By Tanya Plibersek

21 April 2021












SUBJECTS: Tasmanian Labor’s plan for schools; Liberals’ neglect of schools; Tasmanian election; Consent education; COVID-19 vaccine rollout.


REBECCA WHITE, LEADER OF TASMANIAN LABOR: The Labor Party's made a number of commitments to support our children to get the best start in life and invest in the education they need so that they can get the basics right. We know that too many children are going through our school system and they can't read and write well. That's why yesterday we made a significant commitment to support our young people in primary school to be able to gain a literacy skills that they need, so that they can head into their high school years being able to read and write, because right now too many children can't. Today we're making a further announcement of a commitment to $50 million to upgrade some of our most neglected schools right across the State. Under the Liberals over the last seven years, instead of focusing on the priority infrastructure program - which identifies the schools that are most in need - they've ignored that and they have neglected a number of schools across our State who are desperate for upgrades that provide the best amenities for our children. A Labor government will invest $50 million for what we're calling a 'Neglected Schools Fund'. These are the schools that have been ignored by the Liberal Party over the last seven years. Schools like this one here at Clarence where there's a very large student cohort that attend, but the infrastructure simply hasn't been improved under the Government over the last seven years.

This is in addition to our announcement earlier this week to provide free school lunches for all students in primary school, because we want our children to get the best start in life. We want them to have a healthy, nutritious meal every single day they're at school, but also to take the pressure off families as they are packing those school lunchboxes. I know this morning there were many families facing exactly that responsibility as children went back for term two. So this is a comprehensive commitment from Labor to invest in our early years, support our young children to get the best start in life with healthy, nutritious meals, it will make parents' lives easier; invest in the infrastructure to support our children; and get the basics right by making sure that our children can read and write by the time they leave primary school.

I'm joined today by Shadow Education Minister Josh Willie to provide some further information about these announcements.

JOSH WILLIE, TASMANIAN SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND EARLY YEARS: Thanks, Rebecca. There's a number of schools across our State like Clarence High School that have been neglected under the Liberals. They can't even get the basics right. We have schools around our State with leaking ceilings. We have schools around our State like this one with secondhand carpet with holes in it. What we're proposing to do is create a $50 million 'Neglected Schools Fund' to help clear the priority one backlog. We know there are schools just down the road here like Lauderdale Primary with capacity issues, and they desperately need new classrooms. They have been languishing on this list for some time. We know there’s schools in the Northwest like Montello that have inadequate toilet facilities and kids with a disability struggle to access that school. So we're going to inject $50 million into the Department's priority infrastructure program, and we're going to clear some of these schools from the list and give children what they deserve.

JOURNALIST: I might just quickly were you aware the government is announcing funds for the upgrade of Montello today?

WILLIE: I wasn't aware of that. But why has it taken an election campaign for them to come to the party with Montello? They've been in government for seven years and that school's facilities have been a disgrace. We've campaigned on it previously. We've raised this issue in the Parliament, and now all of a sudden because there's an election, they've decided they're going to do something about it.

Labor has a proud history when it comes to school infrastructure, we built child and family centres, we built new schools, and we committed to and built major school upgrades. What we're proposing to do is get this infrastructure program back on track and make it fairer. And as well as the $50 million 'Neglected Schools Fund', we're going to give Sorell community the school they deserve. The Liberals there have over-promised and under-delivered. There is not enough funding in that commitment from the Liberals to give that community the school it deserves. So what we're proposing today is to inject a further $15 million into that project to give that school a Performing Arts Centre, a gym or oval facilities. That community deserves a first-rate, quality facility to give children a great education, and that's what we're proposing to do with all of our policies. The education portfolio is key to the prosperity of our state to our health outcomes - and across the board, we are going to give children every chance to reach their potential.

I'll just say too, before I hand over, we do have the school association chair here who'll talk to more detail about the conditions in this school.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: As parents, we tell our kids to take school seriously. We tell them to do their homework or study for their tests. But we know that kids don't listen to what we say, they observe what we do. So, when we let our schools become run down, or we ask teachers to do more and more with less and less - we're sending a message to kids that school doesn't matter. That education's not important. What Rebecca White and Tasmanian Labor are announcing today is a strong message to kids that education matters, and it's a message to parents, we get it. We know what you're going through and we know what your family needs. Contrast this to the Gutwein Government that's all talk and no action when it comes to investing in education. People have had a gutful of the broken promises of the Gutwein Government when it comes to schools. Even when they do say that they're going to upgrade a school or build a new school - it's delayed, it doesn't happen. You would honestly think this guy had taken a masterclass in bullshit artistry from Scott Morrison because it's all talk and no action. Just as the federal government is all talk and no action. I'm really proud to stand with Rebecca White and Labor and say: good on you, Bec for this fantastic announcement and other education investments that you're committed to. You've got, on the one hand a Premier who's happy to make an announcement but never follows through, never delivers on those commitments. On the other hand, you've got Rebecca White.

