By Tanya Plibersek

25 August 2020



SUBJECTS: Aged care crisis; Border communities; Jobseeker.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Good morning. I wanted to say a few words this morning about aged care.
For all of those people who have got loved ones in aged care, particularly in Victoria, this is an incredibly stressful time. We know that hundreds of families have lost someone that they love, living in aged care and then contracting COVID-19 in this terrible pandemic, sometimes dying with no family around them. This has been so distressing for those families, and for thousands of other families who are worried about someone they love in aged care right now. My mum's 88 years old, she's still living on her own luckily. But my mother-in-law who's 88 has been living in aged care for some time and it's been very difficult. There are times when you can't have physical contact, you can’t go and visit, you can't hug or kiss or show love to your parent or grandparent. That's been very difficult for families. And what's made it even more difficult in recent days is the feeling that the Minister who's responsible is not up to the job. The feeling that the Minister responsible isn't paying enough attention, isn't keeping their loved ones safe.
It's even worse that we've got a Prime Minister who also seems absolutely disengaged from this problem. We've got a Prime Minister who is so quick to take credit when anything is going right, but never wants to take responsibility when times get tough. We've seen that in the last couple of days with aged care in particular. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: You mentioned, you know, people really struggling through this pandemic. What do you think people in aged care that have been shut in, maybe not able to see their family, would have thought of Mr Colbeck's performances in the Senate yesterday and at the Committee on Friday?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think people who are in aged care who are separated from their families are very distressed by that. What would be even more distressing is if you're in one of those nursing homes where COVID-19 has broken out and you've got someone in the room next to you, or the floor above you, or a floor below you, who's contracted this highly infectious disease. You would expect the Government, the Minister responsible, to be all over that. You would expect him to be absolutely clear about all of the details, and to have seen the performances yesterday and earlier in the Inquiry, the Senate Inquiry, I think would not give you any confidence at all. But as others have pointed out this isn't just about COVID-19 and the Minister's lack of command of the details of the management of this pandemic. This is something that has been going on for months because of the Minister receiving numerous reports showing that aged care in this country is not up to scratch.
JOURNALIST: Just on the University of Adelaide's plan to bring in foreign students, I believe. Do you understand the frustrations of some people in South Australia given they can't perhaps see family through the border closure? Is this an appropriate time for the University to be doing this? 
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think we need to manage all of these things very, very carefully indeed. So if the University, in co-operation with the State government and the Federal government, can bring people in very carefully, observing all of the requirements of quarantine, it is a way of restarting this stream which is a huge contributor to the South Australian economy.
On the issue of border communities, I do think States and Territories have to co-operate better to take a common sense approach where there are people living in those border communities who are working across borders, who are farming across borders, who are seeking medical treatment across borders, or who have other compelling reasons to travel. As long as we can do that safely and with a common sense approach, States should be co-operating to do that.
JOURNALIST: On confidence, if Richard Colbeck does resign or he leaves parliament for whatever reason, or resigns from the Ministry, how will that transition work? Will that give people in the sector confidence that the Aged Care Minister leaves in the middle of an aged care disaster, in the middle of a Royal Commission into the aged care sector? Take away your political hat for a second, as someone who has an older mother, will that give you confidence if the Aged Care Minister left in the middle of this scenario?
PLIBERSEK: Well it's pretty hard to have confidence in the Minister that's there at the moment. Obviously, a lot of Australians have lost confidence in that Minister, and it's up to the Prime Minister to explain why he retains confidence. He has obviously removed some of the responsibilities from that Minister and given them to the Health Minister, which is - I don't think that particularly inspires confidence in Richard Colbeck. If the Prime Minister's not prepared to back him, why should Australians believe that he is up to the job?
JOURNALIST: Should more of those powers be divested to the Health Minister?
PLIBERSEK: Look I think it's up to the Prime Minister to explain what his intentions are here. This is a Minister who has performed very badly not just over the last few days, but over the last few months. We've got an aged care sector that was in crisis before COVID-19 hit and that has only compounded during this pandemic. I think it's really up to the Prime Minister to explain what steps he's going to take to restore the confidence of people living and working in aged care, and their families who are desperately worried about them.
JOURNALIST: On JobSeeker - just one last one - obviously the Government is stepping down the payments over the next couple of months, Labor would like to see that payment not stepped down as much. Do you have a figure in mind for where you think the post-pandemic rate of JobSeeker should be? Or do you think Labor should outline a figure at some point of what you hope that it will be? Like a line in the sand for what you'll start to fight for.
PLIBERSEK: Well, there's two things I'd say. There is hardly a person in Australia today who believes that the original rate of Newstart, as it was then, was adequate. Certainly no one who's living on Newstart thinks it's adequate. Certainly none of the social and welfare organisations believes it’s adequate. But the business community didn't believe it was adequate either. Even former Prime Minister John Howard didn't think that Newstart was adequate. So it must increase. 
We've seen the difference that the increase has made during the pandemic. It's meant that people who were previously struggling to pay their bills, struggling to put food on the table, have been able to pay off their bills, afford decent food. We've heard reports of nutrition improving in some communities, kids given new school shoes, being able to really afford the basics for the first time in a long time. So we cannot go back to the old inadequate measure of Newstart - it has to be higher. I'm not going to name a figure today. 
But can I say one other thing - there are some people who go in this crisis straight to: can we afford to have Newstart? Can we afford Jobkeeper? Can we afford the measures that we've taken to support demand in the economy? We can't afford not to do these things.
If we want our economy to recover we have to support consumer confidence, aggregate demand in our economy. The simple way of saying that is if you don't have 10 bucks in your pocket, you're not going to buy a cup of coffee on the way to work. If you don't know where your next paycheck is coming from, you're not going to take the kids out for pizza on Friday night. For our economy to recover we need to invest in keeping people working, and for those who can't work, making sure they have adequate income confidence to keep spending. 
For our economy to recover we need to focus on jobs. That means building things – infrastructure. That means making things - making sure we've got a manufacturing base with cheaper, cleaner energy. It means caring for people, so investing in caring jobs, like aged care. We've got more than a hundred thousand people on waiting lists for home care right now. And it means decent jobs, with the sort of pay and conditions and certainty that would encourage you to invest and spend and create jobs for other people.
JOURNALIST:  Just speaking of Mr Howard, were you happy to hear he's okay after a bit of a hospital scare yesterday?
PLIBERSEK: Yes, of course I am. Thanks everyone.