unhealthy messages about sex and human relationships. And showing this sort of stuff, it means nothing to them. It's just laughable that this would actually educate or change behaviour in our young people. We really need to get this right and it's such a missed opportunity. That's the thing that's heartbreaking about it. We should be doing this, but this is a missed opportunity. 

O'LOUGHIN: Look after the recent March4Justice you spoke about and I quote 'this moment in our history could be the time when we change fundamentally to be a country where women feel safe on our streets, in our homes, in our workplaces. We could change now to be a country where women feel valued for their intellect, for their capacity, for their hard work and we want every Australian to have the opportunity of living the life that they wish. We could do that now as a nation, the question is are we up to it? Are we up to it as a Parliament to show the leadership that is necessary to win that change. Will those women marching, those women signing petitions, lead to permanent change or will it be a temporary inconvenience to be managed away like every other political problem?' So my question is, how is the environment in Parliament at the moment? 

PLIBERSEK: Parliament's a difficult workplace. You know, it's high-conflict, long hours, people away from home, all the rest of it. I'm not as worried about the Parliament. I do think we need to look after our young staff in particular, because I don't want any young woman to look at what they've seen in recent times and think, that's not a workplace I want to be part of. We need them to be part of our workplace. But we have workplaces right across Australia where sexual harassment is a problem, and our homes, and our streets. We've got one in three Australian women who'll experience domestic violence in her lifetime. One in five will experience sexual assault. This has to be about every man and woman in Australia, actually saying it's time to change. We don't want to have those epidemic levels of violence in our community. One woman a week dying on average at the hands of a current or former partner. We can change that. We need to change our laws so that victims don't feel like the laws are stacked against them. I don't know off the top of my head what the stats are in Tasmania, but in New South Wales one in ten is the estimate of sexual assaults that are reported to police. And then of those about two per cent end in a guilty conviction. It's not because people are making false cases, its because our system is stacked against victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. So we need to change our laws. If we're encouraging people to come forward and report sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, our legal system has to make room for them. And of course, we need to change our culture. It goes back to what I was saying earlier, if our kids are learning about relationships from this toxic early exposure to pornography, or from parents, or a society that doesn't show them or model respectful, equal, kind, consensual, considerate relationships, then we're not going to change. We need to make sure we're working from the earliest age with our kids to support healthy relationships. 

O'LOUGHIN: I mean the only consistent in Parliament should be change, and it's so slow. But I want to move on to currently Tassie, you're probably are aware while if not I'll mention, the nation's lowest average wages. $12,000 dollars less than the national average and we fall behind in other areas like life expectancy, literacy and numeracy rates, I mean health waiting lists, well that's just incredible, and affordable housing. Now Labor has said its fiscal strategy would create 35,000 jobs and improve the balance between social needs and economic growth. How so?

PLIBERSEK: Again, it's good for you to talk to the Tasmanian Labor people about this. But you're right that there's the $12,000 gap between average Tasmanian wages and the rest of the country. That's got $1000 worse under the Gutwein Government. What you need to see is those jobs created here, Labor's talking about public and private investment being lifted to drive economic growth and job creation in a more diversified Tasmanian economy. We know that there's risks at the moment with the withdrawal of JobKeeper, the Tasmanian economy has really been relying on that for a time. I don't know how that's going to impact here, but I would be pretty worried if I was a Tasmanian. And it is really important that the Labor party here has promised to do things like support for small businesses, set aside money to revitalize Main Street, to help small businesses get up to speed with their accounting and business planning. Upgrade tourism resources, we know what a huge contribution tourism makes to the Tasmanian economy. They also of course announced their massive reductions in land tax at the moment which leaves more money in people's pockets to invest constructively in creating jobs. That's how we get an economy going. I mean you build things, you make sure that we're investing to upgrade all the facilities people need. You make things, Tasmania has a fantastic opportunity to sell it's first-rate produce to the world. You care for people, I mean I've been talking to community services in Launceston today, who are turning people away, turning homeless people away, turning women trying to flee domestic violence away from these services. You’ve got to employ people in aged care, in other community services. By making sure that we're paying people decent wages, you’re putting money in their pocket that they then go and spend in other local businesses, creating jobs for other people. While ever there's a race to the bottom in wages and conditions, you're not going to have a stable economy. 

O'LOUGHIN: You mentioned land tax there, the CEO of the Tasmanian Small Business Council, Robert Mallet has said Labor's surcharge on aggregated property portfolios, worth over $3 million, along with their new foreign investor land tax surcharge of 2.2% on commercial properties will see small businesses slug with extra rent and more charges. This is from Robert Mallet and says rent will go up and small businesses will be forced to the wall under Labor's land tax policy, your thoughts? 

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I think that's very unfair. We know that there’ll be big land tax cuts for all land taxpayers with holdings up to $3 million and the biggest benefits obviously go to people who need them most. I guess there’ll always be critics, but people who, mum and dad landholders who rent out their investment property, shack owners, they're really going to see huge benefit here. 

O'LOUGHIN: Well, the Labor party would be better placed really to look at increasing the payroll tax threshold from $1.25 million to $1.5 million. So every day mum and dad small businesses are not being hit with this regressive anti-employment tax slug. Would that be something Labor would look at? 

PLIBERSEK: You'll have to ask David O’Byrne the Shadow Treasurer about that. But he and Rebecca White have already announced some terrific support for small businesses, including legal supports and the money that would upgrade our main streets, that make those shopping precinct more attractive for people who are visiting the small businesses. Training for small businesses to help them with their accounts and their planning and you know so much of Tasmanian economy depends on tourism, those tourism upgrades. I hope we'll see a real benefit to small businesses as they prepare to welcome more and more tourists to Tasmania. 

O'LOUGHIN: Well, I appreciate your time this morning Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Education and Shadow Minister for Women. I do hope you get a chance to have a look around, although the weather's not exactly comfortable. 

PLIBERSEK: It's always so beautiful visiting Tasmania. The weather's not terrific today, I'm in Launnie today and the beautiful buildings here, I've had a great coffee this morning at the Bread and Butter Cafe and Butter Factory and no doubt, it'll be a full day visiting other terrific parts of Tasmania. 

O'LOUGHIN: Well good to talk to you and I hope we have a chance to see you in Tassie again soon.

PLIBERSEK: Look forward to it. Thank you.