27 January 2020




SUBJECTS: Condolence to Prime Minister; Regional skills shortages impact bushfire rebuilding efforts; Bridget McKenzie.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Thank you very much for coming out this morning. I just wanted to make a brief personal comment before we get into the press conference and that is to send my condolences to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the loss of his father. I lost my own dad a few years ago and I still miss him every day and I know that this will be a very difficult time for the PM and his family and I wish them the very best in dealing with their grief.

I want to turn now to reports in today's newspapers about the rebuilding efforts after the catastrophic fire season that we've had. We've seen an incredible loss of life in this fire season and, of course, our first thoughts go to those that have lost their lives, their families and their loved ones, particularly in the last few days. Our friends who've come from across the world to help us in our time of need, to see that tragic loss of life really is in-expressively sad. And I know that all Australians will do their very best to help those who've lost loved ones in this very difficult time.

We've also seen enormous loss of property: more than 2800 homes so far effected, more than 5000 buildings [inaudible]. It's going to be absolutely critical that we work to reconstruct these homes, these businesses, farms as quickly as possible to help those who've been affected get back to ... well.. as close to... normal life as quickly as possible.

But even before these fires, right across Australia and especially in regional communities we've had serious skills shortages. We've had, for years now, shortages of carpenters, bricklayers, electricians, people right across the building trades and this massive reconstruction effort will only worsen those shortages. We need to be training Australians now to rebuild Aussie homes.

This government, sadly, has seen cuts of about 140,000 apprentice and trainee places. So the skills shortages were already bad before this fire season but those skills shortages are only going to get worse. A lot of those regional communities where their skill shortages are very apparent, where the building efforts will be very necessary, are also areas of high youth unemployment. This is an opportunity for the government to make sure that we train young Australians in those building trades to address the skills shortages that are only going to be made more acute by the massive rebuilding efforts we have. So let's see from the Government renewed efforts to make sure we're going to get Aussie tradies on the job rebuilding Aussie homes. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: How do you propose the Government go about .... potential new apprentices?

PLIBERSEK: Look the trouble is we've actually cut apprentice and training numbers in Australia by about 140000 since this Government came to office. We need to see funding to TAFE restored. Labor, before the last election, had commitments like making sure that one in ten of the jobs on Government funded projects, like big infrastructure projects, would go to apprentices. There's so much we can do to make sure that young Australians get the opportunity of learning a trade and putting that trade to good use building the nation.

JOURNALIST: Where do you think this should sit on a list of priorities?

PLIBERSEK: Well we know its such a devastating loss to lose the family home, the family farm, the family business. Getting those people who've had that loss back to life as quickly as possible, means rebuilding their homes and businesses as quickly as possible. We can't do that work unless we've got the tradies to do it. So this had to be a top priority for the Government.

JOURNALIST:[inaudible] ... today two of the Prime Ministers staffers were involved in handling funding applications for the sporting grants if this is found to be true what should happen... [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: This is such a sorry saga, isn't it? As a local member I see how much effort local sporting clubs put into building their clubs, giving kids the opportunity of playing a sport. They put hundreds of hours of volunteer work every year into just running the club. So every time they apply for a grant like this, its extra hours, dozens of extra hours. All of these clubs should have just been told "Don't bother...if you're not in a marginal seat, if you're not in a seat we're targeting, forget about it. I think that's a real tragedy for the mums and dads who are spending their nights and weekends as volunteers supporting these local clubs. We now know the reason that the Prime Minister has been running this protection racket for Bridget McKenzie is because his own office has been up to their necks in this scandal. It's very obvious that Bridget McKenzie should go, but now there are questions about who knew what when. What did the Prime Ministers office know and when did they know it?

JOURNALIST: The Prime Ministers office has denied the allegations. Could this program have been administered in a way, that was without the knowledge of the Prime Minister?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think its very difficult to know, from my perspective, who in the Prime Ministers office was aware of the ins and outs of the program, that's why there should be a proper, transparent review that is made public, as quickly as possible. Someone knows. Someone in the Prime Ministers office knows what the Prime Minister knew and when. These senior staff are obviously now implicated and the reason that the Government has been running a protection racket for Bridget McKenzie has become clear - they were all up to it...

JOURNALIST: Is it enough then for Bridget McKenzie to resign - or does this actually go beyond her?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the obvious first step is that the Minister has to go. Beyond that, looking at who knew what, and when they knew it, in the Prime Ministers office, has now become necessary. It's tax payers money and by and large volunteer organisations who've spent hours writing up grants, who never had a chance because they weren't a political targets of the Prime Minister or his Government. It's just unfair... it's just not right to use tax payers money in this way.

JOURNALIST: Apart from seeing resignations, how can this be made right?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's very obvious that the first step is that the Minister taking responsibility ... [inaudible] .. the Prime Minister taking responsibility if she won't, making her go. And then answering the questions about who knew what in his office, what decisions were made, why decisions were made in this way? Why two thirds of the grants have gone to Coalition seats? Why clubs who should have expected that their applications would be judged on their merit, have, instead, been by-passed in favour of political decision?