By Tanya Plibersek

08 February 2022




SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan to help schools bounce back from COVID-19; Apology for harassment and bullying in Parliament; Aged Care crisis; Federal election.

JIM WILSON, HOST: I want to bring in Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Minister for Women and Education who's not been able to make the trip to the nation's capital from Sydney. Tanya, happy new year, great to chat again. But what's going on in the Plibersek household? 
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Well, Jim, I actually almost got to Canberra. I flew down and then got a message that one of the kids had a positive rapid antigen test. So I had to basically get in a hire car, drive myself home. The rest of the family, we're all fine - but like many, many, many families around Australia right now, we've got one down, and we've kind of got our fingers crossed. We're all in iso hoping not to pick it up. 
WILSON: How's he feeling? 
PLIBERSEK: He's not too bad, you know bit of a sore throat. It seems to be improved with a lot of room service and a lot of video games. It does give me the opportunity of saying thanks to all the school staff who are working so hard to try and make this return to school safe. Because of course, parents want their kids learning. They don't want them missing out on too much school. But you know, we're all experiencing the risks that go along with that. And that's why Labor's got a $440 million dollar plan, Jim, to help our kids bounce back after COVID-19 that includes physical upgrades to school to make them safer, but also money to help the kids because they missed out on so much over the last couple of years. And this year's not going to be a lot better with this sort of stuff, as kids are staying home with families in isolation, there's teachers having to isolate, it's just been a tough time. 
WILSON: So you missed day one of Parliament, but you would have obviously been watching from afar. It was a significant day with a bipartisan apology for those who've suffered abuse, harassment or bullying in Parliament. I think this is a very good first step in righting the cultural wrongs of the Parliament. 
PLIBERSEK: I completely agree with you. And I think it's an important first step. But the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins made a number of recommendations and we should commit to fully implementing all of those recommendations to make sure that our Parliament is a safe and respectful workplace. Not just for the people who work there, important as they are, but also to send the message that this is the standard we want to see in every Australian workplace. Like honestly, no one should go to work to be bullied or harassed or sexually harassed. Every Australian workplace should be free from that sort of behaviour and it starts with the Parliament. We should be showing leadership so that we look after our own people, but also so that we set the standard for others.
WILSON: Well certainly, when you look at what has happened as far as the culture goes in federal Parliament, I mean, it's the blame and the pointer finger has to be at both sides of the aisle. It's been going on for decades, the cultural rot in Canberra. In terms of fixing it, I mean, we've had these recommendations from Kate Jenkins. What more would you do if you were in power? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, we would fully implement all of Kate Jenkins' recommendations - 
WILSON: But isn't the Government going to do that? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, that's not clear yet. I mean with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's first report, that looks at every Australian workplace, the Government initially said that they would implement all of her recommendations and then backpedalled and actually said that a bunch of them were too hard to implement. So we do need to work in a bipartisan way to ensure that all of these recommendations are done. And I think one of the biggest differences I've seen, to be really honest with you the biggest difference I've seen in my quite some time working in Parliament House, is the fact that Labor has got - about 50 per cent of our representatives are women now. I do think it does change the culture to have more women in the place and making sure that that happens across the Parliament, I think, would be very helpful. It's also really important to remember that these sorts of protections have to apply to everyone. So Parliament House is a really enormous workplace, but it's not just politicians that work there and it's not just political staffers. It's cleaners and cafeteria workers and gardeners and transport drivers and librarians and cleaners. We need to make sure that it's a safe and respectful workplace for everyone who works there.
WILSON: Now it got fiery in the Senate chamber, this afternoon your colleague Kristina Keneally in the Senate basically, well, let fly at Senator Richard Colbeck the Aged Care Services Minister. Just have a listen to this Tanya. 
*Audio plays*
WILSON: I've said he has to go. What are your, what's your reaction to that from Senator Keneally? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think she's laid it out very effectively. I mean, it's the first week of February. We've seen hundreds of deaths in aged care of people who've died with Covid.  We've got one in four shifts not filled. We've got people now, 60,000 aged care residents, still haven't had their booster shot. 60 per cent of aged care workers, so three out of every five aged care workers, haven't had their booster shot. The nursing homes are operating at below safe staffing levels. That means people aren’t being looked after appropriately, not being fed properly, not being given water properly, not being bathed or having wounds treated properly. All of this happening and the minister, when he's asked to go and account for it to the Parliamentary inquiry that's overseeing the COVID response says: 'no, no, I'm too busy. I'm too busy’ and we find out later he’s at the cricket for three days. The problems not the cricket - the problem is, if a disaster like that, a catastrophe was happening on the watch of any other minister, they would be too busy.
