By Tanya Plibersek

31 August 2020



SUBJECTS: Wear a mask; US election; Foreign influence; Influential teachers.
RICHARD GLOVER, HOST: The Monday Political Forum. Dai Le is an independent councillor on Fairfield City Council. Sarah Mitchell is the New South Wales Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning, and Tanya Plibersek is the Shadow Minister for Education and Training. They're all on the line for us. Dai welcome, Sarah welcome, and Tanya welcome. 
GLOVER: Now, two passengers of course have tested positive now for Covid-19 after riding a bus from Pitt Street to Randwick. The other 14 passengers aboard now being asked to immediately self isolate and get tested. The news has brought fresh demands from the Opposition for the Government to make mask wearing compulsory on public transport, but the Premier says she's worried that compulsory mask wearing might give people a false sense of security. Has she got a point Sarah Mitchell?
MITCHELL: Well Richard I do think the Premier has a point. It probably won't surprise you to hear me say that. I think that obviously we've seen, particularly over the last little while, a real increase in the number of people who do wear masks on public transport and it’s certainly strongly recommended that they do. And we're seeing that in practice which is good. But I think also that health advice being that masks really are that fourth line of defence and they can't really replace the hand hygiene, staying at home if you're sick, and also social distancing. Now obviously on public transport the social distancing can be difficult and that's why we've got the green dots that are in place to help people know where to stand and where to sit but I think the message to encourage people to wear it on public transport is the right thing to be doing at this point in time.
GLOVER: Well, what's the downside to it? I mean you've now got 14 people who basically had their lives inconvenienced – they’ve got to self-isolate. Other jurisdictions, Great Britain's one example, they've all got compulsory mask wearing on public transport, have had for some time. Why not us?
MITCHELL: Well I think, as I said, I think just getting the message out there to wear it where you can. And I think a lot of people are, and it's certainly something that we're seeing and you know, I'm sure it is inconvenient for those who are on that bus and unfortunately that's what's happening when we're living with the pandemic. I know from the school's perspective we've had to manage that as well. And unfortunately, there just will be times when people will need to self-isolate based on health advice, but I think if people can keep up the hand hygiene and stay at home if you are sick, then I think those messages are equally important.
GLOVER: Sarah Mitchell is here, so is Dai Le from Fairfield City Council. Dai, do you think it should be compulsory?
LE: No, I don't think so. Look, I agree with what Sarah just said there. I think that in the Fairfield area I’ve encouraged - I've done the post a few weeks ago to encourage people to wear masks if they feel not safe - and I can tell you today almost every single person that I've seen in the street or shopping have worn masks. So I think that people are really aware of what needs to be done. And if, as Sarah mentioned, washing your hands is the most, I think, critical, washing your hands, even washing your hands with soap is what kills the virus straight away as soon as soap touches it. Washing your hands, social distancing, it's the most effective way of actually keeping this virus at bay. So I don't believe that there should be any mandatory - I think government should not interfere in this small, you know, these things that that people can actually make up their mind, sort of, you know, to do.
GLOVER: A lot of Sydneysiders have noticed that Asian Australians are wearing masked more commonly than maybe European Australians. Why do you think that is? What's the cultural difference there?
LE: Look I think if you, in Vietnam, I think people have experienced the SARS, the SARS virus has really got everybody heightened in terms of wearing masks. So across Asia people go out to wear masks, wear masks when they go out due to the environment, but also I think after the whole SARS incident everybody's wearing masks. So mask actually wearing is a very automatic thing. So everybody within, nearly, yes, if you go to within the Fairfield, especially in the Cabramatta, Canley Vale where there's a larger proportion of Asian Australians you'll see that everybody, almost 95 per cent of people wear masks when they go out. So, you know, we're really happy and as today we we have got zero cases within Fairfield, whereby a few weeks ago we were supposed to be the hotspot following Liverpool, but we've really, people have really maintained the social distance and wear a mask. And you know, a lot of people are saying businesses have closed down as well. There's another thing. People aren't going out. So while one hand it's great, but on the other hand the economy is completely just, you know, been killed. 
GLOVER: Well, there you go. Asian Australians, the rest of us can look and learn maybe from their ability to put a mask on. Tanya Plibersek, the Government is encouraging people to use masks on public transport, which is sensible, but should they go the step further and say look you got to wear one?
PLIBERSEK: Well the Premier said we should wear a mask. The Chief Health Officer said people should wear a mask. Just wear a mask. It doesn't matter how I feel, doesn't matter what my opinion is. The medical advice is you're safer if you wear a mask. Wear a mask. It's not complicated. Wear a mask.
