By Tanya Plibersek

08 March 2022


SUBJECTS: International Women’s Day; Labor’s consent and respectful relationships programs announcement; women’s safety; floods affecting the East Coast; Emergency Response Fund; Labor’s Disaster Ready Fund; domestic violence a scourge on society; Labor’s policy agenda; Federal election; Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund; [email protected]; petrol prices; cost of living; Labor’s Cheaper Child Care policy; Ukraine; national security.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. Thanks for joining us on International Women's Day. And today, the announcement, appropriately, will be made by our Shadow Minister for the Status of Women, Tanya Plibersek. We are also in her electorate of Sydney this morning. And it's been a great privilege this morning to talk to Chanel Contos and other young women who have experienced the issues that arise, unfortunately, far too common. But young women who are combining to campaign to educate each other, to give support to each other through this period and to raise education and to raise issues. I think that the emergence, in particularly in recent times, of courageous young women like Chanel Contos, like Brittany Higgins, like Grace Tame, is changing Australia for the better. We need to change behaviour of men in order to make a difference. And these young women we've met with today are certainly doing that. And I'd ask Tanya to make some comments.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION & SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Well, thanks very much, Anthony. And welcome to my electorate. I know that this is very familiar stamping ground for you. You grew up up the road here in Camperdown, not far from where we are today. We're meeting on a day where the rain continues to be torrential. And I know that you'll be saying a few words about the terrible floods that we're experiencing in a moment. And I would join you in saying we are very worried about what's happening across New South Wales and Queensland right now. And our thoughts are going out to those families who are affected, particularly those who've lost loved ones.
But it is International Women's Day today. And it is an important opportunity to make an announcement that will keep more people safe in Australia, more young women in particular. Today, we're announcing that Labor, if elected, would invest $77 million in respectful relationships programs in our schools so that every child in every school will have the opportunity of a really good quality respectful relationships education from an early age. We know that we can very appropriately teach young kids how to be better friends, how to play more nicely with each other, how to take turns, how to resolve conflict without violence. And we know we have to be talking to teenagers more explicitly, as they enter into romantic and sexual relationships, about what a healthy relationship looks like. How do we have relationships that are equal, that are respectful, that don't involve sexual violence or coercive control? There's a lot of evidence about what's already working in our schools. But across Australia today, the delivery of respectful relationships education is very hit-and-miss. The young women we were talking about this morning had very different experiences about what they were taught, how well they were taught, how consistent the education was in their schools. And we have to change that to make sure that every child in every school has the opportunity of starting life with a good, clear idea of how to be a good friend, how to be a good partner as they grow older. We know today in Australia, the statistics are unacceptable. One in five Australian women will be a victim of sexual assault. There are more Australian women who are victims of sexual assault than there are women who are smokers in Australia today. Just think about that for a moment. One in three will experience domestic violence. And in the last five years alone, 40 per cent of Australian women have been sexually harassed in the workplace. This is unacceptable. We have to change it. We have to change it with a stronger legal response today. But we also need to change how we're raising our kids so that in the future, the incidence of violence will decrease. We want every Australian to be safe - at home, in the street, in their workplaces. We want every Australian to be safe. We need to invest in respectful relationships. Thank you.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Tanya. And I want to pay tribute to Tanya and the work that she's done in developing this policy and developing her relationships with younger women, in particular, listening to them and coming up with this policy that will, I'm very confident, make an enormous difference. You can't change things overnight. You can change things over a period of time, though. And that's what this respectful relationships education is about.
