By Tanya Plibersek

28 March 2024




LAURA JAYES: Welcome back. You're watching AM Agenda. Yesterday was all about detainees and what the Labor Government was trying to do. There was emergency legislation essentially, they were trying to rush through Parliament, but in the end the Coalition would not agree. So, Parliament has risen and will not return until the Budget. Joining me now is the Environment and Water Minister, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya, thanks so much for your time. First of all, I just wanted to ask you about Alice Springs. I mean, the national media is focusing on Alice Springs once again. But for the last couple of months, even longer than a year, the violence has been as bad as ever. It's culminated in these riots in the last couple of days, and that's after the death of a young man in a stolen vehicle. What are the long-term solutions that people are talking about here?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Well, of course we support the Northern Territory Government in the immediate action they've taken to introduce a curfew over the next couple of weeks as a circuit breaker. We think that's important to have that period to calm things down. But you're quite right, Laura. I mean, this is a longer-term issue that we've got. When we came to government, the previous government had just set in train a cutting of about a quarter of a billion dollars of supports for central Australia. We of course restored that funding to domestic and family violence services for example. We've committed extra funding for police, for DV services to work with the Council on security upgrades.

But we need to address these longer-term issues. These things haven't sprung up overnight. That's why recently we announced $4 billion extra investment in housing to deal with some of the overcrowding issues that really have contributed to kids being out on the street at night when they should be home asleep in bed. We've also worked with the Northern Territory Government to put a billion dollars into the Northern Territory education system because we know kids don't start getting into trouble the day they turn 16. They're on a trajectory to getting into trouble from a very early age. We need to invest early to make sure kids are at home in bed at night and during the day they're in classrooms learning so that they're ready for the world, job ready, ready for further education. All of the things that we want for those children.

JAYES: These announcements are welcome and the money is super important. But what seems to happen is that you have these announcements, there seems to be a little bit of reprieve on the ground, but there's a problem with that money actually translating into service delivery that's fit for purpose. The domestic violence example is a good example of that. And there's just not enough resources on the ground.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, there's not enough resources on the ground and it's about making sure that the commitment is a lasting commitment. Like, as I said, we came into government facing a quarter of a billion dollars of cuts to services in central Australia. We had to quickly find that money to restore those services that would have otherwise fallen over. When you're talking about hiring police or hiring workers to work in domestic violence or even hiring teachers or early childhood educators, you've got to make sure that the funding is there across multiple years to make sure that those services are going to keep going. And that's why the housing investment and the education investment are so important. These are multiple year commitments from the Commonwealth Government, in partnership with the Northern Territory Government, so that we've got longer term solutions.

JAYES: We can't entirely let the Territory Government off the hook here. I mean, some of these incidents should never have been allowed to happen. And I think there is some truth to the fact that, you know, this is not in a major city. It's out of the public eye, mainly, if it wasn't for reporters like Matt Cunningham.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, look, I think it's obviously true that Alice Springs is going through a particularly difficult time at the moment, and the local member there, Marion Scrymgour, is on the ground there talking to people, working with community leaders to settle things down and make sure that kids are at home in bed when they should be at home, in bed or in school during the day when they should be in school. Marion understands the needs of the local community and is absolutely committed to bringing together all three levels of government, the Territory Government, with the Commonwealth, with the Local Government in Alice Springs and in surrounding communities. The commitment has to be a long-term commitment, and I think Marion better understands than most people what's required.

JAYES: Okay, can I talk to you now about the pre-Budget sell? A lot of things change in politics, but the pre-Budget sell never does. So, that's what we're going to see Anthony Albanese in the Hunter today. There'll be announcements to the tune of a billion dollars when it comes to solar panels and really this pitch to Australians about, you know, local manufacturing essentially, and local made products boosting Australian businesses. So, what can we expect in the Budget?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, what you'll see in this Budget is a traditional Labor Budget and that includes a focus on “made in Australia”. You're talking about solar panels today. It's so important that we are able to, you know, we've got a massive transformation going on in our economy at the moment. We know we'll need more solar panels, we'll need wind turbines, we'll need batteries wherever we can. We obviously want to see Australian materials, Australian know how, and Australian products when it comes to meeting that demand. That's important for jobs and wealth creation in this country. But, we also found out during COVID that if things go bad in the international community, if there's an unexpected shock of whatever type, we're not at the top of the list for getting hold of some of these critical goods and services. We need to make sure that we have domestic capacity. And in solar in particular, we do the best research in the world on solar, but we have traditionally not been able to translate that into a substantial domestic industry. We should be doing our very best to translate that into Australian jobs and Australian wealth. And that's what the Prime Minister's committed to. I think another element to this Laura -

JAYES: Isn't that because we buy most of our solar panels from China?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: We do. I think they supply about 90% of the world’s solar panels -

JAYES: And it’s not a good recycling program at the back end of that afterlife, is it?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. And this is a really critical element of “made in Australia”. It's remade in Australia as well. At the moment, we don't get enough life out of the resources that we're using, out of the materials that we're using. We really should be creating batteries, panels, wind turbines, with the thought that in a decade or 2 or 3 decades time, we don't want those things to end up in landfill. They're full of absolutely valuable materials. We need to be thinking now about how we recycle in the future to prevent that stuff going into landfill and get maximum value out of the precious metals and the materials that are so vital to this transformation in our economy.

JAYES: Can I just ask you about one last thing? And that is Adam Bandt, very busy on Twitter, and I understand that the Serjeant-at-Arms has asked him to take a particular tweet down and then he retweeted it. We're just trying to get the pictures here. He had a go at you, but now he's gone more broad and just said, Labor have made a dodgy deal with Santos and Woodside and the Liberals to fast track offshore gas projects. So, he obviously thought it was sensible to take it down. But he's retweeted that. What do you think?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, he's been caught out lying and, you know, there's deliberate misinformation in the original tweet. I mean, it's what I expect from the Greens. They're deeply cynical and deliberately misleading in their social media. He took a question that I answered about renewable energy and pretended that I was talking about gas. I mean, you couldn't be more misleading than that. But it's what I've come to expect from the Greens, so no surprises there.

JAYES: Okay, Tanya Plibersek, thanks for your time, as always. We'll see you soon.