WILSON: Why is the Prime Minister not moving on Richard Colbeck?
PLIBERSEK: I don't understand it. I think it goes back to Scott Morrison's inability ever to say, ‘yeah, I was wrong. I need to do better. My team needs to do better.’ At the Press Club he was asked does he have any regrets. He says, ‘yeah, we were too optimistic about COVID’.
WILSON: What figure would you put on it? I mean, a lot of aged care workers and staff have said that their base salary is lousy - what figure would Labor, what should it increase by? Give me a tangible figure.
PLIBERSEK: Look, we're not going to make up a figure, but I'll tell you while some aged care workers are getting 22 bucks an hour the wages just aren't good enough. I think it would be impossible to attract people to put on PPE, wear a mask all day, get in there, work hard, risk your own health and safety, risk taking COVID home to your family, and we're paying 20-something bucks an hour.
WILSON: Anthony Albanese says they should be given a pay rise, but why can't you give a figure of what the increase should be? And how do you pay that money back? Because obviously that's going to cost money, how do you pay that back?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, it does. So this issue is being looked at by the Fair Work Commission right now. So the reason we don't want to just pluck a figure out of the air is the Fair Work Commission has a proper process that they go through. I don't think anybody, not any of your listeners, would say that 20-something bucks an hour is enough. And you think about it, we're all saying these workers are heroes, they're angels - Scott Morrison's happy to give them a bonus payment just before an election. What we should be doing is making sure that we have proper wages and conditions. We have proper ratios so that the people aren't run off their feet when they're looking after vulnerable aged care residents. We've got good training and support and career structures. So you might start doing personal care, but you might end up managing a residential aged care facility with the right training and support. It's all of this that builds this into a career that we want to see with decent pay and conditions and progress throughout your career.
WILSON: They deserve decent conditions. I'm just interested to know what Labor's policies on it, as far as giving them one, what the actual salary rise would be. How will it affect their hip pockets moving forward? That's all, I'm asking for a figure.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Well, we can't give you a figure because it's before the Fair Work Commission, but you can look at what we did in government. In 2013 we had a package called Living Longer Living Better, which had a workforce compact that improved wages and conditions and career paths for workers – the Abbott Government got rid of that in 2014. We increased the number of home care places, we increased the number of residential care places. That's what we did when we last had the opportunity to run the aged care system. We didn't go to the cricket.
WILSON: What do you think a fair figure would be from the Fair Work Commission then?
PLIBERSEK: Like I say, I'm not going to make it up, but there is not anyone now who should be saying, as the Government does, what aged care workers are paid is fair. It’s not fair.
WILSON: First news poll of 2022 is very, very good for your party. 41 to 34 on the primary vote. Are you confident of victory at the federal election?
PLIBERSK: I'm not confident because...
WILSON: Well, you're in the box seat though aren't you?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, we had some good news polls before the last election and we didn't win. So I'd take everything with a grain of salt, but I'm hopeful because I think Australians are really sick of Scott Morrison. They're sick of their wages flatlining while the cost of living goes up. They're sick of being told that everything's great when we've got 1.5 million Australians who can't find a job, or can't find the hours of work. I mean, they're particularly sick of being told that their lives have never been better when they can't afford the petrol, childcare costs are through the roof, out-of-pocket health care costs are up, the cost of everything, groceries, if you can find them on the shelves is increasing, while wages are actually going backwards. So we've got a plan. We've got a plan that brings down the cost of living in areas like child care. More affordable electric vehicles. Cheaper, cleaner energy. We've got a plan to make sure that when people work hard and they work efficiently their wages go up. We've got a plan for dealing with the energy crisis that we've seen for almost 10 years from this government - we've seen no real action on making sure that we've got cheaper, cleaner energy. I think Australians want that positive vision for the future.
WILSON: Well, we're going to have plenty of chats before the election and we appreciate your time this afternoon. All the best to your son and his recovery from COVID, and to the family. Hopefully you all stay safe.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you so much. Jim, lovely to talk to you.