GLOVER: Well that's right. Okay, everyone agrees with you so why not make it compulsory?
PLIBERSEK: They don't and you know, it is disturbing to see people filming themselves telling off shop assistants saying it's my human right not to have to wear a mask. Wear a mask. It's not complicated.
GLOVER: But should it be compulsory?
PLIBERSEK: Well, look I think I'd like to see it universal. I think getting hung up on compulsory, do you fine people? What are the consequences if you don't? That's all secondary. The point is, people should be wearing masks. Wear a mask.
GLOVER: So make it sort of culturally normal or something like that just to -
PLIBERSEK: At least that.
GLOVER: - part of being a good citizen, I guess is what I'm saying. 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well at least that.
GLOVER: Alright, on the Monday Political Forum - Dai Le, Sarah Mitchell and Tanya Plibersek. Another death during protests in the US, this time a man shot in Portland amid violent clashes between pro-Trump demonstrators of which he it seems was one, and those supporting Black Lives Matter. The Mayor of Portland says Trump helped create this wave of violence through his divisive rhetoric, but others say the violence will help President Trump's re-election because he'll be seen as offering law and order. He successfully made this his issue, they say. What does this unrest and violence mean in terms of November's election? Might it deliver victory to Trump? And how should the Democrats be responding to, from their point of view, to prevent that? Tanya Plibersek?
PLIBERSEK: Well Richard I think it's a real problem when we leap straight to having a political analysis of what these tragic circumstances are going to mean, and it does trouble me that we're not really focused on the underlying issues here. We've seen another man, an African-American man, shot in the back seven times. We see the night after night of unrest, people riding into town with guns, acting as vigilantes. A 17 year old had been so poisoned that he thought it was his responsibility to act as a vigilante. This is terrible, a terrible, terrible time. And first of all, we need to look at the underlying issues of years and decades and centuries of systemic racism and what's happened because of that, and secondly, I think it's really important to say that what we look for in a leader at a time like this is someone who can unite a country, who can turn down the temperature on these conflicts, who can bring peace, who can bring harmony. And so setting aside the internal, ‘how does it play for one or the other?’, I think all Australians who care about our friends in America would want to see leadership that reduces conflict, not leadership that feeds it.
GLOVER: The one political thing I did want to draw you on though, is that some people say the problem is that because the Democrat Party, for very good reasons, doesn't want to condemn Black Lives Matter because like you they see the endemic racism that has been finally challenged and they see the importance of that, but that does leave them vulnerable if the cities are affected by violence, whether it's caused by pro-Trump supporters or in some cases by the BLM protesters, then Trump can very much use that to present himself as the law and order candidate if the Democrats failed to denounce that violence with sufficient vigour.
PLIBERSEK: Can I? I listen to a lot of podcasts about American politics and one of them is the Lincoln Project podcast, which is basically Republicans who have concerns about the way that President Trump is campaigning and has behaved as a President. And I would say that those Republicans, those traditional Republicans, are probably the first to point out that this conflict, this chaos, is not happening under a Democrat President. So it's a bit hard for people to be convinced that the terrible things that you're seeing right now would happen under Joe Biden. Well Joe Biden's not the President right now.
GLOVER: Hmm. Tanya Plibersek is here, so is Dai Le and Sarah Mitchell, and Sarah, this was a point made by the Mayor of Portland, a lot of people have been reporting this, in a pretty fiery speech he made in which he's saying, because Trump of course is calling on him to suppress the violence in his city he is saying "Hey, you've caused the violence in my city by your divisive rhetoric". Is Trump responsible for the way that this has been built up in a way that hasn't happened for a long time in the US?
MITCHELL: Yeah, well look I think Richard, I agree with what Tanya said. When you look at the state of play in the US at the moment, it is incredibly concerning and I think all of the unrest and the violence, you know, seems like every other day you either turn on the news or open the newspaper and there's all these horrific things that are happening. I think it is troubling. And I think as Australians it is concerning to look at what's happening over there. I mean, I guess one of the things that will have to play out through the rest of the campaign is looking at, as you say, the arguments or the rhetoric that comes from the Democrats, but also Trump is going hard on his law and order stance and I think looking at some of the reasons why he was supported last time, looking at some of the historical reasons behind the civil unrest as Tanya said, the history in the states of some of these issues - look I just think it's really complex and I think some of the traditional supporters who got behind Trump last time I think for him it was really about knowing that he was going to disrupt the Establishment, he was going to break the status quo and that obviously appealed to enough Americans to get him over the line. So I think it's a really delicate balance going forward over the next few months as to where this ends up and, like many others, I think we'll be watching it very closely.
