By Tanya Plibersek

02 February 2022


SUBJECTS: Labor’s $440 million commitment to schools; kids’ vaccinations; schools reopening; wages; cost of living; Future Made in Australia; Morrison Government’s failures during the COVID-19 pandemic; aged care workers; Federal election; Labor’s policy agenda; leaked text messages concerning Scott Morrison; Australia’s democratic right to vote.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thank you to Our Lady Mt Carmel Primary School for welcoming us here today. I thank the school staff and the parents who welcomed us this morning. And, most particularly, the beautiful kids that we've got here with us this morning. Of course, COVID has been really tough on Australian families. It's been a tough couple of years for the kids in particular. They've missed out on their schooling, they've missed out on some of their learning, despite the very best efforts of their schools, they've missed out on the social elements of school, they've missed out on the friendships, the playground friendships, the school sports, the inter-school debating, the camps, the 16th birthday parties, the school formals. It's been tough on kids. And that's why Labor has a $440 million plan to help our kids get back on track. This is a plan that would help schools like this upgrade to make the school environment safer for kids and school staff. Small grants, perhaps to fix up the air conditioning, to put in a HEPA air filter, to open up the windows and doors that have been painted shut and let the natural ventilation through, to move some of the learning outdoors. Whatever it is that the school can do with a small grant to make the environment safer for kids and for hard working school staff, we'd like to help them with that. The other element of this $440 million plan is a focus on kids’ wellbeing. It has been hard on kids. School is about learning, but it's also about friendship, and it's about growing up. So this money would allow schools across Australia to perhaps hire a school psychologist, an extra counsellor a few days a week, or take other wellbeing measures, take the kids away on camp, do more school sports, whatever it is that would help the kids get back on track. I'm delighted today to be introducing Anthony Albanese, who has been such a strong supporter of making a difference for our kids, who has got a plan to get Australia back on track. Thanks, Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks so much, Tanya. And it's great to be in your electorate at this wonderful school here. And I thank very much the principal and Father Paul for welcoming us here, and the parents and students for telling us their stories about their experience over what has been a really tough couple of years. Students have had to learn at home. That places pressure on mum and dad. It places pressure on the students themselves. They've missed out on the experience of coming to school and that social interaction that's so important. Education is about learning maths. It's about reading and writing. But it's also about learning social interaction. It's about the skills that I know are developed at schools like this.  This is the second time I've been back at this school. And it is a fantastic school. I went to St Mary's Cathedral. Some of these students will probably go down the road there when they reach high school. Many of my friends went to this school and had a great learning experience. This is a school in a disadvantaged community. It's a school which provides opportunity for people going forward. And one of the themes that I've said that I have, as part of my Better Future for Australia plan, is no one held back from opportunity but also no one left behind. And one of the things that this program, that's been developed by Tanya Plibersek and was announced by me as the centrepiece of my National Press Club speech last week, is about is making sure that our youngest Australians who have done it tough get brought back up. So, practical help in terms of school infrastructure and capital funding to assist schools with ventilation, to assist schools with infrastructure, to deal with making schools safer for students and for the learning experience. But also, making sure that students can catch up, whether that be a psychologist because of the mental health issues that we know have become more acute as a result of students being locked down and not having that social interaction and having to deal with home-schooling and all the hardship that students have suffered from over the last couple of years. Or it might be to go to a school camp, to have that experience, or engaging in some sporting activity or something outside the school that I know schools like this do so well in order to provide that opportunity and that experience for young people. This is a practical plan. It's one that I'm surprised that the Prime Minister yesterday didn't take the opportunity to match, frankly, when he spoke at the National Press Club. This is the sort of planning that we need. Labor values education. Education and health are just core things that Labor gets done. Yesterday was the birthday for Medicare. Today, I'm here in a school with our education spokesperson, the person who will make a great Education Minister for Australia, because she's passionate about children having opportunity. Tanya is also passionate about the difference that it can make to providing a better future for Australia. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, as we know, schools are back. Most students went back yesterday, and more are coming back tomorrow. How confident are you that the COVID safety measures that have been implemented by the New South Wales Government is enough, especially since vaccination rates for children are still quite low?
