By Tanya Plibersek

10 September 2020


SUBJECTS: Border closures; Mental health; Locking young people out of uni and TAFE. 
ALAN JONES, HOST: Yes, well alright it’s panel time. There’s certainly plenty to talk about. We’re proud – joined, of course by Tanya Plibersek, the former Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, now well known to us all. Amanda Stoker can’t join us tonight, unfortunately she’s not well. Our thoughts are with you, Amanda. We’re joined by the South Australian MP, a young woman with ability, Nicolle Flint. She’s only been a member of the Federal parliament, the seat of Boothby, since 2016. She’s a former solicitor and, in 2015, she co-authored a paper for the Menzies Research Centre titled “Gender and Politics”. So, Tanya and Nicolle, welcome to you. Or, welcome to you for the first time, Nicolle. Can I begin with this story, which almost brought the Prime Minister to tears today? Tanya, the 26-year-old woman who is in quarantine in Canberra wanting to visit her father before he died of terminal cancer. She’d waited 20 days to hear about exemption. She didn’t get it, her father died. She wanted to go to the funeral, she was denied that too. Tanya, I know – and many people wouldn’t know – but Tanya’s had tragedies in her life. How should Sarah have been treated – Tanya Plibersek?  
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Well, Alan, obviously 20 days is too long to wait in circumstances like that. As you say, my father was dying of prostate cancer when I was the Health Minister and I remember coming home from Canberra one Thursday night and going straight to see him at the hospital, and I was so grateful that I did, because he died in the early hours of that morning. I think it’s been a very difficult time for families that have been separated, who have had sick people or dying relatives in other states and territories. 
JONES: And there are many “Sarahs”, Tanya.
PLIBERSEK: That’s true, Alan, and I was very pleased to see that Queensland did say that they’ve put on additional people to process these sorts of requests. I’ve said all along – I do support the Premiers and the actions that they’re taking. But, we have to have common sense and we have to have compassion when we’re dealing with these really very compelling cases.
JONES: Nicolle, the same Chief Medical Officer in Queensland happily ushered in all those rich AFL Victorians last week, but says “no” to a woman who wants to visit her dying father. Nicolle, out there the public don’t know who’s running the country. Annastasia Palaszczuk said in the Parliament in answer to the Opposition, “I’m very disappointed the Leader of the Opposition would come in there and ask a very personal issue when the knows that it’s not my decision”. Nicolle – who’s running the place? 
NICOLLE FLINT, MEMBER FOR BOOTHBY: Look, Alan, this is such a tragic circumstance for Sarah and her family, and, I think all our hearts are with them. And the really challenging thing for everyone – the Australian public – in this is seeing some double standards. And, I don’t want to be overly political, but when people see AFL footy players getting flown into Queensland, when they see celebrities allowed into the state, and yet you’ve got a young woman whose father is dying and has now tragically passed away not allowed to spend his last days with her and their entire family, people really question who is in charge, as you’ve said. And, one of the things that has worried me around the states and territories is seeing too many unelected bureaucrats in these positions of power and decision-making; and, quite frankly -
JONES: I agree, yes, they can advise – they can advise – but they shouldn’t be making the decisions. See, Tanya, if I can come to you -
FLINT: That’s why we are elected. 
JONES: Yes, that’s why you’re elected. What do you make of the fact that the Prime Minister of Australia could plead with the Premier and be rejected, and be accused of bullying and intimidating and so on? Is this an open statement to the people of Australia that the Prime Minister of the country is powerless in critical circumstances such as this?  
PLIBERSEK: Well, a couple of things, Alan. I think you’ve identified this problem at state borders. This is something that we need to think about as a nation as well. As Members of Parliament, Nicolle and I would both have been getting letters and emails from our constituents who are stuck overseas, who can’t get home, or who are in Australia and desperately want to go and visit sick parents or other relatives overseas – with all the risks that that entails. And so, it’s something that we need to address at a national level. But, Alan, you’re inviting me to criticise the Prime Minister as powerless, and I’m not going to do that. I’m going to say, right now, what Australians want from us is for us to work through the detail: methodically, systematically, with common sense and with compassion. 
JONES: Yeah but that’s all very well, Tanya; that’s rhetoric. And if I could ask you both – you know that the Prime Minister said that children should go back to school. The Prime Minister of Australia said there should be no border lockdowns, no border closures. Now he has been defied – how else do I put it, other than the fact that the Prime Minister doesn’t have power? Nicolle, what do you make of this? 
FLINT: Well, Alan, the only way that, really, we could exercise any control, I suppose, over the states – because, we all know, we are a federation, the states are independent of the Commonwealth, that’s the beauty of our structure is the sharing of power and the fact that we have different powers. So, the only real route for us to take is through a legal challenge. Now, that would take probably something like 18 months.  
FLINT: I would much rather – as Tanya has suggested – that we all try to work through, especially, these devastating cases. 
JONES: A lot of people have been bruised along the way, Nicolle. I’ve got to tell you. See, Tanya, I  spent – I don’t want to inject a personal element – but I spent a part of this week trying to save a young man from suicide. I mean, kids can’t handle all this stuff.  
JONES: And, I mean the Prime Minister said the borders should be open. Why shouldn’t they be open? The Palmer matter is going to High Court, I think, in early November. But, I mean, this is having awful emotional, psychological and mental consequences for a lot of invisible people out there. 
PLIBERSEK: It’s taking a real toll on a lot of people, Alan. A really substantial toll on a lot of people. And I think there’s one clear area of responsibility that the Commonwealth Government’s got and that’s aged care, and so they really should get that right. And, when it comes to young people – Alan, you know I’ve been on this week after week - those young people who are facing unemployment, they are that stressed out of their minds, particularly the final year high school students. Why on earth are we making it harder for them to go to uni or get into TAFE, or get a job? Any one of those three is great, but we’re making all three harder. 
JONES: I keep saying we’ll come back to that unemployment thing, and we will. Nicolle, just a final word to you about the young, and, does anyone understand the damage that is being done to these young people? Just a quick one from you. 
FLINT: Look, it’s the hardest year of young people’s lives, especially those going through Year 12 this year, that they will probably – that I hope that they ever – face.  I’m really pleased that the Federal government has invested record funding in Headspace, in particular, which is a mental health service particularly for our young people. 
JONES: I know, but, you see, that’s what you need when -
FLINT: We’ve invested another over a billion dollars in mental health services-
JONES: But Nicolle, as we are all saying, that’s what you need when you’re contemplating suicide. We should remove – these are the symptoms – the disease is the way these young people are being treated. We hope we don’t need Headspace, but, God the pressure on these kids is enormous. We’ve got to go. It’s always lovely to talk, Tanya, thank you for your time. 
PLIBERSEK: Always a pleasure. 
JONES: Nicolle, thank you for your time, you’ve done very well. Lovely to have you on board. 
FLINT: Thanks Alan.