By Tanya Plibersek

30 April 2020



SUBJECTS: Return to school confusion; Independent schools funding; easing business restrictions; rental relief.

PETER STEFANOVIC, PRESENTER: Well joining me now live here on First Edition is Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya, good morning to you, thanks so much for joining us. So first of all this funding package, I suppose, that the Federal Government announced yesterday that was heading towards schools was worth a lot of money, some $3 billion, but some people called it bribery. How would you describe it?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Look, I think it's just very confusing for schools, for Principals, for school systems and most particularly, it's confusing for parents because no parent wants to be dealing with their Prime Minister telling them one thing and the Premier of their state telling them something else. Just recently the Prime Minister was saying "Listen to your Premiers when it comes to sending kids back to school", and unfortunately now we've got a very different message. We've got the Prime Minister saying send your kids to school and the Premiers saying keep them home. And yesterday's offer of this funding has just made matters even worse, I think. Parents really just feel like the meat in the sandwich at the moment.

STEFANOVIC: I do know that several of those schools have rejected the offer but I mean some of these schools, many of them in fact are businesses though, so are they caught between a rock and a hard place here? They perhaps want to keep their kids at school, but they also need that money.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think schools have really - they're worried about keeping on casual staff, of course their expenses continue as kids aren't at school, and some non-government schools have offered parents a reduction in fees because they know that parents are struggling at the moment, but I don't think anyone would ever make a decision that was about anything other than what's best for kids and we've got two competing demands here. Just as parents' main concerns for their kids are their health and their education, that's what schools are trying to work out as well. They're trying to work out when it's safe for kids to go back to school, when it's is safe for kids and staff, because everybody knows that that it is a problem having kids missing too much school. It's not good for kids to miss school. But they're balancing the health advice against what they know is right for the kids' education and I don’t, I genuinely don't think any school would make a decision against medical advice just to get their hands on a bit of extra cash.

STEFANOVIC: Well, I mean you personally you're a working mum with school-age children. What would be, what's your preference?

PLIBERSEK: A working mum going slowly crazy…

STEFANOVIC: Well, I mean, I'll ask you about what we've learned in a second about this COVID-19 crisis and how you must feel about working from home with kids around all the time. But what's your preference in all of this?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think absolutely what needs to happen is kids are back at school as soon as we are confident that it's safe for students and staff to be there. And while there's an argument about that, I think it's important to listen to your state Premiers because they're the ones that run schools day to day and indeed that's what the Prime Minister said a couple of weeks ago, "Listen to your Premier". I don't, I genuinely think the very worst thing that can happen here is this turns into some political or ideological argument about where kids should be, whether they should be distance learning or at school. We all want what's best for kids. We all want to look after the staff of schools who have done such a fantastic job supporting distance education with no warning, you know, at the drop of a hat they've put on so much school and learning online. We all want what's best for kids and for staff. Let's just not get caught so the parents are the meat in the sandwich in a fight between the Prime Minister and the Premiers.

STEFANOVIC: And just broadly speaking, I mean there does seem to be a push now to ease restrictions. It's happening in New South Wales and the Prime Minister was even saying yesterday that he hopes to be able to see restaurants, cafes open soon, international travel is going to be out for a long time, but maybe domestic travel and even flights to New Zealand. Is that something that you support, the gradual reopening of businesses - and soon?

PLIBERSEK: Look, we all want to see our society and our economy get back to something close to normal as quickly as possible. We know that people who lose their jobs will struggle to find another one, that's particularly true for older workers, for people who are in industries where they don't very quickly turn off and turn back on again. We want to see people employed and I don't think anybody would disagree with that, but we need to keep people safe at the same time. We have seen some countries that thought that they had contained COVID-19 and then they had a second round of restrictions.


PLIBERSEK: The most important thing really is to take the best medical advice and the best scientific advice on how we can ease restrictions while keeping people safe and then let's all focus together on making sure that people have got jobs because the economic hit to our nation has been really substantial. I'm getting calls every day from people who've lost their jobs, businesses who have been closed down, people worried about losing their rental property, businesses who have been kicked out of their rental properties, some families where mum and dad are both lost a job and they really don't know how they're going to make ends meet. It's just such a stressful time for people. So, of course the sooner we can get the economy back on track the better.

STEFANOVIC: And just and just on that, I mean, what are some of those constituents telling you about rental relief, whether that's in a home or whether that's in the commercial area? Are you getting information that suggests that that arrangement is kind of not working at the moment or do they seem –

PLIBERSEK: Yes. I am. I absolutely am getting, I had one restaurant in my electorate that's been in the same location for eight years. They've been a great tenant for eight years. They've kept their staff working during this break in providing take away meals for essentially people who can't afford to eat otherwise. They've been essentially running as a soup kitchen to keep their staff engaged and to do something good for their community. They've been told by their real estate agent that they want them to close down and move out. I've had another family, a couple with three children who've been terrific tenants for years in the same place and they've been offered a very slight reduction in their rent or a delay in repaying the rent, but they'll have to pay it back when they, when a couple of months is up. I mean, it's just impossible for them to contemplate repaying what they think will be maybe $10,000 of rental debt, but they've got three children. They feel they feel like they are facing either eviction or a debt that they can't repay with the uncertainty of their jobs. I mean, people are very worried. Our office has been flooded with people who have been - I mean, it's great that we've got these Jo Keeper subsidies, but they don't know how to negotiate the system, it's very complicated. People haven't, you know, many people have never contacted Centrelink before, they've never needed income support before. It's all very new to them. They're confused about whether they should be on JobSeeker or JobKeeper. They've been told that they won't be evicted, the Government's told them that but their real estate agents are telling them something very different. So it's a very stressful time for families at the moment.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, I mean, I'm not a Member of Parliament but I've even had a lot of businesses tell me in my local community that that's not working out, the rent relief for commercial sector and private sector as well. So maybe some more attention needs to be placed there.

PLIBERSEK: I really think this is a time when you see the extremes of good and bad behaviour. You see some landlords say ‘No that's fine. I know your business has had a downturn, I'l give you some rent relief for a while’. At the other end I've had people say ‘no not a dollar. We’re not going to give you a dollars' rent relief. Sorry, we'd rather have the place empty then give you a bit of relief.’ I just think that beggars belief actually.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah. I mean, I know some people who own these properties well they've got to pay the bank as well.


STEFANOVIC: So it does get very complex in that realm. Tanya Plibersek, we are out of time unfortunately, but appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: No worries.