ALBANESE: Well, it is unfortunate that the Government didn't put in place measures to ensure that every child had the opportunity to be vaccinated before school returned. That's what Scott Morrison said he would put in place. And once again, the promise has not been delivered. So, that's unfortunate. And I know that that's causing some anxiety. But I know the parents and teachers and schools and state governments are doing their best to put in place measures to keep students safe. They know how important it is for students to return to school. It's been really tough. And it is important that our youngest Australians have the experience and gain what they do in their earliest years. These years are vital for these young students here. And whenever I go into a school, I must say, it gives me great hope about Australia's future. Here today we have smart, articulate, optimistic, young people. They've done it tough. They're not complaining about that. They're just outlining that as part of their experience. But I'm very confident that we can get this done. The state governments need to be given more support. And the Federal Government needs to deal with the problems that have been there, now in the third year of the pandemic. They were too slow in getting people vaccinated because Scott Morrison said it wasn't a race. The truth is it always was a race. It is a race to ensure that everyone who wants to be vaccinated is able to do so. But whether it's our young people who are students, or whether it be our aged care residents, who still, many of them, haven't been offered a booster shot, this Government have not stepped up on the basic fundamental responsibility that they had of fulfilling what they said would happen, which is ensuring that people do have access to vaccinations.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, what would you have done differently to ensure that aged care residents could get their booster shots and that children could be vaccinated more quickly before school started?
ALBANESE: I would have provided it. I would have, as we said at the time, I would have done deals with pharmaceutical companies earlier to ensure there were more vaccines available sooner. I would have delivered on what the Government said would happen. Remember the priority people such as aged care residents and aged care workers were due to be vaccinated by March. It didn't happen. It didn't happen. And now, as a result of the slow rollout of the vaccine, you've had a consequential slow rollout of booster shots. And the Government knew what the dates were for school coming back and simply didn't provide enough juvenile shots to be available so that every parent could have their child vaccinated who wanted to do so.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister has said that the Government's goal is to achieve an unemployment rate with a three in front of it at the second half of this year. If you were to become Prime Minister, can you make the same promise?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. But the difference is that I'll be about secure work. This Prime Minister, if you're working a couple of days in casual work, you don't have enough income, necessarily, to pay a mortgage, to plan to have your first child or an additional child. We need more security. And if the Prime Minister thinks that everything's all hunky-dory out there, it just shows how out of touch he is. The truth is that so many Australians are doing it tough. Whilst the official unemployment rate is relatively low, what we know is that up to two million Australians are underemployed or unemployed. They want more hours and they can't get them. They can't get that secure work that you need to be able to pay the rent, to be able to pay your bills. And we know also that real wages aren't keeping up with the cost of living. And that's why people are under such extraordinary pressure. I think every time that people hear the Prime Minister or a Government Minister tell them how good things are, then they are just shaking their head out there. The truth is that families, including families in this community, are really doing it tough. And what we need is more secure work, we need to lift wages, we need to lift living standards, we need to take pressure off families by having affordable child care. We know the basic costs of living, whether it's food, whether it's child care, whether it is petrol prices, are all going up. And wages aren't keeping up.
JOURNALIST: Just going off that then, will you commit to raising the rate of JobSeeker if Labor wins the next Federal election?
ALBANESE: Look, every budget should give consideration to payments. That's what should happen. Every budget. And we'll give consideration in every budget that we hand down to the payment system and to what is affordable and what is responsible and what people need. So, we will be doing that, as a matter of course, if we're successful in each and every budget, as Labor governments in the past have done. When it comes to the last time we were in office, for example, we had the largest ever increase in the pension in Australia's history. And that provided real support for people who needed it.
