By Tanya Plibersek

05 October 2021



SUBJECTS: Dominic Perrottet; Gladys Berejiklian; Liberals’ failure to establish a national anti-corruption commission; JobKeeper; Sydney vaccination rates.
JIM WILSON, HOST: Well, it is official Dominic Perrottet is the new Premier of New South Wales. He beat Planning Minister Rob Stokes 39 votes to 5 in this morning's party room vote. He has been sworn in this afternoon at Government House, and Stewart Ayres is the new Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, and Matt Kean has been revealed as the new Treasurer to replace Dominic Perrottet. Now, Tanya Plibersek is Member for Sydney and a senior member of federal Labor, and she joins me live on the line. Tanya, welcome back to Drive. 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: It's always a pleasure to talk to you, Jim. How are you? 

WILSON: I'm good, thank you. It's good to chat with you, too. Now, it's been a huge few days in New South Wales state politics - the resignation of former Premier Gladys Berejiklian left the state, well, shell-shocked. What was your reaction? 

PLIBERSEK: I had a great deal of personal sympathy for her. I think a lot of people in New South Wales are very grateful to the former Premier for the hard work she put in managing COVID. She didn't - it wasn't all perfect, but it was a time of enormous difficulty and challenge; and she really did work hard and take it seriously. But the rules are the rules and nobody is above the rules. So she's asked people to stand aside, when ICAC's been investigating them, she's applied the same rule to herself, I think that's the right thing to do. The big question really is why, more than a thousand days after promising a national anti-corruption commission, has Scott Morrison, not acted to make sure we've got a similar standard at a federal level?

WILSON: And do you think that should be an absolute, should be a given, and that should happen on a national level? 

PLIBERSEK: 100 per cent. I don't understand why we haven't already got an anti-corruption commission at a federal level. I've supported one for years, I think it's really important for people's faith in democracy that they know that federal parliamentarians and public servants, and others, are held to the same standard as those in state parliaments.

WILSON: Gladys Berejiklian obviously made a big impact on our state and obviously people - she was a very, very popular Premier. Dominic Perrottet has now been elected Premier, sworn in this afternoon. What do you think he brings to the table? And it is a tough act to follow after Ms Berejiklian. 

PLIBERSEK: I think the people of New South Wales were very grateful to Gladys Berejiklian. She served at a very difficult time. I don't really know Dominic Perrottet, I hope that he is successful because we've got a really tough time ahead of us in New South Wales. We want him to be successful. We want to see people back at work, we want to see businesses opening up, we want to see our health system kept strong so that if cases do begin to rise again, we know that our hospital system can cope with that. He's got a big job ahead of him and I really genuinely wish him well because his success is the success of the people of New South Wales. 

WILSON: So with the departure of a very popular Premier, what sort of opportunity to do you think it sort of presents for Chris Minns and state Labor? 

PLIBERSEK: I think Chris Minns and state Labor have a fantastic opportunity now to talk about how things could be better, to make sure that Chris is talking about the sort of jobs, the sort of economy, the sort of business renewal he wants to see/ How our health system, our hospitals, our schools, our TAFEs can be improved, where the jobs are coming from, the kind of industries he wants to see growing. These are all great opportunities because people have been very focused on COVID, we now have to talk about how we build back better, how we recover, what New South Wales is going to look like in five years time, in 10 years time, in 20 years time.

WILSON: There was a report around yesterday in the Guardian newspaper, yesterday afternoon when we went to air, that Gladys Berejiklian could be a chance to enter federal politics in a Liberal preselection for Warringah. That seems highly unlikely due to the ICAC inquiry, but could you see her in Canberra and in federal politics one day?

PLIBERSEK: Look, she's a young woman, she's in her early 50s. I'm sure she's going to have a second career somewhere whether it's politics, business, who knows what she'll do, I think it's up to her. It's up to her. I've got no views. 

WILSON: But you think she could make it in federal politics?

PLIBERSEK: I think she's going to be pretty tied up with ICAC for some time, I imagine. So I'm not sure that that's in her immediate future. But it's up to her, it's up to the Liberal Party, they'll make their own decisions about the candidates they run in coming weeks and months. Up to her. 

