15 September 2019




SUBJECTS: Skills shortage; National and international education test results; Gladys Liu; Federal integrity commission; energy policy.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Well in recent weeks we've seen some very disappointing education results in national and international tests. What these tests show us is that the Liberal Federal Government has failed to reverse the decline in reading, writing and maths for Australian children. Our kids are falling behind and it's no wonder when we continue to see results to get into teaching decline and schools starved of the funding they need from the Federal Government. This comes at a time when our nation is facing a skills shortage as well. Three-quarters of employers say they find it hard to find the skilled staff they need while we've got 1.8 million Australians who are unemployed or underemployed. The Federal Liberal Government is failing our kids by denying them the education they need to get ahead. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: How serious is this issue, is it at crisis point yet? Skills shortages and education issues?

PLIBERSEK :Well absolutely, we're in a skills crisis in Australia today, and employers will be the first to tell you that they're crying out for the skilled staff they need, and yet today we have fewer apprentices than we did 10 years ago. We've got fewer apprentices graduating this year than any time since 2001, during the Howard Government. Yesterday, Education Ministers from around Australia met with the Federal Education Minister and I'm frankly gobsmacked that these issues weren't on the agenda of the Federal Government. We've got schools crying out for funds, we've got TAFE and apprenticeships falling off a cliff because of billions of dollars cut from TAFE and apprenticeships. We've got kids who are being denied a TAFE education or a university education when they finish high school because of this under-funding. We've got 1.8 million Australians unemployed or underemployed and we've got a Federal Government saying nothing to see here, nothing to do with us. This is a disaster for our economy. If we don't start training our people for the jobs that are out there, we are going to continue to see capacity constraints in our economy and well continue to see our people locked out of well-paid, skilled jobs. The best thing we can do to ensure someones future is invest in their education and the best thing we can do to ensure the future of our nation is to invest in education, because when you lock people out of an education, you're locking them out of a job.

JOURNALIST:What would Labor do to fix this?

PLIBERSEK: Well you saw what we had on offer at the last election - properly funding our schools, TAFE and universities; free universal pre-school for three and four-year olds; making sure that our kids are getting the basics and then getting a rich education on top of that; lifting standards to get into teaching degrees. And best of all, using the evidence of what works in our best performing schools and taking that evidence and making it not just unusual but making it common place across our system, to lift standards for all of our students.

JOURNALIST:On another topic, Gladys Liu, do you buy the Prime Ministers argument that he never suggested Labor was being racist in their pursuit of her?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think he was pretty clear in the last few days. This is, it is actually an incredible situation we're in. Labor is asking justifiable questions about one Member of Parliament. We've got a Prime Minister who is pretending that this applies to a whole community. You've got a Prime Minister who was very happy to go after Sam Dastyari but wants to turn a blind eye when it's one of his own. I think the Member for Chisholm should do the Parliament and the citizens of Australia the courtesy of explaining herself in the Parliament, to stand up, to make a statement about these questions that she has to answer. I remember very clearly Scott Morrison making this a test of leadership for Bill Shorten when it was one of ours. When it's one of his own he should show some leadership and answer the questions that are being asked in the media and in the Parliament about his Member of Parliament.

JOURNALIST:Will Labor continue to pursue this next week or (inaudible)?

PLIBERSEK: Well there continues to be on successive days more information coming out linking Gladys Liu to organisations overseas, in China, and more questions about undeclared donations for example. Any other Member of Parliament would be expected to stand up in the House of Representatives and explain her position on these unanswered questions. And the Prime Minister should make that happen. This is a test of his leadership. He wants to go full bore if it's one of ours and he wants to turn a blind eye when it's one of his own. That's just hypocrisy. Any other questions on any other issues?

JOURNALIST:Can I ask you about another issue mentioned before? Last year it was tacky to put the Everest on the sails of the Opera House. What about using the Harbour Bridge? That seems to be the way we are heading this year? (inaudible)

PLIBERSEK: Look I think advertising anything on the Harbour Bridge or Opera House is pretty tacky. You know, I'm not going to die in a ditch over it, I'm not going to hold my breath and stamp my feet because I don't like it. But, you know, we live in the most beautiful city, and the best advertisement for our beautiful city is to highlight it's built environment, it's Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and it's natural environment -our beautiful harbour, Botanical Gardens, the Domain here behind us. To show them in their usual state. Look, I've got nothing against racing but I just question the tastefulness of this sort of advertising.

JOURNALIST: Is it a better option though than the Opera House? Which do you think?

PLIBERSEK: Not sure if it makes that much difference. Our beautiful Opera House, our beautiful Harbour Bridge are iconic. If you ask people around the world what do they know about Australia - they know Bondi Beach, they know Manly, they know the Opera House, they know the Harbour Bridge, they know Uluru. I think to use it for this sort of stuff, I don't think it's a great look. But like I say, there are worst crimes, I'm much more interested in making sure Australians have decent well paid jobs, that they see a pay rise, that their kids get a great education, that our hospitals and our aged care works. That's really the sort of thing that I'd be fighting in the ditches for.

