18 June 2019




SUBJECTS: Federal election; Labor leadership; Labor policies; Education policies; Free speech at universities; Tax; John Setka.

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Well today marks one month exactly since the Coalition defied the polls and the pundits to pull off a come-from-behind win in the Federal election. For Labor, it lost not just the unloseable election, but its leadership team of Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek. Next up for the Opposition, a review of what went wrong and a rethink of its ambitious tax reform plan, which saw Labor crusading against the top end of town. That appears to have alienated many aspirational Australians. Tanya Plibersek joins me in the Breakfast studio, this is her first major interview since Labor's historic defeat. Tanya Plibersek, welcome back to Breakfast.


KELLY: A month ago you were planning I guess on being Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. Four weeks on, that's a distant dream. How is that new reality?

PLIBERSEK:Well I never took it for granted, I always knew that this election was going to be a tough one and sadly we fell short. And I guess Fran, the hardest thing is, you know, I read in the weekend papers that childcare is costing some families more than private school fees. We had a plan to fix that. I meet people, I visit a school - I know that school would have been better off under a Labor government. I visit a TAFE, where we'd promised to build new facilities - they won't be built. As I meet people who would have benefited from Labor policies it does make me sad that we've let those people down. But the last thing that Australians want from Labor is navel-gazing about the campaign itself. We will do our review, we'll look at all of our policies, we'll look at where we went wrong. But our focus has to be on the future, making sure that we have the solutions next time round to convince Australians that we are for a strong economy that generates good jobs, and we're for a fairer society that provides the services and the safety nets that people rely on.

KELLY:And I know no one wants navel-gazing and no one wants self-pity, but can I just stay with the personal for a moment. How difficult is it from a defeat like that when everyone was saying - except for Scott Morrison - that Labor was going to win. I mean, you must have your expectations, youve got your life set out, how hard is that? I think people might be interested to know what resilience you draw on to turn around the next day and go 'oh well'.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I genuinely didn't take it for granted right through the campaign, and I think the hardest thing to understand was the exit polls on the night actually had us winning, and then several hours into the evening it became apparent that even the exit polls were wrong. But I think there is certainly a place for reflection on why we didn't win, where we went off track. But the most important thing really has to be our focus on Australians and how we make their lives better. Not, kind of, publicly navel-gazing about the technicalities of the campaign.

KELLY: Is the question there, which Australians? I mean Labor increased its vote in some inner city electorates.

PLIBERSEK: We did very well in Sydney.

KELLY:You did very well in your seat in Sydney, but lost decisively in Queensland, in some mining electorates in New South Wales, to an extent in your heartland territory western Sydney. Scott Morrison's 'quiet Australians', as he badged them, deserted Labor. Is the answer less focus on issues that matter to inner city voters, like in your seat of Sydney, and more attention on the challenges facing blue collar voters in the outer suburbs and the regions?

PLIBERSEK: Our offer for blue collar workers is so much better than what the Government's proposing. We are the Party that would deliver better living standards, higher wages, we were going to review Newstart for people who are really living on the poverty line. For all of those people who are struggling on low and middle incomes, this Government has let them down and let them down badly.

KELLY: So why didn't they vote for you? What went wrong then?

PLIBERSEK: Well that really is something that we have to examine in this review.

KELLY:Do you think it's just your messaging?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think we have to take a sober, methodical look at it Fran and not jump to any one of the dozens of answers that have been offered to me by people who are speculating on what went wrong. I think we really need to -

KELLY: Do you blame the might of Clive Palmer and The Australian newspaper and?

PLIBERSEK: Look I don't think $60 million or $80 million, however much Clive Palmer spent had no impact, it didn't win him a seat but it certainly had a negative impact on people's perceptions, but I don't want to get down into the rabbit hole of navel gazing. I'm saying that we need to focus on the future. We need to make sure that our policies are right, that our messaging is right, and to do that in a sober and methodical way, all the while focusing on holding this Government to account for the fact that the economy is slowing under them, that the Reserve Bank is taking emergency measures because the economy is slowing, that living standards are going backwards, that under-employment is higher than it should be, that the debt has doubled. We have to hold the Government to account for its failings and make sure that we have an alternative offering that shows that we are focused on a strong economy with successful businesses generating good jobs and services and safety nets that people rely on.

KELLY: Was there something else operating too though that you need to focus on apart from just the economy and jobs and wages, obviously critical for everybody, but one- some of your colleagues think one of the sleeper issues was religious freedom, I notice that Chris Bowen said people of faith no longer feel the progressives care about them and one example that's been given is for instance the policy you announced actually here I think on Breakfast in March, forcing public hospitals to provide abortion services if they want to receive Federal funding.

PLIBERSEK: I think it would be absolutely wrong to imagine that there is any difference between the major parties on support for religious freedoms. All major parties in Australia support religious freedoms - there's no question that there's a difference between the Liberals and Labor when it comes to support for religious freedoms. On the issue of our sexual and reproductive health policy, I think that was a very important policy. It went to supporting better access to contraception so there would be fewer unplanned pregnancies. It looked at a whole range of areas of reproductive health and yes, it said that if a woman needed a termination that it should be safe and affordable to do that.