I remember campaigning with Bec in Devonport a few years ago. I was there with Bec and with Justine Keay, and we met a woman called Judy, who'd been waiting a year for neurosurgery that she desperately needed. She was sick. She was in pain. She was on heavy medication. She could barely look after herself, let alone the grandchildren that she wanted to help out with. She was told that she'd have to wait two years for neurosurgery - two years for desperately needed neurosurgery. Rebecca White said: 'that's not good enough', and she didn't rest until Judy got the surgery that she so desperately needed. That's what Tasmanians need in a Premier. Someone who is dedicated, compassionate, willing to act, and won't rest until this State gets what it need - until Tasmanians get what they need.

JOURNALIST: Glenn, what are the issues for you?

GLENN MADDOCK, SCHOOL ASSOCIATION CHAIR: Look, the issues have basically been ongoing. For five, six years at least, we've been told that we're top of the priority list for major works. Things along the lines of a performing arts centre - which sounds a bit aloof - but when you realise that the music block is on top of other classrooms, and there is no effective noise insulation, it's all affecting other classes that are running. The toilet facilities, staff and students, are at best 1960s. Just small things like there's two power points in most of the classrooms, bedrooms have more than these classroom power points. If we're all in the 'Information Age', power is what is needed.

JOURNALIST: So how would you characterise this school? If you could summarise the facilities here, the state of the school, how would you describe it?

MADDOCK: Look, some facilities - very good. 2014, the new science block was put in, that's pretty much state-of-the-art. It's great, terrific. The students were fourth in the State in science and technology in the competition that's just been done. So, it's a school of about 600, the teachers are brilliant, the students excel but because it could be so much easier for them -


JOURNALIST: [inaudible]?


MADDOCK: There's carpets with holes, trip hazards. I'm not an OHS expert but I can't imagine - you couldn't build amenities blocks like what's here now.

JOURNALIST: How much money do you think it would take to bring this school up to a modern standard?

MADDOCK: Yeah, really out of my realm. The school association guessed at $5 million. That's probably the most accurate thing I've seen.

JOURNALIST: How many schools are like Clarence, in need of repair?

MADDOCK: Uncertain. They tell me 20 - I know of four that I’ve been told about.

JOURNALIST: Have you got kids here?


JOURNALIST: Two, three?

MADDOCK: One - and two that have been through here. So, I've been involved here for about 12 years.

JOURNALIST: Has it gotten worse over that time?

MADDOCK: Yes and no. The science block was being done - the entrance was going to be improved to allow basically all access for wheelchairs and disability, the whole lot. That's another issue - disability access is not great in a lot of areas.

WILLIE: Can I just add that the Liberals have promised a whole lot of new school builds which we committed to - but they haven't built a new school in their term of government. There's a lot of promises but very little infrastructure being delivered.

JOURNALIST: After you announced your school lunches policy. The Liberals came out and said: 'oh, that's too expensive, how could we possibly afford it'. What do you think that says about their priorities?

WILLIE: I think the Liberals fundamentally miss the point of this issue. What Labor's proposing to do is a comprehensive health and education program. We're going to teach kids about nutrition, we're going to get them into healthy habits early on in their lives so they can continue that and live happy, health and successful lives. We also know from the government's own trial that there was improved attendance, there was improved engagement in the classroom. In fact, some schools reported non-attenders of school suddenly turning up to school because there was a school lunch on offer so the government's own trial says this works. What we're proposing to do isn't revolutionary. This happens in many developed education systems across the globe, and they do that in a variety of ways - and this is an investment in Tasmania children. So if the Liberal Party has a problem with this, they should tell Tasmanian children and families why they don't deserve this investment.

JOURNALIST: A couple more actually, on the new school builds. Have the Liberal Party committed to building any new schools?

