TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
TUESDAY, 24 MARCH 2020
SUBJECTS: Possible school closures; Support for workers; Centrelink access issues.
LISA MILLAR, HOST: Let's stick with the coronavirus fall out and medical experts say there's no reason for schools to close, but that's not stopped the confusion for parents. Children in Victoria and the ACT are now at home but in New South Wales schools remain open, although the state Premier has recommended parents should keep their children away. Sydney parent and Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek, has called for some clarity and she joins us now from Sydney. Good morning Minister. Thank you for joining us.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Good morning, and I think that's the key really - parents really do need some clarity about the best advice in their state. It is very confusing when you've got the Prime Minister and state Premiers sending different messages.
MILLAR: And just to add my own clarity, of course, I addressed you as Minister-
PLIBERSEK: I quite liked it really.
MILLAR: That adds to the confusion, doesn't it, that surrounds almost all of this and I realise that leaders are doing their best. Have you sent your kids to school?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I'll be sending my kids to school. They went yesterday and I'll be sending them today. I know a lot of people don't think of politicians as essential service workers, but I've got an office that's overwhelmed by people who need help. They need help with Centrelink. They need help - small businesses need help accessing the benefits that they are entitled to. We've got Australian citizens stuck overseas that we're trying to help get back into the country. So I want to be able to help my constituents and I think this raises a very important issue. We do need to consider more broadly that essential workers now are the people who are stacking shelves in Coles or Woolies, they are people who are driving the trucks to get our goods to the supermarkets, they are the people cleaning our trains. They are a broad range of workers that are keeping us safe and keeping our economy going in this very difficult time. But I think it is very important to say that parents are making different choices at this time, and we also need to be thoughtful and supportive of one another's choices. The most important thing to most parents is their children's health and their children's education and we're all just struggling to do the best thing for our kids at the moment. The other thing we need to say very clearly - if your kids are sick, obviously keep them at home, one hundred percent. There's no question about that. If they are going to school, schools are going to need help to manage this new environment. They're going to need help to deliver online learning to kids who are still at home, and we should be really thanking our teachers, our school staff, our principals, for the work that they've been doing in this extraordinarily difficult and complicated time.
MILLAR: Well, there's talk today in Queensland of teachers going on strike because they're concerned they are being made to still go to work. Granted that everyone is stressed and overwhelmed at the moment, but is it a time for strikes?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it is clear at this time that the medical advice is that schools are safe. I had a thorough briefing yesterday from the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, and at this time the advice is that schools are still safe. It's likely that that will change in coming months. It's likely that there will be widespread closures of schools for all but essential workers, but at this time the information is that it's still safe to send kids to school and we need to be supporting teachers because they are facing extraordinary circumstances themselves. They're teaching some kids at school. They're teaching some kids at home. They're not getting clear messages from our political leaders. If our Prime Minister and our Premiers say different things that is very confusing for everyone.
MILLAR: We don't have a lot of time left. I did want to ask you as a senior member of the Labor Party. What did you make of those massive queues and of the prediction that we could see two million people on welfare in Australia?
PLIBERSEK: I saw it for myself yesterday as I was walking to work. I walked past the queue in Redfern and I've never seen anything like it. The Government should surely have planned better for this. They are unprecedented days, but when you're making a new benefit available surely having the staff available to help people sign up to the new benefits and making sure that the computer system doesn't crash is absolutely fundamental. And if it does crash, for goodness sake, we've got a Minister pretending it was a hacking job. The fastest way the Government can lose trust of Australians is not to be frank about this stuff. You need to have a government that takes Australia into its confidence and says 'Yeah, we're sorry we stuffed up, we didn't have a computer system that was capable of dealing with the demand' and be upfront in a way like that, instead of what's Stuart Robert did yesterday which was try and blame someone else for his own mistakes. These are unprecedented times. It is likely the Government will need to do more. We are very supportive of the packages that have been introduced already, but we know that there are still groups who will struggle very much, including small businesses and sole traders in particular, self-employed people, people in the arts, people in hospitality and tourism - they are still facing a very bleak time in coming weeks and months and we will be there to support whatever measures the Government puts in place to make sure money is getting into households. We also need to look at people who are really vulnerable who are at home - people who've been living on welfare, who have got compromised health, who need support to do the shopping to cope with self-isolation. We need to be giving more support to our community organisations, charities and NGOs to help those particularly vulnerable people.
MILLAR: Tanya Plibersek, thank you. The Shadow Minister for Education.