KELLY: Should Labor remain committed to that policy?

PLIBERSEK: All of our policies are being re-examined at the moment. I mean, it was unfortunate that in some parts of Australia a scare campaign based on falsehoods about that policy was used to undermine some of our candidates, but I think making sure that all Australians have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, is an important foundation for Labor policy.

KELLY: Just looking backwards again for a minute, I know you're not keen to do that but you did consider contesting the leadership after the election, I think it's fair to say most expected you to. You said you had support from across the Party to be elected and then in the end decided for family reasons that the time was not for you. But you did say 'now is not my time'. Do we take it from that that you still have leadership ambition?

PLIBERSEK: No, I'm absolutely determined to make sure that Anthony Albanese becomes the Prime Minister of Australia and that he stays the Prime Minister of Australia for a good long time. But Fran, what I wouldn't want people to take from this is the idea that a career in politics is incompatible with family life. I've been doing it for 20 years and -

KELLY: You were planning on being Deputy Prime Minister with little children?

PLIBERSEK: Yes absolutely and the real question for me was, when you step up to that leadership role, whether it's Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition, the time away from home is just so much greater. Both my husband and I have, at different times, had to make decisions about combining our work and caring responsibilities and thats just like- families all over Australia do this all the time. But that extra demand to be away is just something I though wasn't right for us at this time.

KELLY: You're listening to RN Breakfast. It's 16 minutes to 8. Our guest is the Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek. You've called for a serious look at all our policies. Does that include Labor's policy of committing an extra $14 billion that you've been promising schools at the election, because if the other policies are chucked away - franking credits, negative gearing - where would the money come from for that $14 billion?

PLIBERSEK: Well we've said that we're looking at all of our policies, so we're not going to start carving out one here or one there that we're notgoing to look at. We're looking at all of our policies again but I think a couple of...

KELLY: It's unthinkable Labor would walk away from that commitment though, isn't it?

PLIBERSEK: So there's a couple of things I would say. Labor has always been the party of education and in this election you saw that commitment in early childhood education and care through our universal pre-schools commitment for three and four year olds, you saw it in the $14 billion of extra funding for schools, you saw it in our commitment to rebuild TAFE which has become the poor cousin of universities, and you saw it in our commitment to the demand driven system for universities. While the specifics may be changed over time, the commitment to that lifetime of education, to making sure that every Australian has the opportunity of a great education, that doesn't change. Everywhere I went, people were telling me, parents in particular were telling me that they loved our education policies and the commitment we have to making sure that every individual gets the chance of a great education and our national economy can benefit from that investment in terms of increased productivity and employability of our people, that stays.

KELLY: The issue of free speech on university campuses has re-emerged. Today we see chancellors endorsing the French Review?

PLIBERSEK: People are stopping me everywhere in the street Fran saying this is a top order issue for them [laughing]. Honestly, this is a distraction by a Government that has prevented 200,000 Australians getting the opportunity of going to university by getting rid of the demand driven system and hacked into university funding equity programs, building programs, and so on. Of course, everybody believes that there should be free speech on university campuses but the French Review said that there was no crisis on university campuses. The Government ignores the review it commissioned and launches this tirade about free speech in universities because they want to distract from their under-funding of this vital sector.

KELLY: Okay, two quick ones. Has Labor learned the lesson from this election? Will it honour the Government's mandate and pass the tax package in full?

PLIBERSEK: Well what they're asking us to do is-

KELLY: Pass the package they went to the election with?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, they're asking us to pass a package where they won't give us details about the distributional analysis of who benefits from the later stages of this tax package, and they're asking us to make commitments now for tax cuts that come in not just one elections time but two elections time-

KELLY: But that's what the voters voted for.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, you get a mandate for a term, you don't get a mandate for eternity because you win one election. I mean, this is a time when our economy is under all sorts of pressure, internally and global forces including potential trade wars with our major trading partners are something that we should be very cautious about. They're asking us to pass sight unseen, with very few details, tax cuts that come into play in 2024-2025. It's irresponsible. Where's the money coming from? What would be cut to do that? We've said that we'll look at it but we need a lot more information.

KELLY: Just briefly, John Setka the union leader is digging in. The Victorian branch of the CFMMEU has voted to sever its ties with Labor if he's expelled from the Party, that would mean ceasing all financial support, that means a $1 million at least. Do you support Anthony Albanese picking a fight with John Setka? Does John Setka belong in the Labor Party?

PLIBERSEK: Look, we have to do the right thing and Anthony has made very clear that John Setka has no place in the Labor Party. It's important to remember Fran, that the typical unionist today is a woman working in health or education and the union movement is much bigger than the interests of one person. We need to focus on making sure that the Labor Party and the labour movement are able to show to ordinary Australians that what we're focused on are good quality jobs with decent pay and conditions.

KELLY: So does John Setka belong in the Labor Party?

PLIBERSEK: No, I think Anthony has made it clear that he'll be expelled.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.