22 October 2019




SUBJECTS: Liberals shortchanging TAFE and Training;drought, Medevac;election review.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Let's go to federal politics now and Labor this morning is attacking the Government's record on TAFE spending, saying official figures show there has been a massive under-spend in that sector. We are joined now by the Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek from Parliament House. Tanya Plibersek, good morning to you.


ROWLAND: How much under-spend are we talking about?

PLIBERSEK: Well, $919 million, so close to a billion dollars under-spent by this Government. This comes on top of close to $3 billion dollars cut from TAFE and Training. We are not talking about cuts now, we are talking about an under-spend of close to a billion dollars - less money than the Government, itself, has promised to spend on TAFE and training. This is particularly shocking given that we have got a skills crisis, right across the country. We have got shortages of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, pastry chefs, hairdressers - so many shortages in so many fields and we've got close to two million people who are unemployed or underemployed. Of course we should be training those people for the jobs that are going begging.

ROWLAND: OK, so, you talking about this money being what available there in the budget for TAFE and training and not being spent?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. And if you look at - there is a whole range of programs that relate to TAFE, to training, to skills, to apprentices that have all be under-spent. It means that businesses that want to be employing skilled people are saying - three quarters of businesses have said that they can't find the skilled workers they need. So the skills crisis is holding Australian businesses back and we've got people who would love to do an apprenticeship, would love to have a job who can't get access to that. We've got TAFE campuses falling apart across the country, we've got state government's closing TAFE campuses, closing courses, and all this while this money is sitting unspent by the Government.

ROWLAND: OK, a couple of other issues. The National Farmers Federation this morning is calling on the Federal Government to pay exit payments to farmers who want to leave their drought ravaged properties. Is that something Labor would support?

PLIBERSEK: We have only just seen the report from the Farmers Federation. Of course we absolutely have to listen to the voices of farming communities about the best way to handle the drought, so, we'll be reading that with great interest. It is something that shows how desperate the situation is in country communities that this would be on the list of the things that the National Farmers Federation wants. We need to work together across the Parliament to support farming communities in this unprecedented time and that is why Labor has reached out to the Government offering bipartisanship on a drought - war-cabinet style arrangement were we can work without the politics to solve this terrible, terrible crisis.

ROWLAND: OK, we're are also looking at the Medevac repeal law sometime this Parliamentary session. Peter Dutton the Home Affairs Minister is increasing pressure on the opposition and the cross-benches saying that 135 asylum seekers have come to Australia since that law was brought in, in February. He says 6 of those people, in his view, posed serious concerns regarding their possible criminal records. Is that something that concerns you?

PLIBERSEK: Well, as the Minister, he has the ability to prevent people coming here on character grounds. So, I don't know why he has ignored his obligation as a Minister to evaluate whether people have- whether they've got good character. He can stop them coming here if he wants to and it is, of course, the case that when people are here receiving medical treatment, if they are not actually receiving the medical treatment at that moment they are in immigration detention. So, in both respects I think the minister is seeking to frighten people, giving them the idea that there are dangerous people walking around in the community when he as the Minister has the power to prevent that happening.

ROWLAND: All eyes are on Jacqui Lambie - the swing cross-bencher in the Senate who will determine the fate of this Government push. Are you confident that you have her support at this stage to preserve the Medevac laws?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I am not negotiating with Jacqui. There are other people who are doing that but we'll, of course, continue to talk to her and work with her. This legislation has the support of doctors right across Australia. The most recent Senate Inquiry showed that doctors and medical groups are supportive of this legislation. In fact the only submission to that Senate Inquiry that was opposed to the Medevac laws was the Department of Home Affairs own submission. I hope, just as we are listening to those doctors, that Jacqui will also be listening to those doctors.

ROWLAND: OK, before we go, there is lots of chatter, as you know, within Labor ranks ahead of the release of the report into your election loss earlier this year and some in Labor are saying that your former leader Bill Shorten is copping an unfair amount of the blame for that loss. Do you share that view?

PLIBERSEK: I have made my views clear to the people conducting the inquiry and I'll leave it at that, thanks very much. I thought you were going to ask me about the rats Michael.

ROWLAND: As his former deputy, is he getting a bad rap?

PLIBERSEK: I am not going to run a commentary. Bill was a terrific leader. He worked incredibly hard. I am proud of the work he did and the work we did together. I think many of our policies were absolutely first-rate, but beyond that, I am not going to give you a detailed analysis of where I think we went right and wrong.

ROWLAND: Always worth asking. Tanya Plibersek at Parliament House, thank you so much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: No worries.