By Tanya Plibersek

01 February 2024




JAYES: Well, let’s go live to the Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek. Tanya, thanks so much for your time. We just heard there what Shane Oliver had to say. What do you think about that?


TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Well, we’ve had very clear advice from Treasury that our better tax changes won’t add to inflation, and the reason for that is they encourage people back into the workforce or to work more hours. We know that people are doing it tough now, and so we’ve got a tax package that gives every single Australian taxpayer a tax cut but gives people on middle and lower incomes a bigger tax cut. So more people get a bigger tax cut.


JAYES: What about the Greens’ push now for – they essentially said this morning, “Look, if you increase JobSeeker, you’ve got a deal in the Senate.” Is that something that you’re actively considering?


PLIBERSEK: Look, I would be really disappointed if either the Liberals or the Nationals or the Greens stood in the way of this bigger, fairer tax cut for more Australians. And I think Australians would be pretty impatient with that, I have to say. Here we have a scenario where, you know, someone on $75,000, $80,000 a year will get $1,600 extra in their pockets. To be standing in the way of that I think would be profoundly unfair. People need help with the cost of living. We obviously want to give them a bigger tax cut. We’re also going to continue with other measures like Mark Butler’s very good work in increasing bulk billing. We’ve seen an extra 360,000 bulk-billed visits to the doctor just in the last couple of months. We’ll continue to do all of the work we’ve done with cheaper child care, supporting lower energy bills, free TAFE. There’s a range of things that we’re doing, but to stand in the way of this tax cut for middle and lower-income earners I think would be profoundly unpopular if any of the other parties did that.


JAYES: Would you consider increasing JobSeeker, though?


PLIBERSEK: Well, we’ve been terrifically supportive of people on benefits since coming to government. We’ve seen substantial increases in pensions and in JobSeeker under this Labor government. We’ve seen the biggest increase in commonwealth rent assistance in 30 years. What we’re offering now is a tax cut, a bigger tax cut, for more Australians, and the other parties should get out of the way of that. They should be supportive of it. They should, I think, in fact, be welcoming it.


JAYES: But that didn’t sound like a no. I know you’re not the Treasurer.


PLIBERSEK: Well, I mean, look, I’m not in the Senate negotiating with the crossbench. But I would be very surprised if the Greens stood in the way of this tax cut. And, frankly, I’d be very disappointed in the Liberals and Nationals stood in the way of it. This is a tax cut for every single Australian taxpayer, and middle-income earners in particular, get a much bigger tax cut than they were expecting. And people on low incomes were going to miss out entirely under Scott Morrison’s original proposal. They’ll now get a tax cut.


JAYES: It’s now looking a little unwieldy ahead of those Senate negotiations next week. You have in the AFR this morning the headline there that Labor is looking more closely at family trusts. We also have Bill Kelty saying, “Look, there should be a further look by this government at things like negative gearing.” Do you think that should happen?


PLIBERSEK: We’ve got a very full tax agenda. We’re not just doing the cuts to personal income tax; we’re also have got the changes to the petroleum resources tax, we’ve got changes to multinational tax rates. We’ve got a very full agenda. The Treasurer Jim Chalmers, Andrew Leigh and others have been working very hard to make sure that we’ve got a fairer, more sustainable tax base here in Australia. I don’t think we’re in the business of taking on extra negotiations when we haven’t got the income tax rates through the parliament.


JAYES: Yeah, sure, but you can understand why people might be a little bit sceptical, thinking that this is the path you might go down. You’ve taken it to a previous election now, is it something you could seek a mandate on?


PLIBERSEK: We’re not discussing it. There’s been no discussions about those other things, negative gearing, for example, that’s not been raised. There’s been no discussions about that. What we are in the business of doing is making sure that more than 10 million Australians get more of their take-home pay in their pockets with a tax cut and that those tax cuts are better targeted to people on middle and low incomes that would otherwise miss out.


JAYES: To be fair, that’s what Albo did say about stage 3.


PLIBERSEK: Sorry, what did he say? What do you mean, Laura? What did he say? What are you worried about?


JAYES: Sorry, he said there were no discussions about, you know, stage 3 tax, until there was, of course. So that’s why there’s a little bit of scepticism about all these other things – family trusts, negative gearing.


PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well, we’ve got a full agenda. We’ve got to get the tax changes we’ve already committed to through the parliament.


JAYES: Okay. Let me ask you about a few other things just quickly. Newington College, they’re looking at – or, they are going to have women, young girls, in their school. And some of the parents are losing their minds about this. What do you think about co-ed schools, some of these established Sydney private schools?


PLIBERSEK: Yeah, look, I think it’s really a matter for the school, but I think co-ed education is great, particularly for boys. It’s really good for boys to grow up with strong female role models, and that means not just their teachers and their mothers and their sisters but also the girls that they’re friends with and competing with at school. But, no, as I say, it’s Newington College, it’s up to them. It’s just a matter for the school. I think it’s the way the modern world is heading, but the school can make whatever decision it likes.


JAYES: Yeah, I tend to agree. Let me finally ask you about Michael Egan. Really sad news today that he’s died at age 75. He was a massive Labor figure in New South Wales but also Cronulla, too.


PLIBERSEK: Yeah, as you mentioned, he was in the Lower House for a number of years before he went into the New South Wales Upper House. He’s the state’s longest-serving Treasurer, coming into government at the beginning of the Carr-Labor government. He delivered the first surplus in many years. He kept the state budget in surplus, he paid down debt, he delivered the Olympics debt-free. He was a huge figure, and the Carr-Labor government always had a very good reputation for economic responsibility. That was down to Michael Egan and the decisions he made. He was always very focused on delivering for ordinary people, so the increased competition and efficiency that we saw in water and other utilities was because he had a focus on making sure people were paying less in their utility bills.


After politics, he kept up the public service. He went on to chair the Centenary Institute that do excellent medical research. He was the longest-serving chancellor of Macquarie University. He shook the hands of 43,000 graduating students in his time as chancellor at Macquarie University. He really was a huge figure in public life in New South Wales and dedicated his whole career to public service, and I’ll miss him personally very much.


JAYES: Yeah, I’m sorry for your loss today. That is quite a CV and quite a memory from you. Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much.


PLIBERSEK: Thank you.