GLOVER: Do you think he can win in November? I mean the polls say can't but then again the polls said he couldn't last time?
MITCHELL: Yeah, look, I don't know and I think that's one of the areas that - I think a lot of my colleagues probably follow American politics a bit more closely than I do, but I just, I think it's difficult to underestimate what voters in America do and we saw that last time and we'll have to see what plays out come November.
GLOVER: Dai Le this violence, whoever's caused it, whoever’s fault it is it could it give Trump re-election in November?
LE: Look for me to respond to that question, I don't follow enough about the US. However, I have to say that many Vietnamese Americans will be voting Trump. I know that because I've spoken to a lot of my friends and I've asked them why and they’ve said, they've told me because at least Trump stands up to the communist China. As well as he speaks his mind - he doesn't kowtow to mainstream media. But can I add that look, none of us on this panel can really understand the fears, the marginalisation, the treatment people of colour have experienced throughout their lives. No one can. The issue of race relations in America, only Americans can resolve and I think until we rise together as humankind, as I like to say, we wont result discrimination from those who oppose it to those who deny it.
GLOVER: Hmm. I mean, let's stay with that interesting and intriguing thought about China and anti-communism because the Federal government here has just this week spruiked new legislation preventing state and local governments from making deals with foreign governments, the obvious example and some say this is the main target, is that struck by the Victorian Premier Dan Andrews when he signed up to China's Belt and Road Initiative. The Prime Minister argues that it's for the Federal government to manage our relationship with those overseas including China. Is he right about that Dai?
LE: Look, I think that, I mean first of all we don't live in a communist country first of all, so I think the Federal government can't manage everything. But I mean that whole, you know, relationship that Dan Andrews has signed up with China's Belt and Road Initiative, that's another political thing that the state and federal governments have to resolve. But I think for me in terms of - really if you do business for instance, and you have developed relationships with those overseas in business, does that mean that we can't do that or do we always have to go past Federal government?
GLOVER: Well, they're saying no, I mean, they're saying this is not about private industry. It's about local government and state governments.
LE: Well, I think that no I think the Federal government should just leave federal and local, local as well by the way, local government. We are in this picture. I'm from local government because often we are not in the picture for federal or state but we are in the picture and we should be able to conduct our business.
GLOVER: Tanya Plibersek, is the Prime Minister onto something here, you know the idea that local councils and state governments shouldn't be able to do deals with foreign countries?
PLIBERSEK: Yes, and I'll go to that in just a second. I just wanted to add something in response to what Dai said about President Trump being anti-communist. I think this is a very interesting point because if you look at the relationship between the United States and North Korea, you would never see an American President who has been as friendly to the government of North Korea as President Trump. He has in fact, with the leadership of Russia, the Philippines, Brazil, all of them sort of strong man or authoritarian leaders, been very cosy with them. He has not pushed back as they have reduced democratic rights in their own countries. So I think we need to be a little bit careful about asserting that that he is a great defender of democracy. Secondly, on the issue of Australia and foreign interference, it is the Federal government's responsibility to keep Australians safe, to defend and manage our national security. I absolutely agree with that. But I also think it's important that we have a reason and a plan for managing relations with other nations. It is troubling if other countries try and interfere in our political arrangements domestically, we are very supportive of any measures that the government has put in place to protect us from political interference, to protect us from interference in our universities and so on. But this objection of the Federal government to Dan Andrews signing up to Belt and Road Initiative - he was actually congratulated by two Liberal Ministers when it happened and it's a bit, frankly, it's a bit late for the Port of Darwin for the Federal government to be complaining about deals with other countries.
GLOVER: Yeah the Port of Darwin thing continues to mystify me, but it is true that that that our understanding of China and what it's up to has changed. The data has changed. The fact that the events of Hong Kong should change what we think, the events in the South China Sea should change what we think. That a seemingly Chinese lead attack on Federal parliament in the ANU. This is all fresh data, which should make us more cautious.
PLIBERSEK: Yes. I agree with that. I think that President Xi is a more assertive and more authoritarian leader than China has had in some time and and it's not just Australia that would feel that. It's countries in our region and we need to work with countries in our region to make sure that we consistently say that all countries, large and small, should abide by international laws and norms when it comes to resolving disputes. But I would say that there have been times when we have been our own worst enemies, like the massive cuts to our aid budget left a vacuum in the Pacific. What did we think was going to happen when we left that vacuum?