WILLIE: I haven't heard of them committing to any new schools in this campaign, but last campaign we saw them commit to a number of new school builds, which they haven't delivered. This government has been big on promising new infrastructure upgrades, whether it's schools or roads or hospitals or whatever it may be across our State that is much needed by communities, and they fail to deliver. And schools are no different. We're committed to those projects, as well as making this system fairer. We're going fix the schools that they have neglected. Schools like Clarence High School, schools like Lauderdale Primary, schools like Montello - all children across the State deserve good facilities to learn in, and what we're proposing is a comprehensive program to give children the best chance to reach their potential.

JOURNALIST: So would Labor build any new schools?

WILLIE: We're committed to the existing builds that are on the program. We believe that there's quite a few promises being made by the Government, they haven't been able to deliver that. As I said previously, Labor's got a proud history when it comes to school infrastructure, we built new child and family centres across the State which are working with our families from birth, and giving families and children the best chance at an early childhood education - and health outcomes, and a whole range of services that come with those great facilities that are much loved by communities. We built new schools in government and we built new major school upgrades. So we've delivered in government. This government has been in charge for seven years, there are a number of schools have been neglected, they've promised new schools and haven't delivered. A vote for Labor is to get school infrastructure back on track.

JOURNALIST: What schools are you specifically say that they’ve promised and haven’t delivered?

WILLIE: There's Legana Primary School that hasn't been delivered yet. There's Brighton High School that hasn't been delivered yet. Sorell High School - they proposed a major rebuild, there has been very little action there as well. They've been big on promises and very poor on delivery.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly on the literacy policy from yesterday. How does that differ from the Liberal Party's literacy policy?

WILLIE: We're on a unity ticket with the Liberal Party in terms of being ambitious for our children in terms of literacy outcomes. What is different about our policy is that we're proposing to resource schools, and give teachers and children what they need to reach that goal. Currently, the Liberal Party is only promising a target - and we've heard targets from them before - last election they were promising benchmark targets in NAPLAN by 2020. They're not going to get there because they don't resource schools in the way that they need to improve learning outcomes. And so what we're proposing that is different to the Liberal Party is 350 new teachers to work intensively with children to get them back on track if they're falling behind with a phonics-based approach and we're also going to inject 20 new speech pathologists into the system. There are currently only 30 speech pathologists across the system for around 60,000 children. That ratio is not good enough. We know that speech pathology has a role to play in schools through the science of reading, in helping kids that may have language development issues. What we're proposing is to give every Tasmanian child the best chance to be able to read by high school. We think focusing on literacy is incredibly important because it provides access to all the curriculum. You can't answer a worded Maths question, if you can't read it. You can't learn about a science concept, if you can't read about it. We're proposing to give every Tasmanian child the best chance to read by high school so that they can engage with all of the curriculum, and that they can then follow their dreams and end up in a job that they love and have a meaningful life that's happy and fulfilled. Tasmanians will get that under a Labor government - an investment in Tasmanian children.

JOURNALIST: Why didn't Labor release its fiscal strategy yesterday?

WHITE: Well we actually released it the day before, we provided an advanced copy to media outlets - and we also provided copies yesterday when asked by other media outlets. We provided to Treasury by the deadline.

JOURNALIST: Have your policies been costed?

WHITE: We're submitting our policies to Treasury for costing and, as is consistent with other elections, we'll be doing that over the course of the remainder of the election campaign.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe the costings should have occurred by now?

WHITE: What we found last election campaign was that Treasury were not in the position to cost a number of policies that were submitted by Labor prior to the election date anyway. We'll do our best to provide as many policies to Treasury for them to cost, but also I note that the Liberal Party's really only put forward policies for costing that are infrastructure projects. So they're not putting forward their health policy for costing, they're not putting forward their education policy for costing. It's a bit disingenuous for the Liberal Party to be critical of the Labor Party here when they have failed to do any of the things they're accusing us of.

JOURNALIST: The Liberal Party has also attended the new ferry that's come on line at Bruny Island today. Are you happy with the timing of that?

