By Tanya Plibersek

09 March 2022




SUBJECTS: NSW and QLD floods; Scott Morrison's response to the floods; Labor's plan for government.

SCOTT EMERSON, HOST: And every week we are joined by the Federal Shadow Minister for Education and Shadow Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek. How are you Tanya? 


EMERSON: Well, we're recovering from the floods. There were storms that were threatening to come through here in Brisbane, looks like they might be a little bit north maybe Sunshine Coast, Noosa way, but hopefully we've avoided them this afternoon. Now, where are you today Tanya, down in New South Wales? Or where?

PLIBERSEK: I am in New South Wales.

EMERSON: How you going down there?

PLIBERSEK: Oh look not great. We've had the first day today where we've had a break in the rain. So that's very, very welcome. And my electorate has had a little bit of localised flooding, but it's not really hit as hard as my colleague Susan Templeman, who is in the Hawkesbury. And of course, much further north around Lismore it's just shocking. We're still expecting potential flooding even further down the coast. This is really extraordinary from how far north it goes in New South Wales to how far south, the weather has been once in a lifetime kind of conditions. It's pretty bad. And I was up in Queensland last week as you know, and I know it's still really hard for people in Queensland as well at the moment. Still dangerous and difficult and hard to get the help they need. So I think we're really looking at a really big area impacted by those terrible floods.

EMERSON: Indeed, now the Prime Minister, well he's just got out of COVID isolation and he's visited flood-affected areas in northern New South Wales today. He's going to be heading up to Brisbane tomorrow. He has declared a national emergency, but just explain to me - what I can't work out is why has it taken this long? Obviously we've had the floods here in Queensland, under the rules does it require it to be across a number of states for that to be triggered or what?

PLIBERSEK: I can't explain why it's taken as long as it has. I can't explain why it has taken as long to rescue people off their roofs. I can't explain why it's taken so long to declare a National Emergency. I can't explain why it's taken so long to get Centrelink helping to process emergency payments. I mean, first up, we had the minister saying 'yeah people can log onto their MyGov account and make an application that way'. I mean, honestly, when I was in Brisbane last week, we had people who lost their phones, lost their computers, lost their internet connection, couldn't plug anything into anywhere to get a charge. What a ridiculous proposition that they'd be logging in to get help. I think the reaction has been slower than we'd like to see. And the other thing that really I just don't get is why we've got a $4.8 billion disaster recovery fund that the Government has set up, that Labor supported, that we haven't spent a cent of. We've had bushfires and now these catastrophic floods, and that money sitting there untouched literally gaining interest, $800 million worth of interest on that fund, instead of doing the drainage, building the culverts, building the levees, making sure that the emergency centres are decent quality so people have got somewhere to go if worst comes to worst. I don't know. It's mystifying. 

EMERSON: Well, the Prime Minister as I said, will be in Brisbane today. He was in northern New South Wales this afternoon, but I didn't see him kind of visiting, at least with the media in tow, any of those disaster zones. Maybe I was too busy to see it. But my impression was that there was a press conference, but that if he did visit some areas, it wasn't with the general media in attendance. Now your leader, Anthony Albanese, we're less than 80 days until an election. He says he plans to govern, if he wins the election, in the style of Bob Hawke and John Howard, can you just explain to me? What is that style?

PLIBERSEK: Well, he's looking for consensus, not division. He's hoping that businesses will be successful so that when they are they can pass on higher wages and more jobs for Australians. He's looking for a proper, thorough cabinet system of government like we had in the in the Hawke days where ministers are given responsibility, they're held to account. If you do a good job, you're left to do a good job. And if you do a bad job, heads roll.

EMERSON: That's Bob Hawke days, so what about John Howard? What does he want to take out of John Howard's leadership?

PLIBERSEK: Well, what he's said about John Howard is that Mr. Howard, when Prime Minister, said that the work of economic reform is never done. You've got to keep reforming. And I think that's a very wise insight. The Howard Government inherited some really important reforms from Labor in the Hawke and Keating years - opened up the Australian economy, welcomed foreign banks, floated the Australian dollar, lowered tariffs. I mean, these were really big, complex, difficult and sometimes very unpopular reforms at the time, but they led to 30 years of prosperity for Australia. 

EMERSON: Well we've been talking about Hawke and Keating carrying on that legacy, but what about John Howard himself? 

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the point Anthony was making about John Howard is that he recognized that the work of economic reform is never done. You don't just sit around and say, okay job done, all finished. The other thing, I think it's fair to say that a lot of us on my side of politics, admire John Howard's enormous bravery in taking on gun law reform. I mean, that is something that has saved Australian lives. It has unequivocally saved Australian lives. It was a brave thing to do, and it was, you know, for him and for the National Party at the time, Tim Fisher as the Nationals leader standing up on the back of trucks around the country in regional areas copping a lot of pushback from people who were unhappy at the time, but it was the right thing to do for the country. So they did it. 

EMERSON: Tanya Plibersek, always good to have you on the show. We'll catch you again next week.