GLOVER: Well, there was a fairly eager person, country that came in wasn't there? We're with Dai Le the independent councillor for Fairfield City Council, Sarah Mitchell who is the New South Wales Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning - we're going to talk about teachers in a second with Sarah and the others. Tanya Plibersek is here as well, Shadow Minister for Education and Training. Now, the Teachers Federation has commissioned the former WA Premier, Geoff Gallop, to hold an inquiry starting today into the teaching profession and how its valued. Who was the teacher that made the biggest difference to your life and what made them so impactful? Well Sarah, you're the boss, you're the Minister for all these teachers. Who was the one who did it for you?
MITCHELL: This is a really hard question Richard. It's almost like asking me which of my daughters is my favourite because I've had some very good teachers over the years and I'm sure a lot of your listeners would be the same. I do get asked it quite a bit being in this portfolio, and Tanya probably has a similar experience. But look since I think when I've had to narrow it down in the past I've gone for my very first teacher which is Kerry Dunn who was my kindergarten teacher back at Gunnedah South Public in 1987. And I still remember to this day walking in on the first day of school more, than 30 years later, and just how she was so bright and energetic and engaging and she just made the classroom fun. And I remember that sense of joy about going to school for the very first time because of her. So I think that's something that has, you know, been instilled with me that love of learning for as I said more than three decades now, so I'm going to go with Mrs Dunn.
GLOVER: Hmm I mean teachers are important to all kids, of course. I wonder though, for regional kids, for kids in a town like Gunnedah, whether the teachers come up in the mix a bit because there's less cultural things to draw on. There's not a local drama club that you can suddenly go and be part of, or a local orchestra or something.
MITCHELL: Yeah look, I mean, we're really lucky with what we have in our community in terms of, sort of, the extracurricular things for the kids to do but I think the teachers are part of your community here and I still have good relationships with a lot of my teachers who are still here. They know you your whole life and I think it's a really lovely thing about living in a country town is that you invested in each other's outcomes. And like I said, I've got teachers who've literally known me since kindergarten who I still see now and I think that's really lovely.
GLOVER: You see them in the local butcher shop or something. Hey Dai Le, who was the teacher that really made a difference for you?
LE: So I arrived in Australia at age 11, so my first class was Year Five. Couldn't speak English, so Sister Christine, this beautiful nun because I wanted to be a nun by the way, so I looked up to Sister Christine who helped me so much in settling into the school environment. You know, it was a very scary environment, couldn't speak the language, so she really guided me a lot . And Mrs Robinson who was this fierce teacher, but she was very kind, because was very accommodating. But those are the two women who've really left a huge impact on me.
GLOVER: In the early weeks, when you haven't got language, I'm sure you developed it very, very, very quickly. But in the first weeks, how does the Sister give you support when she can't communicate with you?
LE: Look, a lot of it, she spoke in obviously simple English. You know “How are you?”. She would take me to ESL classes. So I learned very quickly. Back in those days, I mean, I as soon as I landed here, I wanted to learn English. So when she took me to ESL classes, dropped me there and then took me back to my normal classes I just absorbed the language very quickly so was able to communicate in broken English with her. But yeah, so that was my Year Five experience, that Year Five experience eas trying to grasp the language as quickly as I could and she really helped that.
GLOVER: Well hooray for Sister Christine have I got it, right?
LE: Yeah. I don't know if I wish I could find her.
GLOVER: She might ring in, you never know. Tanya Plibersek, who was the teacher that it for you.
PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm not going to name names because there's quite a few that I just adored and there are quite a few that I still catch up with, but what I really loved - like I love Jane Austen now because I was taught English really well. I love, I still read a lot of history because I was taught history really well. I love art, I still go to gallery openings and things because I was taught art really well. They gave me lifelong passions those teachers, and also they were nice to me. Like I was such a nerdy, odd kid and the teachers were kind and they were prepared to talk about feminism and politics and, you know, I've got a sense of humour that is so much like my Year Six teacher's sense of humour. They were such influences, not just on those lifelong passions for the subject matter, but also the type of person you become - I'm very grateful to them. 
GLOVER: Well, they were three beautiful stories and thank you very much to Tanya Plibersek who is Shadow Minister for Education and Training, to Sarah Mitchell who's the New South Wales Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning, and to Dai Le, the independent Councillor from Fairfield City Council. Dai, Sarah, Tanya thank you so much.
LE: Thank you. 
MITCHELL: Thank you. 
PLIBERSEK: Thank you.