By Tanya Plibersek

09 December 2021



SUBJECTS: Next election; 8 years of Liberal failure and waste; Liberals’ record debt and deficit; Greens; research grants.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: Nature is healing after the pandemic to use that terrible phrase, when the flights that you booked are delayed or have engine troubles or turn back to Sydney, and so that happened with Tanya Plibersek this morning. We were hoping to see her in the flesh. The airline's had other ideas, Tanya Plibersek good to talk to you nonetheless, good morning.


TRIOLI: What's this election going to be fought on? What's the argument that's going to be had, that needs to be had, and that's going to win it. What do you think, Tanya Plibersek? 

PLIBERSEK: Australians have has a tough few years and Scott Morrison has done nothing to make life easier for them. We've got a plan that would support jobs, grow wages, make sure that the services that Australians rely on - health, education, aged-care, disability support - are there for them, and of course that we've got a plan for energy and climate change, Scott Morrison's had more than 20 plans, and he hasn't landed one yet. 

TRIOLI: It's interesting that the Prime Minister, it seems to me, attempting to perhaps beat Labor at your own game by bringing forward his $3 billion manufacturing scheme. So is that the Prime Minister attempting to move the debate on to territory that he feels comfortable on or where he feels he needs to meet you?

PLIBERSEK: After eight years of a Liberal government, why would you think things are going to get better now with another three years of a Liberal government?  Labor's been talking about Australian jobs, manufacturing, making sure that we reduce energy prices by having more renewables in our energy grid and that is exactly how we support manufacturing. Scott Morrison is also responsible for the fact we've got 85,000 fewer apprentices and trainees today than when the Liberals came to office and he has smashed our university sector. So where are these jobs coming from? Where's the know-how, the innovation, the discovery, the invention coming from when Scott Morrison refuses to train apprentices and cuts billions from our universities?

TRIOLI: It's a big challenge though for any side of politics should the Prime Minister win election again, and win the Prime Ministership again, or should Labor be successful. You've got the kind of vision that you described there that's going to need substantial public money and the Commonwealth is bearing a budget deficit right now. Well, it's the biggest it's ever been in my lifetime. So what's the challenge with that? How do you then go on and fund promises that many people might feel are important ones, but you're then going to have to dig even more deeply into dwindling public resources to fund that Tanya Plibersek?

PLIBERSEK: You cut the waste, Virginia. I mean, it is incredible that the Government designed a JobKeeper program which has managed to pay billions of dollars to companies that actually saw profits increase during the Covid lockdowns. And you look at the spending on consultants, you look at the car park rorts, the fact that they paid 10 times more than market value for airport land in Sydney, the sports rorts. If we get rid of the waste and mismanagement, if we actually have a competent government that can design programs like JobKeeper without spraying money around where it's not needed. That's where we take that money and we spend it on the things that make a difference to people's lives, making sure their kids have a chance at TAFE or uni, so that they've got a good job in the future.

TRIOLI: I know that Andrew Leigh has been on this program has done a great deal of work on that, on identifying where the money went. But have you managed to figure out a legislative mechanism, a way to get that money back and one that would not be fought through the courts. Can you actually do that and get the money back, using some criteria of rising profits? Can you do it? 

PLIBERSEK: That's not our intention, Virginia. We don't want to introduce that sort of uncertainty into the economy at the moment. What this points to is a government that wasn't able to design a program in the first place that would prevent...

TRIOLI: Sure, but my question was but my question went to how you afford what you're talking about? And I thought you were indicating that you try and claw some of that money back. So this is actually only about what you're doing. 

PLIBERSEK: No I'm indicating that we don't stuff it up in the first place. We actually have a competent government that doesn't spray taxpayers’ money around where it's not needed.

TRIOLI: Sure, but that doesn't deal with the issue of carrying a massive deficit then and having to fund those programs. So, how do you do that when you've got a debt like you have?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it is a huge debt burden. It's interesting from a government that campaigned against debt and deficit, when we were going through the global financial crisis. You're quite right to say, this is the biggest debt that Australia has ever carried, and The way we fix it is by growing the economy. We need to make sure that our economy is growing strongly, that productivity is increasing, that wages are increasing, that we have the confidence for businesses to invest. That's how we grow. Cheaper power prices, the policies that we announced at the end of last week, cheaper power prices are a huge part of that. What we see when we bring down power prices by pumping renewables into an upgraded national electricity market is the opportunity to grow jobs in industries like green steel, green aluminium, green cement and chemical manufacturer but also in businesses like retail that have huge electricity costs. It's also a great benefit for Australian families, were all about bringing down the cost of living for Australian families by dropping energy prices dropping the price of new electric vehicles, dropping the price of childcare and other cost of living expenses. And this government has presided over costs going through the roof while wages go backwards.

TRIOLI: I want to talk about the argument that we do have, the stark choice that we have now, when it comes to voting on climate change issues. Your party has attempted to blunt Coalition scare campaigns by ruling out negotiating a stronger emissions reduction target if next year's election results in a hung Parliament. That's the ‘vote for Labor is a vote for the Greens’ argument coming back again. What's going to be your strategy to deal with that? If that's the persistent point being made by the Coalition? 

