By Tanya Plibersek

30 April 2020



SUBJECTS: Return to school confusion; Independent schools funding announcement; Global response to COVID-19; Mike Kelly.

LISA MILLAR, REPORTER: We're joined now by the Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek. Good morning, welcome to Breakfast.


MILLAR: You tweeted the other day the kind of frustration that I guess a lot of parents are feeling at the moment about the confusion. Are you still feeling that within your own family, Tanya?

PLIBERSEK: Confusion and, to be honest with you, a little bit of frustration. I've discovered that I'm not the most patient distance educator on the planet. Look it's a very confusing time for parents in particular, they’re hearing one message from the Federal Government and a different message from their state government, and parents just don't know what the right thing is to do. The Prime Minister is urging them to send their kids to school and the Premiers are saying please keep your kids at home. No parent wants to be in that circumstance and the Principals and school staff who have been working so hard over the holidays, and the weeks before the holidays, to prepare for distance education are tearing their hair out. They’re the meat in the sandwich here. Trying to support parents who are sending their kids to school, particularly those key workers who've got no other option but to send their kids to school and they're caught between different messages from the Prime Minister and the Premier of their state or territory. No one wants to be in that position.

MILLAR: What do you think should happen? Sorry, I spoke over you, with Skype there is just a little bit of a delay. What do you think should happen? The medical authorities keep saying it is safe for kids to be back at school.

PLIBERSEK: Well look, everybody wants kids back at school as soon as it's safe for kids and staff to be back at school. I don't think there's any disagreement about that. But if the Commonwealth Government and the states and territories have a different view about whether and when it's safe, then we kind of need to listen to the states and territories because they're the ones that are running schools day to day. And just a few weeks ago the Prime Minister said ‘listen to your Premier’ and now he's sending a very confusing message saying ‘don't listen to your premier anymore, listen to me’. Everybody wants kids back at school as soon as it's safe for them and staff. There's no question about that. But if the Premier's saying to you ‘please don't send your kids to school’ parents just don't know what to do.

MILLAR: The Independent schools, a lot of them are hesitating over that money. I've heard from one school this morning already saying that they've worked out there going to lose JobKeeper funding if they take the money. Would you be recommending the schools do it to get back up and operating?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I really can't answer that. The Government made this announcement with very little detail and we don't know what the requirements will be around taking this advance on future funding. We don't know what the money can be used for. We don't know for example, whether this money can be used to keep on a casual teaching staff because of course the casual teachers have been abandoned by the Federal Government. It's another one sadly, another one of these announcements that comes with so little detail that it's very difficult to evaluate. Not just for us, it's difficult for us as the Opposition to evaluate whether it's useful funding offer, I think it's very difficult for schools to evaluate. I think it's important again for those schools to be listening to the advice from their state Premiers, but also to be talking to the leaders of their systems, for example the Catholic system or the independent school system, about whether this makes sense in their individual circumstances.

MILLAR: Tanya Plibersek, a couple of quick ones for you, if you don't mind, off education. You're a former cabinet minister and a former Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesperson. Do you think Greg Hunt was ambushed yesterday in that press conference where the Chinese official took the floor?

PLIBERSEK: I think you'd have to ask Greg Hunt about that. It looked a little unusual but I'm not privy to any of the details.

MILLAR: But you would have, as a cabinet minister, you would have wanted a lot of heads up if something like that was going to happen?

PLIBERSEK: I’d say normally in a press conference you discuss before the press conference starts who's going to speak. I don't really know what happened yesterday though. I can't comment on that.

MILLAR: Does the Opposition have concerns about where this relationship with China is going? I know that Labor is backing this, what they hope will be a global investigation into the origins of coronavirus, but the tit-for-tat this week is certainly gone up a notch.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I don't think anybody should be surprised that after a massive health and economic catastrophe, as we've seen in recent months with the spread of COVID-19, that the world would want to look at how this happened and how we can better deal with such a catastrophe in the future. We have seen already thousands, many thousands of lives, lost and we don't even begin to have the reliable numbers on how many lives have been lost in countries that have weaker health systems than ours. The economic impact of this was probably the worst economic shock we've had, certainly this century but last century in memory. We need to get to the bottom of how this started, how it spread, and I think most importantly how we can do better if there's ever such a circumstance again. We need to learn from what we've done, any gaps this time to make sure that we cope better next time. That is unremarkable. It should be completely uncontroversial. And it’s in the interest of our whole world to do that.

MILLAR: And just very briefly your colleague Mike Kelly is set to announce he's leaving Parliament today. Certainly that's been the tipping in all the papers today. Eden-Monaro, Labor only won that by little over a thousand votes from memory at the last election. What are the chances that you'll lose it?

PLIBERSEK: Look I'm not going to talk about the seat, I'm going to talk about Mike. He's a fantastic human being. He served Australia in many theatres of war, on the front line overseas. An extraordinarily brave, intelligent, compassionate man who has contributed not just through his military career, but made an extraordinary contribution in our Federal Parliament. If he wants to say anything about his future, I'll leave that for him.

MILLAR: All right Tanya Plibersek. Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.