By Tanya Plibersek

01 June 2021




SUBJECTS: NSW Labor; Vaccination rollout in aged care.

JIM WILSON, HOST: Now, drama within New South Wales Labor is heating up with Chris Minns and Michael Daley now firmly on the campaign trail. They're working the phones to try to win the leadership of the New South Wales Labor Party. A ballot is almost certain to take place, but it means for the next three months, the party is effectively leaderless. When it comes to Labor's standing in this state, the drums are beating, the Upper-Hunter by-election is proof of that. And with a federal election looming early next year, what impact will this have federally? Well joining me now from Canberra is Labor MP, Labor heavy weight, and the Member for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya, welcome back to Drive.
It's always a pleasure to be with you Jim.
WILSON: So what do you make Tanya, I mean you're in touch with and very well connected with state Labor and New South Wales. What are you making of the whole leadership battle as far as Labor is concern? Would you prefer, like your colleague Michelle Rowland's stated in recent days, would you prefer it not to go to a ballot and for there to be clear air, for example, for Chris Minns to take the leadership? 
PLIBERSEK: Look, the first thing to say is thanks very much to Jodi McKay. She just worked her guts out, and she showed an enormous amount of integrity, and she's decided to put the Labor Party ahead of herself and that is absolutely consistent with everything I've ever seen from Jodi in public life. Look, I think a contest is fine. It would be great if it was resolved quickly. I certainly wouldn't like to see something that drags on for months.
WILSON: Well, is it a distraction though? I mean Michelle Rowland, who's a colleague of using yours in federal Labor and also, Susan Templeman who's a federal MP from here in Sydney - they've both raised concerns that this is the last thing you need with a federal election looming.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, it would be good if it was resolved more quickly and then people just make a choice and get on and work as a team, that would be great. But if there is a contest, let's just make sure it's resolved quickly. And that once there is a resolution, we see unity and a sense of purpose. People have a really, really short tolerance for political parties, any political party, talking about itself. What we need to be focusing on, particularly now in the middle of a global pandemic, is making sure that people are healthy, that they're safe, that they've got a job, that if they've got a job it's a secure job, that as the economy improves we see wages going up instead of flatlining like we've seen for the last eight years or so. These are the things that really concern people. They really don't want to hear about political parties arguing about who's going to have which job in the party.
WILSON: Who do you think the right man is to replace Jodi McKay, Chris Minns or Michael Daley?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I'm not going to start trying to influence the New South Wales party leadership from the federal Parliament. That's a matter for New South Wales party members, and for the New South Wales parliamentarians. I hope that either one of them would focus on what matters to the people of New South Wales which is keeping them safe, keeping them healthy, making sure they've got a job with decent pay.
WILSON: Do you recognise that the Upper-Hunter by-election will have implications for Labor at a Federal level?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm actually a little bit surprised that anybody ever thought Labor was going to win the Upper-Hunter by-election. It's a seat that basically we haven't held in about a century and I don't see that it has any particular implications for us federally. But like I say it doesn't matter what part of New South Wales we're talking about, the focus has to be on keeping people safe and healthy through a pandemic and making sure that they've got a job at the end of it.
WILSON: Your colleague, Joel Fitzgibbon says Labor needs to start listening because you're losing your traditional voter base with your push for renewables. Labor will lose the next New South Wales election and federal election if you don't start supporting the regional areas.
PLIBERSEK: Well I just think it's completely not true that we're not listening - the better way of saying that Jim is we are listening, we listen all the time and what people tell me is, yeah, they absolutely want a secure job with decent pay and conditions. They'd like to see a pay rise, they want decent schools for their kids to go to, they want a health system that works, they want public transport that works. I just don't agree with Joel's characterization that we're not listening to people. Of course we are.
WILSON: Do you think you're listening to the worker?
PLIBERSEK: Absolutely, absolutely. I just find it a little bit frustrating to hear from Joel that we're not. I am. I'm in my electorate, I'm traveling around New South Wales and around Australia all the time. I'm in factories, I'm in hospitals, I'm in schools. I'm talking to people who are out working on the land. I'm doing that all the time and I know my colleagues are as well.
WILSON: We've been talking on the program this afternoon about the vaccine rollout. And a lot of debate today on the program from our listeners about whether aged care staff should be subject to mandatory vaccines, given what's happening in Victoria right now. Do you support the fact that aged care staff, should it be compulsory for them to have the vaccine?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I'd be pretty concerned if there were aged care staff in my mother-in-law's residential aged care facility that weren't vaccinated. But instead of blaming the staff or starting to get the big stick out, let's give them the opportunity of getting vaccinated. There are still 600 aged care facilities around Australia where staff and residents, in particular residents, are waiting for their second dose. There are 21 facilities around Australia where they haven't even received, residents haven't even received their first dose. The Federal Government said they were going to set up 13, pop up clinics for aged care staff by the end of May. Only three of those have been established and they're all in New South Wales. Take a look at what's happening in Victoria right now, be pretty handy if they had a pop up facility down there to vaccinate aged care workers. We know that one of the big problems with the horrible death of almost 700 people in aged care last time around, was that some workers were working in more than one aged care facility. That's still happening. It's still happening. In fact, in November I think it was last year, the Federal Government changed its mind and said it was fine for that to happen again. Instead of blaming the staff, let's get the Federal Government to roll out the vaccine program right. And give it to residents, to aged care workers, to people in disability care, to all those vulnerable people who are desperate to be kept safe.
WILSON: Tanya as always, thank you for your time this afternoon. 
PLIBERSEK: Lovely to talk to you. Jim.