By Tanya Plibersek

25 August 2021




SUBJECTS: NSW lockdown; Border closures; Vaccination rates; National COVID catch up plan for schools.

SCOTT EMERSON, HOST: And this time of the week we're joined by the Shadow Minister for Education and Shadow Minister for Women Tanya Plibersek. Tanya I know you're in lockdown there, those numbers today again in Sydney, I feel like a bit of a broken record, you have to acknowledge them, 919 today. It is not getting any better down there sadly.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: No, we really are struggling and the lockdown is tough. It's been very tough on people who aren't earning a living, they don't know how they're going to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head. I say this every week, I'm speaking daily to businesses in my community, people who have run a family business for 20 or 30 years, they've done nothing wrong, they've just been smashed by this. We've got to get through it. People need to get vaccinated and we need to get through it.

EMERSON: All right, we do need to get through it and part of that is getting those vaccinations out there, getting people vaccinated, get up to that 70, 80 per cent. But on that issue, where does Labor stand on this, in terms of lifting restrictions opening up borders? At what point do you believe in terms of vaccination rate, that should happen?

PLIBERSEK: Well, our leader Anthony Albanese said again today that he supports a national plan. Look, everybody wants us to get out, to end these lockdowns as soon as it's safe to do so. But what you saw in New South Wales is New South Wales Government acting too slowly when we should have a shorter sharper lockdown much earlier, and the consequences of what you're describing - more than 900 cases overnight. So as soon as it's safe to do, we want life back to normal. And the way we're going to get there is by getting more people vaccinated and also getting hotel quarantine right. And we've been banging on about this for a long time now, until we get vaccinations and quarantine right it's pretty hard to see life getting back to normal. And that's really where our Prime Minister’s has let us down. We're going to get vaccines and quarantine right and he hasn't done that. 

EMERSON: You say that Anthony Albanese, he backs the national plan there. But I keep hearing from the Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan, we've heard here from our Queensland Premier, Anastasia Palaszczuk she said, even at 70 or 80 per cent, she's not necessarily going to open the borders up with New South Wales. 

PLIBERSEK: It's tough, isn't it? We've got more 900 cases today, if I was sitting in Queensland and I had no new cases I'd be looking south and I'd be pretty worried. What she's is doing is encouraging people to get vaccinated in this time when you don't have cases in the community. Now is a really good time to go and get vaccinated, so if it does start, if the Delta variant in particular starts spreading around the community, the best thing you can do is have high vaccination rates. And the Queensland Premier is taking this time now to encourage people to go and get vaccinated, I hope people are listening to that message.

EMERSON: Well, I hope so too, but unfortunately Queensland is behind the other states in terms of vaccination rates. And then predictions in terms of getting to the 80% figure, we're the last on that as well. But again, I think I just can't quite work out where Federal Labor is in terms of Federal Labor, compared to some of the State Labor governments. Because if you hear what Anastasia Palaszczuk saying, she's giving no hope that we'd even we’d open the borders by Christmas even if we get to 80%. Shouldn't we at least be saying yes, if we're at 80%, we'll open the borders so we can, actually try to get back? You mentioned all those businesses that are suffering. It's not just those in lockdown. We’ve got a lot of businesses in Queensland that rely on interstate travel, interstate business, to keep going, and they're suffering at the moment. 

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, everybody wants us to open up as soon as it's safe to do so. The trouble is, you look at a state like New South Wales, when we had cases in the Eastern suburbs around Bondi Beach and so on, we had the Prime Minister congratulating our Premier for not locking down. Look at us now. We've been in lockdown longer. We've got high case numbers. It's really tough to do the right thing early on, but you've got a Premier there who's trying to keep Queenslanders safe, that's all she's trying to do. I don't, I don't blame her for looking south and worrying. 

EMERSON: I'm talking to Tanya Plibersek, the federal Shadow Minister for Education and Shadow Minister for Women. Tanya, I know you've written to the federal Minister of Education and Youth Alan Tudge about this, this is about a National COVID Recovery plan for schools, especially for the schools that are in lockdown at the moment in New South Wales and Victoria. And of course, we've experienced that a little bit in the recent days with the lockdowns, as well. Clearly COVID is having a massive impact on our kids’ educations at the moment.

PLIBERSEK: It really is. And it's especially tough on the youngest kids, so kindy, year one, year two - those kids who were only just starting school. We worry about them because if they don't have the building blocks, if they don't have the basics by the age of about eight, they really struggle to catch up later in their schooling. So we worry about those kids at the beginning of their schooling and those kids who are facing their final exams. The kids who are in year 12 this year, finishing school this year, they've had disrupted learning this year, they've had disrupted learning last year. They're not just missing out on what's happening in the classroom. They're 16, 17, year-old 18 year old kids, they're missing out on birthday parties, and school, formals and camps, and young romance and all the other stuff that comes from being out with their mates with their friends. It's been a really tough time for them. So, we think that the Federal Government should be supporting the states with a national COVID catch up strategy for schools. The Government put aside $25 million last year to do that, they spent $1 million out of the $25 million set aside. Kids need it now, you can't afford to muck around for a year, or two or three years. These kids need to help now. And we also think that to those kids at the end of their schooling, really worried about whether final exams will be on, whether they'll be cancelled, that they'll be delayed - wouldn't it be good if the Federal Government said, ‘listen, don't worry, if you're prepared to work hard and study hard they'll be a place for you at TAFE or at uni next year’. We know that it's tough too for the young ones to get a job straight out of school - 

EMERSON: I think it is very tough out there for students out there, Tanya Plibersek indeed. It's a good point you make about that. Look we will catch you again next week. 

PLIBERSEK: I look forward to it. 

EMERSON: Keep the spirits up in lockdown down there.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.