Overnight, of course, here in Sydney, we've experienced extreme weather yet again. The flooding that's occurred on the Georges River, the Cooks River and other parts of Sydney, meaning that thousands of people had to leave their homes. Others are sand-bagging their homes and have seen great damage to property. And, of course, we've seen the loss of life over recent weeks in New South Wales and also in Queensland. I say to those people who are the subject of notices from the SES, from emergency services, please follow the advice. It is not worth driving through floodwaters. I, myself, like many other Sydneysiders, received notices overnight on our phones. That's a good thing that advice is going out there. It's also a good thing that, once again, we're seeing heroes. People putting their own lives at risk, people helping their fellow Australians. It's clear as well, though, that we need to do more in the short-term and the long-term. In the long-term, we have to address the challenge of climate change. It is here. It is here right now. We've seen the worst bushfires in living memory that we saw in 2019/20. We're now seeing what we used to call one-in-100-year flood events occurring more regularly, more extreme, more intense. And that means that the idea that somehow this is an optional extra or a political football has to end. We need to end the climate wars. We have a policy to do that and to move forward as a country. I'll be visiting Ballina and Lismore on Thursday and Friday. And this morning, an area just close to me, not in my electorate, is flood-affected this morning, around the Cooks River. But for those people who are suffering difficulties as we speak, I say please stay safe, please follow the advice. And thank you once again to those people who are out there assisting their fellow Australians. We are both happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Some military experts are suggesting a new unit be established within the ADF, dedicated to disaster response. Does that idea have any merit?
ALBANESE: I think that's worthy of consideration. But the other issue that's worthy of consideration, I think, is how we get more civilian support, how we train people to be able to provide assistance at times of extreme weather events and what support can be given by government and employers to do that. We know that Australians' natural instinct is to help out. I met people in Queensland who jumped in their dinghy, were going around rescuing people off the top floor of Queenslanders around creeks and rivers. We know that people will provide assistance. We know also that in cleaning up, there can be dangers, in terms of an increased level of disease, increased issues created if people are not aware and don't have the education and the expertise which is there. So, I think there's a real case for a proper examination of both those issues, both in terms of the Defence Force, the way in which they can assist. And historically they've done so and they're doing so at the moment. And we thank them for it. But also, how we provide that education and support beyond the volunteers who already do an incredible effort, our SES. The SES in the Inner West and around South-West Sydney were out there again this morning. They're out there right now. And they'll be out there around the Hawkesbury, around Windsor, around the mountains, in all of the affected areas. This is such a broad area that's being impacted by these disasters at the moment. Clearly, we need to have more of a debate about how we provide appropriate assistance.
JOURNALIST: Is it a good idea though?
ALBANESE: I think it's a constructive idea that's worthy of consideration and worthy of debate, including with Defence. This is not a time where you make policy on the run. We're dealing with an immediate crisis right now. But we do need to put in place those measures. The same reason as well - it is beyond my comprehension that the Government still continues to say it's okay that the Emergency Response Fund has just sat there for years after it was created without any expenditure being there. That's why in January, we announced our Disaster Ready Fund, $200 million we've said will be spent at least each and every year. That needs to happen. It needs to happen right now. The idea that this is a term deposit which just earns interest, which doesn't deal with issues like raising flood levees, like dealing with issues of bushfires, preparing for natural disasters, is completely inadequate. And the fact the Government continues to defend its position on the Emergency Response Fund, I find quite staggering.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the ADF’s response has been quick enough? Some residents say they wished they could’ve been there earlier.
ALBANESE: Well, look, I'm not critical of the ADF. That's a decision for the Federal Government to make. So, it's important, I think, that we acknowledge that our Defence Force personnel do their best, as instructed, at any particular time. But clearly, there have been issues here with people who were on the roofs of places for a long period of time, for example. There's a need for an explanation there. The ADF have access to substantial helicopters, for example. Why are people having to pitch in and privately hire helicopters when the ADF have access to those resource? I think they are all questions that need answers.
JOURNALIST: Has the Federal Government failed to adequately plan?
ALBANESE: Well, the Federal Government failed to invest money that itself had said that it would. If you go back when the Emergency Response Fund was created, it was $200 million to be expended every year, $150 million on disaster response and $50 million on preparedness. It did neither.
JOURNALIST: What are your main concerns for the people in these affected areas?
ALBANESE: Well, they need to be looked after. This is now a challenge because it is over such a wide-ranging area. And people need to be given whatever support they need. What we're seeing is Australians step up and, once again, help out their fellow Australians respond magnificently. We need an equally strong response from different levels of government.
