By Tanya Plibersek

26 May 2021




SUBJECTS: Upper Hunter by-election; Hotel quarantine and vaccine roll out; Covid situation in Victoria. 

SCOTT EMERSON, HOST: And this time of the week we're always joined by the Shadow Minister for Education and the Shadow Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya, how are you today?


EMERSON: Oh well, I'm in beautiful Queensland. I know you're not, you're down stuck in Canberra at the moment. I can tell you there’s beautiful blue skies here. Warm days, it's going to be a glorious weekend, what about Canberra? 

PLIBERSEK: Well, it's overcast. But at least it's not foggy till the early afternoon like it was yesterday. And when the sun breaks through it’s beautiful down here because it's, you know, lovely big open spaces and so on. But the weather today isn't quite all you'd expect, all you'd hope for. 

EMERSON: I had a bit of time in Canberra in my past life, for my sins. I do know what you're talking about there. You haven't even got to the worst of it yet. That's all I can say to you, Tanya Plibersek. Still going to get very much colder yet. Now...

PLIBERSEK: Cold and dark on those morning walks in, I can tell you that.

EMERSON: Alright, let's talk about Meryl Swanson. Now, I've never heard of Meryl Swanson, she's a Labor MP for Paterson. Where's Paterson?

PLIBERSEK: Meryl? Her electorate’s up in the Hunter Valley.

EMERSON: In the Hunter Valley, alright then. That's probably, I guess the area that's a concern for Labor at the moment. We heard what Joel Fitzgibbon had to say a bit earlier in the week. So she's reportedly told the party room, your party room that she's worried the party is heading off a cliff. That's pretty damning comments from someone.

PLIBERSEK: Look, you know my view about this stuff always Scott is people have a pretty low tolerance of political parties talking about themselves. And I can tell you my full focus is on the pandemic, people's health, jobs, and the fact that Scott Morrison has racked up a trillion dollars in debt and has still managed to deliver a pay cut and a tax hike for working Australians. 

EMERSON: Well, you might say that Tanya Plibersek, but when your own MPs are saying to their party room Labor's at risk of going off a cliff, you can say whatever you like about Scott Morrison, obviously your own MPs are worried about where Labor is going.

PLIBERSEK: A global pandemic is a tough time for oppositions. We've seen that. But it doesn't change our responsibility as a Labor Party to hold the Government to account for the fact that the vaccine rollout has been a failure, borders and quarantine are a real failure, and that our desire is to deliver jobs, security, and opportunity to working Australians. And our focus needs to be, in a united way, telling the message of how we would do it better, how we would make sure that ordinary people have a secure job, a pay rise when things go well with their business, they've got a decent school for their kids to go to, decent aged care for their parents should they need it. That should be our focus.

EMERSON: Well I look I've no doubt at all, Tanya Plibersek, that's going to be Labor's message over the next six months or eight months or nine months depending on when the election will be. The other thing I did hear out of that Caucus meeting was that Anthony Albanese said, look, he acknowledged that the Morrison Government had been more disciplined than the Labor Party members. Was that it just a clear swipe at Joel Fitzgibbon and his numerous comments, he's been talking about, especially since the Upper Hunter by-election?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's a common sense point to make that political parties do well when they're working together to remind people of their united purpose. And our united purpose is holding the Government to account for the things that they've stuffed up like the vaccine rollout, like quarantine and borders. And also explaining what we want to do better, how we want to change things, the sort of country we want to see. You know, when I was growing up, we actually didn't have much money. My dad was a plumber. He worked for Qantas. He brought his pay packet home, handed it over to my mum every week, went straight to the mortgage. There wasn't much left over. But we always felt secure because we knew that job would be there next week and next month and next year. And that as the company did better, wages would go up. We are actually robbing our kids of that certainty. We're actually now in our eighth year of stagnant wages growth. Work is less secure. You can have two people working in the same business, the same hours, doing the same job, and one of them with a labour hire firm earning hundreds of dollars less per week than their mate right next to them in the workplace. These are problems that we need to be focused on solving for working Australians. That's got to be our focus. This kind of talking about ourselves - no one wants it.

EMERSON: But as you acknowledged yourself then, just a moment ago Tanya, that at the time of a pandemic, at a time of the focus on battling with Covid,  we've seen it at the state arena whether it's in Queensland, whether it's in WA, whether it's in Tasmania, incumbents, who are seen by the public as doing a reasonable job, it's very hard to beat them at an election. 

PLIBERSEK: I don't know that you can really say- there's lots, you know, Australia, as a nation, we have done extraordinarily well. Our people have been disciplined. We've followed the advice of the medical experts. Most people have been really good at looking after their neighbours and their families, and doing the right thing. But Scott Morrison had two big jobs, one of them was the vaccine roll out. America has now got 50 per cent, half of its population 50– millions of people vaccinated and we've got hardly anyone fully vaccinated. It is embarrassing. We're number 113 in the world for our vaccine roll out. How embarrassing is that? That we could be doing so much better. And the other thing, the borders and quarantine. I mean, this new outbreak in Melbourne, it looks like this has come from someone who's got Covid-19 in hotel quarantine. If we had hotel quarantine right, a Commonwealth government responsibility, if we had our vaccine rollout right, it is very unlikely we'd be facing the difficulties we are in Victoria right now. 

EMERSON: Look I think the breakout in Victoria clearly is worrying. I mean, look, I think the fear out there at the moment is it's going to get worse, given we’ve seen those numbers over the last couple of days, is that what you're sensing at the moment? 

PLIBERSEK: Look I'm very hopeful that if we take action swiftly we can contain these outbreaks. But it is just such a strong reminder that it's important, if you're able to get vaccinated, if you're eligible now, to go and get vaccinated. And it's a strong reminder too, that our Prime Minister, our government, said that they'd have Australians home by last Christmas, we were told more than a year ago that we should set up federal quarantine facilities, not rely on hotels in the CBDs of our capital cities. That hasn't happened. And it makes us more vulnerable. It means that our economy is more vulnerable, that we will open up more slowly because we haven't got this right.

EMERSON: Tanya Plibersek, we'll catch you again next week. Thanks for being on 4BC Drive.

PLIBERSEK: Always a pleasure.