WILSON: Talking about federal politics. There's a troubling story in the Financial Review today about JobKeeper, and how major companies have allegedly been forecasting far lower turnover figures then they eventually got - basically manipulating the system to get more JobKeeper money. I mean, this can't happen, surely? 

PLIBERSEK: It's outrageous. We know that at least $13 billion has gone to companies whose profits went up during COVID. Now, we're all for JobKeeper for companies that kept people on because they had JobKeeper, for people who kept their jobs because of JobKeeper, that is fantastic. But those companies that have misused it to pay bigger shareholder dividends, sent money overseas to overseas shareholders, to buy the Chief Executive a new mansion - that is outrageous. When you're thinking about that $13 billion we know that's going to companies that didn't need the assistance, you think about what else that could have bought for Australia. When Pfizer first negotiated with the Australian Government, they said, 'for a billion dollars we'll vaccinate every adult in Australia' and the Government said, 'no, we can't afford it'. You could send a cheque for a $1,000 to every adult Australian for the money that we've wasted on companies that didn't need the assistance. What is even worse about this is the Treasurer is trying to keep this secret. Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg are trying to prevent this information coming out. It's just not right when taxpayers are going to be footing the bill. Our grandkids are going to be repaying this. It was a design flaw - companies have been overpaid, and very few have done the right thing and paid it back. It looks now that the Treasurer was warned that this was a risk and he turned a blind eye. 

WILSON: So do you think these companies should be named and shamed and forced to pay back the money? 

PLIBERSEK: I think the public deserves to know who got millions of dollars of taxpayer assistance, and if they didn't need it, I think people have a right to know that. I mean, it's really good when you see the companies that have voluntarily paid, but they're a fraction - less than 1 per cent of the total money has been repaid. And I'm really pleased that some have done it, good on them. But I think if there was more transparency, there'd be a bit more public pressure on those other companies as well. 

WILSON: I'm speaking to the federal Member for Sydney from federal Labor, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya, I have to ask you about the vaccine rates in your Sydney electorate. As of yesterday, the City of Sydney LGA was lagging behind at 58.4 per cent fully vaccinated and 71.4 per cent with one dose. And that first dose rate is the second worst in the state, even worse than Byron Bay which has 72 per cent first dose. What do you put it down to?

PLIBERSEK: I absolutely can't understand it. At the beginning, there were some troubles with supply. We know that we've got a pretty young population, there wasn't a lot of Pfizer around, but that's not an excuse now because we know that a lot of those supply problems have been addressed. And we know we've had terrific local organisations that have been helping people who had trouble with the online booking systems - they've been helping them make a booking, they've been helping them with transport. So now all I can say is there's no excuses. If you don't know where to get vaccinated or you're having some trouble, you ring 1800 020 080 and they'll help you do it. 

WILSON: I mean there are pockets of disadvantaged communities in Sydney, like communities in Redfern and Waterloo, some pockets of those two suburbs. It's so important that we get these vulnerable people vaccinated. How do we get that message through to them? 

PLIBERSEK: Jim, do you know the really good news is that there was some initial hesitancy in some of my public housing estates, but we've had really good community leadership in those estates - particularly, a lot of the Aboriginal community leaders have rolled up their sleeves, got the jab, told their friends and family to do it, and actually the vaccination rates in the public housing are higher than the vaccination rates outside the public housing now. So, it's a more complex story than people would imagine. 

WILSON: So what's the message then to your electorate this afternoon? 

PLIBERSEK: Please get vaccinated. Please get vaccinated. Please, because particularly as things open up again, there's the personal reason to get vaccinated - it's going to make it easier for you to get your haircut, go to a restaurant, meet up with your friends, do all the things that we want to do. But it's what you're doing for your family, for your community, for your country when you get vaccinated. This is a tiny sacrifice, a tiny effort that we can make to look after each other, to look after the most vulnerable people in our community. Please do it. 

WILSON: Well, I know you've been very good and very passionate about spreading the vaccine message, and I know you'd be disappointed with those numbers in your electorate. So hopefully they heed your message and we can get to that 'Freedom Day' sooner rather than later and actually, you know, get back to some sort of normality, Tanya.

PLIBERSEK: Looking forward to that, aren't we? 

WILSON: Absolutely, you bet we are. Thank you for time this afternoon. 

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Jim, see you.