JOURNALIST: A question from the Sydney Morning Herald. On today's policy announcement (inaudible). Can we assume that Labor will accept what the Government is doing and then have additional programs? (Inaudible).
PLIBERSEK: We've welcomed what the Government has done as far as it goes. Indeed, we've said that the investment is a good investment for the most part. I'd say where the Government's package falls down is in asking and answering the question about domestic violence. People too often ask, ‘Why won't she leave?’ When the question should be, ‘Where will she go? And who will help?’ And Labor's policy to investment billions in new social housing, including setting aside 4,000 new homes for women and children escaping domestic violence, including investing $100 million in emergency accommodation and including additional measures like 10 days of paid domestic violence leave, 500 extra community sector workers. These are the sort of policies that answer the questions, ‘Where would she go? And who will help?’ The Government's package, as they've proposed it, is fine as far as it goes. We would say that there is more to be done, including some announcements we've already made, like the 10 days of paid domestic violence leave and like the announcement we're making today that will reduce the rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in the future.
ALBANESE: Thanks, Tanya. Can I just say on International Women's Day that tonight, like every night in Australia, there will be women, potentially women with children, who are turned away from emergency accommodation. They will have to sleep in their car, or they'll couch-surf at a friend's place or, worst possible option, they'll choose to go back to a situation where they're not safe because they've got nowhere else to go. In 2022, that's not good enough. And that's why we, as part of the Housing Australia Future Fund, have said that 4,000 of the additional social housing units will be allocated for women and children escaping domestic violence. The other issue we think is inadequate is the response to the [email protected] report. The obligations that are there in that report on employers. Surely, that's not too much to ask either, the implementation of all of the [email protected] recommendations.
JOURNALIST: Petrol prices are hitting record highs. Would Labor do more to reduce prices?
ALBANESE: Well, the issue of petrol prices isn't something that is a new one. It's something that's happened on this Government's watch. We have rising petrol prices, we have rising food prices for essentials, meat and vegetables. We have rising costs of accommodation and housing. We have rising costs of living. Everything is rising in this country except for people's wages. Wages are not keeping up with the cost of living. In the last year, real wages have fallen by over one per cent. That's why Labor has a plan to lift living standards, including by providing additional support for child care. Another issue, I mean, a week ago, we're here talking about International Women's Day, a week ago, the Government produced dodgy figures based upon dodgy assumptions about child care policy, in order to show that Australians somehow can't afford a decent level of early childhood support in this country. It just shows how out of touch this Government is. Child care policy is about supporting women's workforce participation, as well as lifting productivity, as well as lifting population. The three Ps that will lead to economic growth. There are so many areas where this Government's response is inadequate. What I look forward to is being Leader of a Government with strong women like Tanya Plibersek, and Penny Wong, and Kristina Keneally and Michelle Rowland, and Catherine King and Julie Collins and others in the Cabinet, who play a critical role in making sure, as we go forward, that we address the whole suite of measures to move towards greater equality for women in this country.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). We've seen more than a million refugees now leave Ukraine. Some may want to come to Australia. But that's a matter of guesswork. Do you think there's any argument for an increase in humanitarian refugee intake above the current level so we might be able to take more from Ukraine?
ALBANESE: Well, we haven't filled our current humanitarian intake. That's the first point. But I think that there is a real case for Australia to be generous towards Ukrainians fleeing this conflict. The Ukrainian people are inspiring. They are showing extraordinary courage, fighting for their own sovereignty, for their right to determine the future direction of Ukraine. But they're fighting for something else as well. They're fighting for democratic values. They're fighting for a much bigger issue than just their own sovereignty. They're fighting for values which consistent with the values that Australia holds dear. The values that say that people have a right to determine their own destiny. The values that say that we should stand up to autocrats and authoritarian regimes, that we should respect the international rule of law and international order. And that is why I think the Ukrainian people are deserving of great support. Thank you.