WHITE: Well, that new ferry was also planned to be delivered by the end of the month. It's not surprising that it's happened now. I think the community of Bruny Island and the northern part of Hobart – northern part I should say southern part, I'll get my geography correct. That ferry was always due to be provided to the community about this time so the fact it's coincided with an election is just a coincidence. At the end of the day, the community there deserves to have a reliable service. The Government has completely mucked up the tender process, they ran a program for procurement of those vessels that was not fair. There were other people who put forward an application to run that ferry crossing who were completely sidelined, and it's the people of Bruny Island who are suffering as a consequence of that. So, whilst they might be celebrating the launch of the new boat, the fact is the Government really mucked up that process which set it back and really upset a lot of people in the community.

JOURNALIST: On other issues, do you support the Government's decision to remove two of the controversial consent videos?

PLIBERSEK: Honestly, it is unbelievable that Scott Morrison can't even get this right. We’ve got an ad guy who can't get the advertising right. This relationship education and consent education in our schools is absolutely vital, and to so comprehensively stuff it up is just so disappointing. This is a missed opportunity - of course it's right that the Government has pulled these ads and these resources. What would have been so much better is if they had actually consulted the experts and got this right in the first place.

JOURNALIST: How do you think consent should be taught in schools?

PLIBERSEK: There are some fantastic programs that are already available but they should be properly funded. In last year's budget, we saw funding for respectful relationships education halved - and it wasn't until Labor asked questions, that funding was restored for respectful relationships education in our schools. There's plenty of great information about how we talk to young people about respectful relationships and consent. All the Government needs to do is get those experts engaged in working with young people to make sure we have programs that are actually effective in changing behaviours.

JOURNALIST: On the vaccine rollout, what do you make of the pace of that in the disability sector so far?

PLIBERSEK: The pace of vaccine rollout in the disability sector is appallingly bad. But this is of a piece with the vaccine rollout, generally. Scott Morrison has stuffed up the vaccine rollout in Australia, just as he stuffed up protections in aged care in the first place. Just as the federal government stuffed up the COVID tracing app. Just as they have stuffed up getting Australians home from overseas. The other thing, of course, I'd say about this is the vaccine roll-out has been too slow. Given the vaccine rollout has been so badly stuffed up by the federal government, how is it that Tasmania's in the middle of an election campaign right now? Why would the Premier call an election at a time when barely anyone's vaccinated, when it's simply not safe to have people gathering in large numbers, queuing up on polling booths. This is an example of a Premier who is so cynical. Who is absolutely putting his own political interests ahead of the interests of Tasmanians. I don't believe he's got health advice that says that it's safe for people to be queuing up and out campaigning in large numbers and gatherings. He has called this election because it suits his political interests. He has put his own political interests ahead of the interests and the safety of Tasmanians. As Rebecca said, if she can go full-term, it's a wonder that the Premier can't.

JOURNALIST: Should aged care facilities be taking priority over the disability sector with the rollout?

PLIBERSEK: Why would we be putting aged Australians in competition with people with a disability? We should be vaccinating all Australians effectively and promptly - and we're not. This has seen all sorts of confusion and delays - people ringing their GPs saying: 'when will I be able to get a vaccine?' The GPs are saying: 'I don't know, we didn't even know we were on the list as the GPs who are vaccinating people.' This is a time when the federal government has put their hand up, they've said: 'okay, we're responsible for the vaccine rollout.' They've stuffed it up, they've now gone to the states: 'please, can you help.' And the people who are paying the price are: people in aged care, people in disability care - but also, every Australian, every Tasmanian because we know that life won't get truly back to normal until we've got jabs in people's arms. We won't be confident of interstate travel, we won't be confident that you can go into a restaurant in six months' time or go to a concert in six months' time. We can't get life back to normal until the vaccine rollout is done properly. Scott Morrison stuffed that up and it is a wonder to me that, given so few Tasmanians have been vaccinated, the Premier made the decision to have an early election.

JOURNALIST: I'm going to ask you on that, because WA also went to the election and it was very much in Labor's favour over there. Should the WA election not have occurred then because the circumstances are the same?

PLIBERSEK: The Tasmanian election's not due for a year.

JOURNALIST: I get that but your argument is that, in light of COVID, because we've still got a population that's not vaccinated [inaudible]. So in light of that, should there have not been an election in WA?

PLIBERSEK: There is a timetable that states and territories have to follow, and the federal government has to follow when it comes to elections. This Premier has decided to bring forward - by a year - a State election to a time when he didn't need to have it. He just decided to have it. But Rebecca and Labor were ready whenever it happened because they've got the best plans and the best people. How cynical is it for the Tasmanian Premier to do this for his own interests, for his own political interests.