By Tanya Plibersek

21 February 2022


SUBJECTS: Visit to Rockhampton; Labor’s plan for TAFE and uni; Rockhampton local economy; National curriculum; Local schools; The Queen.

PAUL CULLIVER, HOST: Tanya Plibersek is obviously a fairly senior member of the ALP. She's the Shadow Minister for Education, she is also the Shadow Minister for Women. You might see her around town today, she is visiting Rockhampton. She gave me a call just before she jumped on the plane here. I caught up with her and asked her why is she visiting?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Well, I'm really excited to be visiting Rockhampton today to talk about the skills needs of Rockhampton. I'll be going to the university, Central Queensland University. They've been doing a great job educating people for the jobs that are vacant and we want to make sure that more people have an opportunity to get the education they need to get the job of their dreams.
CULLIVER: How's Labor going to make that happen?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I'll be visiting Central Queensland University and TAFE in Rockhampton, with Russell Robertson, our candidate for Capricornia. We're going to be talking about Labor's 465,000 free TAFE places, our 20,000 extra university places, and what it can mean for the local community in Rockhampton. It's worth remembering that since the Liberals were elected there's almost a thousand fewer apprentices and trainees in the Rockhampton area than there was before the Liberals got elected. That's terrible. At a time when we've got a million and a half Australians who want work or more hours of work, and we've got employers crying out for the staff they need, it's a disaster if we're not training Australians to do the jobs in our communities.
CULLIVER: How is it that you're going to boost the numbers? I mean, you create the places but how do you make sure that the right skills are flowing to the right places? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, it's very important to work with local communities and we'd be working with the Queensland Government, with Central Queensland University, and TAFE to make sure that the right courses are offered. It's very easy to talk to employers about the skills shortages they've got. Everywhere I go in Australia employers are keen to tell me that they need particular types of skills in their business that they've been used to, the truth is they've been used to getting people on short-term contracts from overseas - what we'd like to see is more Australians trained for those jobs.
CULLIVER: You lay the blame of having a shortage of skills at the LNP's feet. How can you prove that? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, they've cut, for Rockhampton region alone, almost 1,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than when they came to government. Across Australia that number is 70,000 fewer apprentices and trainees today than when the LNP came to power. That means skills shortages and they've been covered up in recent years because we've had a lot of people on short-term contracts from overseas filling those jobs. COVID has meant that we've seen fewer people able to come to Australia, and those skills shortages are just glaringly obvious. And what's really upsetting about this - 
CULLIVER: So it's COVID's fault. Not necessarily the Government's? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, no because they should have been training Australians for those jobs. We've got a million and a half people who want work, or more hours of work. I heard the Prime Minister boasting the other day that youth unemployment was 9 per cent nationally, 9 per cent doesn't sound great to me. This is the time when we should be investing in Australians and the skills they need to get a great job, and the skills that we need in our economy to make sure that our businesses are successful and prosperous and growing. And instead, we've got a government that had cut billions from TAFE and training. They've cut University funding as well. So whether you want to go to TAFE, whether you want to go to university, Scott Morrison is not your friend. 
CULLIVER: Obviously, your portfolio is being the Shadow Minister for Education, however it's all linked when it comes to the economy. In Central Queensland we have a really tight rental market, we have relatively low unemployment. And so the idea is, if you're bringing more people in, if you're training up more people in this region, if you're putting more people into those jobs that are being advertised - the reality is our economy is going to be, well, ticking along quite well but we're also going to have an even more acute housing shortage. So if you're going to attract more skills and more people to the region, so too can you introduce something that is going to try to alleviate that housing issue? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, that's why the first choice has to be to skill up locals for the jobs that employers are saying they've got waiting. And that's why investing in TAFE, having 465,000 free TAFE places, is a really important first start. We've got to make sure that we are offering the opportunity of getting the skills and qualifications needed in local communities to locals as a start. And when it comes to making sure that we're dealing with issues like housing, I agree that that's very important. Labor's also got a plan to build thousands of extra homes for people across Australia. It's really important that we make sure that we're building communities.
CULLIVER: I'm also wanting to ask you, Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Education, about the Australian curriculum. The federal government is yet to sign off on this new curriculum. It might not come until April, which of course will be very, very close to the election. Just for people that perhaps are not following this, what are some of the issues in the curriculum that you're keeping an eye out for? What might we be teaching our students in schools into the future?
PLIBERSEK: Well, the Government hasn't shared the curriculum with me yet. So I haven't seen it in detail, but I can tell you that I'm keen to make sure that all our kids get the basics under their belts first - that they can read and write, and do maths and science. We have been slipping every year that this Government has been power, we have slid down the international rankings for those basics: reading, writing, maths, science. We need to make sure that we are learning them well, and then we want our kids to be prepared for the future. We know the world of work is changing. They need digital literacy, it's as important as being able to read and write these days, is being able to use a computer. We need to make sure our kids know about Australian society, culture and history. We've got such a rich history, we've got to make sure that our kids are aware of it. And I was pleased to see an announcement just last week that all young people will be learning about respectful relationships in an age-appropriate way from the early years at school. Making sure that they know, for example, that violence is never okay in relationships.
CULLIVER: And just finally on another local issue. Now, I imagine this more comes in the state remit, but it of course is all about education. There has been for a long time a desire within Gracemere to have a high school established. I'm wondering whether you would be supportive of that?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it really is in the first instance, something that the state government would have to make a decision on. But I can tell you this, it used to be that state and federal governments together funded our education system and that meant ongoing funding for public schools but it also meant money for building and upgrading our public schools. Scott Morrison says that it's nothing to do with him, and Labor federally has said we want to work in partnership with states and territories to make sure that day-to-day funding is there, that we get to every school's fair funding level, and that we're prepared to put money on the table for building and upgrading our schools as well. That's very different to what Scott Morrison's offering.
CULLIVER: Just finally, Tanya Plibersek, the Queen unfortunately has tested positive for COVID-19. I understand you've just recovered yourself. Do you have any advice for the Queen?
PLIBERSEK: Oh, I hope she takes it easy. I think particularly for someone of her years, I'm thinking my mum and my mother-in-law are about the same age as the Queen, and I think it can really take a toll and I hope she has a good rest and is back with us hale and hearty as soon as possible. 
CULLIVER: Enjoy your visit to Rockhampton today, thanks so much.
PLIBERSEK: I will thank you very much.
CULLIVER: Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Minister for Education and Women jumping on the phone with me early this morning just before, she jumped on a plane to come here.