03 February 2022





SUBJECTS: Labor’s $440 million plan to help kids bounce back after COVID; Liberals’ aged care neglect; Wages for aged care workers.
JOSH BURNS, MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA: Welcome everyone to Glen Eira College. This school that we're in right now, is a school that has completely transformed over the last decade or so. It's a school that used to be one with a whole range of issues, but now it's a school that we are so, so proud of here in Glen Eira. It's a school that students are coming to to get a pathway into University to excel. We just had half an hour with some really inspiring students who are on their way to doing amazing things studying science, studying languages, studying history, studying politics. These students are on their way to a successful education. But they've had a really hard time, and that's what we also came to talk about. Behind us, we have some Wellbeing Gardens and some classrooms occurring outside. This is a program and a school that encourages wellbeing, and encourages learning outside in a place that makes students feel welcome and comfortable, and it's exactly the sort of location that we need to be promoting around the country, as kids come back to school. And to talk more about that is my good friend and Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION & SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN:Thanks so much Josh. And thank you for inviting me to this wonderful school, it's a great pleasure to be at Glen Eira College today and to meet the staff and students here. We know that Australians have been doing it tough over the last couple of years with COVID-19. And our kids have had it particularly tough. Disrupted learning, remote schooling, no school sport. They've had a really tough couple of years. That's why Labor has a $440 million plan to help our kids get back on track after COVID-19. Josh has pointed out this magnificent garden behind us. The first part of the funding that we're talking about is money that schools can use to upgrade their facilities to make sure that schools are safer for kids and for school staff, to make sure their airflow is better. The Victorian Government has been doing a brilliant job with air filters inside of classrooms, but there are always small projects that we can do to partner with schools to move learning outdoors, to make sure there's fresh air going through classrooms, to make sure that air-conditioning systems and filtration systems are working. We want to make sure that school staff and kids can go safely back to normal. The second part of our program is about student wellbeing. It means that schools can hire an extra psychologist or a school councillor for a couple days a week. Or they can engage in other programs that they know will benefit their students. The students today were telling me today about the fantastic wellbeing programs they have here at this school. Being able to expand those to more students is a great initiative, and one that Labor would like to deliver for young people like this around Australia. We know that parents have been so worried about their children, they've been worried not just about about the education that they're missing out on, but the growing up too. The fact that kids have missed out on sports, on debating, on birthday parties, on school camps - all of the things that help them make friends. The friends that will last a lifetime. It's Labor's commitment that we will help our kids bounce back from COVID-19. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: So in regards to this school funding, how will that work? Will schools need to apply for grants, or will they need to show they’re working on specific conversions to get that funding?
PLIBERSEK: Well on the physical upgrades to schools, we'll have a grants program. We'll work with state and territory governments and school systems to make sure that the money's directed to where it will make the biggest difference. On the wellbeing program, the average school will be entitled to about $20,000 but obviously we'll be putting more resources into the communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19. We'll make sure that larger schools receive bigger benefit and schools that have been harder hit receive a bigger benefit. 
JOURNALIST: As Education Minister, are you comfortable with students coming back to school, including those who are yet to be vaccinated?
PLIBERSEK: Look it's a real failure of Scott Morrison again to see this vaccine stroll-out happening to young Australians. Scott Morrison said that every child would be able to have their first dose before school started - that hasn't happened. And I think a lot of parents are troubled by that. I've had parents personally contact me who had their kids booked in to receive a shot at their local GP and the GP had to ring and say sorry we can't do it, the paediatric vaccines haven't arrived. It is inexplicable that almost three years into this pandemic Scott Morrison still can't get these basics right. Can't get the vaccine rollout right, can't get the paediatric vaccine rollout right. Families have been struggling to get rapid antigen tests. There's one day that I went to more than a dozen places to get rapid antigen tests for my family. Families across Australia are experiencing this frustration. They want their kids back in the classroom because they want their kids learning. They want the social and emotional benefits that come with being around other kids, but they want that to happen safely. And that's why Labor has a $440 million commitment to help our kids get back into the classroom safely and bounce back from COVID-19. 
JOURNALIST: And with the $440 million would that be distributed over the coming years? So how long would that be?
PLIBERSEK: The first $50 million would go out in the first year, the capital funding. Then the wellbeing funding would flow as quickly as we can from - if we are elected this year, the money will go as quickly as possible.
JOURNALIST: Just to go off schools for a second, there are also ongoing problems with the aged care sector. What is one particular measure you could do to help that situation?
PLIBERSEK: One of the worst failures this government is the way it's managed COVID-19 in aged care. I've got a mother-in-law in a residential aged care facility and my husband and I are beside ourselves with worry about her. The fact that we still have 60,000 aged care residents who haven' t had their booster shots now, again is an utter failure, an utter failure of this government. If we had a minister that was a bit more interested in his day job and a bit less interested in going to the cricket instead of doing what he's paid to do, protect the lives and safety of aged care residents, I think we'd be in a much better position. But the really important thing to say here is that the aged care workforce – these people are heroes. They are angels. They have been working round the clock to try and keep residents safe, to protect their safety and their health. We need an aged care workforce that has access to rapid antigen tests, that has access to proper protective gear when they need it. The Government has failed on both of those counts. Now Scott Morrison's trying to make up for his failure by talking about small one-off payments to the aged care workforce. This is a workforce that is underpaid, that is working so hard, doing such important work. It's an insult to this workforce to have a government that says "no, we're not going to support you in your campaign for a decent pay rise. Instead we think we're going to buy you off with a few hundred bucks once or twice this year, just before an election." Honestly, it's such an insult to the people who have worked so hard to keep our oldest Australians safe.
JOURNALIST: Well unions are pushing for aged-care workers to receive a 25% pay rise do you agree with that amount?
PLIBERSEK: I'm not going to pick an amount. That's not the job of politicians to pick an amount. But certainly the Government should be arguing before the Fair Work Commission that the aged-care workforce deserves a pay rise. It makes no sense that you could earn more as a shelf stacker or dog walker then you can caring for the most vulnerable people in our community at a time of a pandemic, when all of the usual stresses of providing a proper safe, caring, loving environment for vulnerable Australians have been so exacerbated. It is a no-brainer that we are not going to find the skilled, dedicated staff we need to care for our most vulnerable Australians unless we pay them decently. We should pay them decently. 
JOURNALIST: But as you said, the aged care workforce has gone through a lot in the past two years, if the Fair Work Commission decides on the number that you think is too low would Labor object?
PLIBERSEK: The Fair Work Commission will make a decision and we don't control the decision that they make. All we can say is that we support a wage rise for aged care workers. We know that if we want a properly functioning aged care system, that is properly staffed, where the workforce has the time to care for each individual properly as they want to, then we need to see decent pay and conditions for the workforce. 
JOURNALIST: Thank you. Thank you very much.