PLIBERSEK: Well, a vote for Labor is a vote for Labor. Labor's got a really clear plan. We're talking about climate of energy at the moment, but we've got a really clear set of plans that go to how we grow jobs, cut bills and cut emissions. We've got one plan. We've thought about it carefully. We've talked to all the stakeholders. We've had it extensively modelled by the same company that modelled the Government's 2030 targets. This is our one plan. We're sticking to it. We're all behind it. In contrast, we've had a Government that's had more than 20 energy and climate policies and hasn't landed one yet. And the question is about the Greens are more ambitious. Well, they've never had to deliver any of this. And the last time they had a chance to act on climate change they voted with the Liberals to wreck Labor's plan that was bringing down emissions.

TRIOLI: It was my next question, Tanya Plibersek.

PLIBERSEK: Well, there you go. 

TRIOLI: So, let's not do that again. It's interesting that you're here in Victoria. So does the Labor Party identify a potential pathway to victory through Victoria?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we are very hopeful of winning seats in Victoria. But we're looking to every part of Australia. We need to pick up seats in WA, we need to pick up seats in Queensland. We will be campaigning hard in every part of Australia for every vote.

TRIOLI: It's interesting. I was speaking earlier this morning, to the independent candidate who's been endorsed by Voices of Kooyong, and Kooyong Independent's to stand in Kooyong and that's our Doctor Monique Ryan and, of course, you've got a Labor endorsed candidate there as well. What's your view of clearly very competent and accomplished women like this deciding to stand for politics, I would imagine generally speaking, you would welcome someone like that and yet you're going to want to win that seat for yourself. How do you feel about that? 

PLIBERSEK: Well, of course if I was living in Kooyong I'd be voting for Labor candidate Peter Lynch, but I'd say that the candidate that's been selected for Kooyong like, Peter's a doctor as well, but the candidate I've seen selected for Kooyong looks like a very impressive woman and I wish her well. 

TRIOLI: Speaking of impressive women. It seems Gladys Berejiklian won't stand in the seat of Warringah. Do you think that's the right decision? 

PLIBERSEK: I don't see how it was feasible for someone to have to stand aside because they're being investigated by the Independent Corruption Commission in New South Wales, and then be able to stand a federal seat. I just don't think that was ever feasible.

TRIOLI: On the issue of China saying that Australia's decision to join the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics shows that it's not serious, its authorities say, about Australia wanting to fix this damaged relationship. What's your response to that? I know that Labor stands with the Government on the officials boycotting the Beijing Winter Olympics, but you would also be aware and have strong feelings about that relationship needing to be repaired. How does it get repaired?

PLIBERSEK: Look, we do stand with the government.  We certainly don't think our athletes who have worked so hard for should be penalised and we do we wish them well, we'll be cheering them on from Australia. When it comes to the broader relationship with China, but we want to see China grow. This is been good for China and good for the world. But as China grows, it has to grow as a responsible global citizen. We have concerns about human rights issues in China, including with ethnic and religious minorities and it is important for us to work with countries in our region, particularly ASEAN neighbours to make it clear to China that, while we welcome China's growth, that comes with added responsibilities and certainly the responsibility to follow the international rules. Big players don't have the right to do whatever they want.

TRIOLI: I know that you've got concerns about around 5,000 researchers across the country who were still waiting for a public decision on $320 million in successful grants that were due last month. What's that status then and how long will they have to wait, and could we get to the end of the year before a decision is actually announced on this?

PLIBERSEK: We've got 5,000 researchers, as you say, waiting to find out whether they've got a job in January. It's December now. They're waiting to find out whether their research projects will start or continue. It's just appalling and the university sector has lost 40,000 jobs including 7,000 researchers because this government has completely ignored their plight during the Covid catastrophe that they've faced. And now here is something completely within the government's control, they announce when these grants have been successful or not and they are delaying. This is the latest these grants have been announced in 30 years. We've got researchers trying to work out whether they've got a job in January. The government's talking about, you know, we want more commercialisation for our universities. These grants include industry linkage grants, which are exactly where you get that collaboration between universities and business. They don't know whether these industry linkage grants will be going ahead. Why would any business do business with this government when they can't say whether there's going to be money in January for research projects that are supposed to start next year? I think this is a government that is so contemptuous of the research sector that they are causing the brain drain that we're seeing. They are not just neglecting it, they are causing people to leave research and even to leave Australia to do their research overseas. That has terrible short-term impacts to these people but think about our long-term prosperity when we can't guarantee that some brilliant researcher who's on the verge of a breakthrough is going to have a job in January. 

TRIOLI: Well, look, I will wait and see if that actually gets decided before the end of the year. I've got any number of researchers who contact me about those issues as well. Tanya Plibersek. We've got to get to the open line, but good to talk to you. Thanks for joining me today.

PLIBERSEK: Great to talk to you.