JOURNALIST: The Age is this morning reporting a leaked audio of John Setka talking about Jacqui Lambie, quite scathing. Is it acceptable to speak about an elected Member like that?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the issue is very clear here. Our leader Anthony Albanese has said that he will expel John Setka, that's our focus now. I think it's important in any public debate that we treat each other and speak about each other with courtesy. We can make strong arguments when we disagree with people without personally abusing them.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Kerry Stokes who's said that the Prime Minister needs to reset the relationship with China? (inaudbile)Do you agree with that position?

PLIBERSEK: Look I certainly think that this Government has had a very mixed message about Australia's relationship with China. China will be a very important economic partner for Australia into the foreseeable future. There is no future for Australia that doesn't include a robust, strong relationship with China. Of course we have a difference system of government and we'll continue to be fierce in saying that our democracy, our strategic interests in our region, are important for us to defend. But our relationship with China, particularly our economic relationship with China is an important part of that future.

JOURNALIST: What discussions have Labor had with Senator Lambie and her position on the Integrity Bill?

PLIBERSEK: We talk to Jacqui Lambie all the time, and we're always very grateful when we're able to work with her constructively in the Senate. We share many values with Jacqui Lambie, not all of them of course. So I can't, I won't go into details about particular pieces of legislation at this stage. We would be very grateful if Senator Lambie and the other cross-bench Senators acknowledge that it is well past time that we establish a Federal ICAC with real teeth.You can see what's going on in New South Wales at the moment, we see how important it is that we have robust anti-corruption measures at a State level and robust anti-corruption measures at a Federal level. We have a Government that was dragged kicking and screaming at a Federal level that there maybe should be a Federal ICAC. Now they're dragging their feet and they want a week, toothless integrity commission. We need a strong integrity commission to give Australians faith that their democracy is corruption free.

JOURNALIST:Do you think Scott Morrison was being racist when he referred to Sam Dastyari as 'Shanghai Sam' constantly?

PLIBERSEK: I think Scott Morrison is very quick to criticise one of ours and very keen to turn a blind eye when it's one of his. I think the Prime Minister should be consistent. If Sam Dastyari had questions to answer and he did,then Gladys Liu has questions to answer she should go into the Parliament, she should answer those questions. If she doesn't want to do it, then the Prime Minister should make her.

JOURNALIST: Was it racist, the comments?

PLIBERSEK:Well, I don't think that's a helpful description. You've got a Prime Minister that is trying to pretend that Labor is asking questions about the whole Chinese community, when we are asking questions about one Member of Parliament, his Member of Parliament. He should demand that his Member of Parliament answer questions in the same way that Sam Dastyari had to answer questions. Thanks very much everyone.

(Audio cuts out)
(Audio cuts in)

JOURNALIST: The Government's planning to introduce its big stick energy legislation in a week ahead. Now Labor previously had some concerns about this bill. What is your position on it now?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we still haven't seen the most recent detailed legislation. So first of all, they need to share the legislation with us and our main concern is this is, what, the fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth energy policy that this Government has proposed. They don't even agree on it between themselves. What we know for certain is that this Government after six years has no clear energy policy. Prices continue to go up, pollution continues to go up, energy security continues to fall. This Government has spent billions of dollars of taxpayers money and seen electricity prices rise and pollution rise. They have completely failed on energy policy to date.

JOURNALIST: So the energy companies argue that it could potentially push prices up. What do you make of that? And you see how that could be the case?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's important to listen to the energy companies. If the energy companies are saying prices might go up, it's important to examine that. But the real problem here is that you've got a government that's just grasping at straws. They're doing their best to look around for their fifteenth or sixteenth energy policy, when we know that under their watch electricity prices have gone up, pollution's gone up and energy security has gone down. Businesses are crying out for energy certainty in this country, businesses are crying out for energy certainty in this country and instead they've got a government that's flailing around with its fifteenth or sixteenth energy policy.

JOURNALIST:Now just one other question. Jacqui Lambie wants dole recipients to be able to earn more money (inaudible).What do you think of that?

PLIBERSEK: Look we haven't seen the details of Jacqui Lambie is proposal. But certainly we know that people on Newstart even if they're working a few hours of part-time work or occasionally working are really struggling to make ends meet. We've said all along that we'd like to see an increase in Newstart and it's incredible because even the business community are now saying that Newstart is too low. People are trapped in unemployment because they don't have the money to get the public transport to the job interview or to buy themselves a clean shirt for the job interview. We've got 1.8 million Australians who are unemployed or underemployed. We've got a skills shortage - three-quarters of employers say they can't find the skilled staff they need. We've seen TAFE funding cut, apprentice numbers fall off the cliff. Surely we can do better for unemployed and underemployed Australians than we're doing at the moment and there'll be a big benefit to business when we do that too.