JOURNALIST: On aged care workers, you said that you support an increase on their wages. Do you support the 25 per cent increase that was proposed by the union? If not, how much do you support?
ALBANESE: Well, it is a matter for the Fair Work Commission. But what the Government should be doing is putting forward a submission saying they support an increase. This Government's made no submission to the Fair Work Commission to say that the Government supports an increase in people's wages. And quite frankly, for aged care workers, the Government clearly is looking at how they provide them with one-off payments in March and in May. I wonder what else is happening in May? It's just cynical beyond belief that this Government thinks that in the month that there's an election, they can give a one-off payment to aged care workers who have been left behind, who weren't able to be vaccinated, who are suffering from being underpaid and overworked over the last two years and think that they should be grateful for this one-off payment at the timing of in the lead-up to the election and then on election day. And then afterwards, after May, they're back to where they were. Well, we need to deal with this issue. The Royal Commission identified low wages and conditions as creating real pressure in the aged care system. Our aged care workers are heroes. But at the moment, they're working in facilities where we know that too many aged care residents are not able to be showered, they're not getting the food that they need, and they're not getting the care that they need, including having wounds unattended to. This is 2022. In Australia, we surely deserve better than that for our older Australians who built this country. We stand on their shoulders. They deserve respect and dignity in their later years. And this Government, in the words of the interim report of the Royal Commission, in its title, in a one-word summary, was 'Neglect'. That was how they summed up the aged care system. And at the moment, that neglect has been magnified by the pandemic, with aged care residents today unable to see their loved ones. There are some 20,000 active cases of residents and aged care workers suffering from COVID today. And the Prime Minister comes along with a couple of one-off payments.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of the leaked text messages between former Premier Gladys Berejiklian and an unnamed senior Minister in which she allegedly called the Prime Minister a 'complete psycho' and a 'horrible person'?
ALBANESE: Well, these are extraordinary text messages from the people who know Scott Morrison the best. These are people who have observed him. And I note that the Premier of New South Wales at the time, Gladys Berejiklian, was, of course, engaged in fighting the impact of bushfires, which were devastating. People were losing their lives. Homes were being burnt down. Communities were under siege throughout New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia. This was a devastating period. And first, the Prime Minister went missing. And then he was, as always, too little, too late. Again, the Prime Minister had been warned by the former bushfire chiefs and others that there was a devastating summer ahead. The Prime Minister at that time, and other ministers, in the lead-up to that event, of course, were too busy dismissing any link between climate change and bushfires. That was their priority. But the statement from the former Premier, the Premier at the time, where she said this, 'Lives are at stake today and he's just obsessed with petty political point-scoring', I think is devastating. I think that alone is enough to disqualify him from being someone who secures a second decade in office. Australians deserve better than that. And the Premier's statement at the time, along with other statements that are made between her and a Cabinet Minister, are quite extraordinary. The Cabinet Minister, of course, and I don't know who the Cabinet Minister is, said also the mob have worked him out and think he's a fraud. Well, if people who are Liberal Cabinet Ministers think that, Australians will make their own judgement.
JOURNALIST: Just one more from me. South Australia has raised concerns that people will be in isolation on polling day for the state election. Have you been told how the AEC will handle the Federal election if this happens? And do you have concerns about how people will be able to vote?
ALBANESE: No, I haven't had those discussions with the AEC. I'm not aware of whether the party political organisations have done. But we need to make sure that every Australian has the right to vote. That's an important democratic principle. It's one that we fight for. It's one that our country holds dear. Our democratic right to have one vote, one value is very important. And we need to make sure that every Australian has the opportunity. And indeed, we know they have a responsibility in this country. Unlike many others, we have a responsibility to cast our vote as well. And that's something that I certainly cherish and I think Australians do as well. And that is something we should be very proud of as a democratic nation, particularly with the rise of authoritarianism in various parts of the world. Thanks very much.