By Tanya Plibersek

03 February 2022



 SUBJECTS: Aged care crisis; Labor’s achievements in government; Federal election; Arts industry; Labor’s $440 million schools plan; Aged care workers; Kurri Kurri plant; Mullets.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN, HOST: It's all about the excitement of democracy. You get to write the next chapter. One way to do that is give us a call on 1300 222 774. Tanya Plibersek is part of Anthony Albanese's Federal Opposition. Good afternoon. 
EPSTEIN: Just on aged care, what could you say Labor would actually do differently?
PLIBERSEK:  Well, we would have made sure that aged care residents and the aged care workforce were vaccinated much earlier. We've still got 60,000 aged care residents that haven't received their booster shot. We hear from staff in aged care that they're struggling to get rapid antigen tests and personal protective equipment that they need to do their job safely for themselves and the residents they look after. There's also an ongoing issue - we've seen in the Royal Commission into aged care title, its report: Neglect. I think that tells you a lot about the situation in aged care at the moment. The Government has refused to support a permanent pay increase for the aged care workforce. We know that these people are heroes, they're angels, they do the work because they love looking after their residents. How can it be okay that you can earn more stacking shelves or walking dogs, than you can caring for our most vulnerable citizens. 
EPSTEIN: What can you point to, I realise pandemics a relatively unique, what can you point to in Labor's time in government that proves you'd do better in aged care? Because all of those inquiries, of course, there were tons of warning signs while Labor was in power as well between 07 and 2013. You weren't blameless in that period. So what can you point to to say, you know, we actually could do this better?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I don't think any party would be fair dinkum if they said that we've done well enough in aged care over many years. But what we know for certain right now is that hundreds of people have died in aged care because of COVID-19, and the vaccine rollout has been too slow, and support offered to the workforce to properly do their jobs has been inadequate. It's a time that is particularly bad. We've seen billions of dollars cut from the aged care budget before COVID-19 hit. We saw things like the additional payment given to residents who are complex to look after, who have challenging behaviours for example, cut by this government. It is impossible for aged care operators to continue to operate when their staff are turning over so often because they are so poorly paid and right now the staff in aged care are looking for a pay increase and the Government's flat out said we don't support that.
EPSTEIN: I appreciate that point, they fund it, they set the rules. I guess what I'm trying to get at is, Scott Morrison has been saying all week the election is not a referendum on his Government - i's a choice between Scott Morrison and Anthony, Albanese. Any time we're talking about the Government he probably thinks it's a bad week, but I want to put that to the side. You have to effectively persuade people that you're better at doing stuff, you're better managers. How do you, how do you make that case? We haven't seen you in government for a while. So how do you actually persuade people you're any better than the other lot?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I can talk about what we did in government til the cows come home. When we were last in government, for example, we provided the largest ever pension increase in Australian history to better look after our older Australians. We built, when I was the Housing Minister, we built new facilities for frail, aged homeless people who had been sleeping rough before then. When we were in government, I mean, one of the great unresolved issues in Australia today is the issue of climate change - when we were in government we had a carbon pollution reduction scheme that was successfully bringing down carbon pollution, disbanded by Tony Abbott when he came into government. I think Raf, I don't want to just give your listeners a long list of things that I'm proud of, but I am proud of what we did when we were last in government, the national apology to the Stolen Generations - 
EPSTEIN: Do you think people remember - this is the criticism and I'm curious - do you think that people will remember that when they go into the booth to mark their ballot?
PLIBERSEK: No, and I don't think we should expect them to. I don't think that ordinary people have jotted down over the years the things that they should be grateful to Labor governments for. I don't think that for a second. I think we have to focus on the future and what we'll do in government, if we are elected in coming months, and we've got a really great story to tell them. We are talking to Australians who have not seen a pay increase in eight years. We're talking to people who are in insecure work, if they're lucky enough to get a job. And I know Scott Morrison's boasting about his unemployment rate, he should talk to people who are working a few hours a week, who are desperate for more hours, about how they feel about his great boast about unemployment in Australia. We have a plan to make sure our kids bounce back successfully after the disrupted learning they have had - 
EPSTEIN: I want to, I  will actually come to your portfolio and that education fund. I just want to include a few people here on the phones in the conversation and I will come to that education fund. But Gerard has a question. What is it, Gerard? 
CALLER: G'day Raf, g'day Tanya. Gerard here. Look, my question is about the arts, they were really decimated during COVID and it’s really struggling to come back. The Coalition seems to have a great deal of disdain for artists and I'm wondering what Labor might pledge to do to help the individuals and the industry at large?
PLIBERSEK:  Well, Thanks Gerard for the question. We were very critical of the Government leaving out so many arts industry workers from the  JobKeeper arrangements because we know that the way that people are employed in the arts is often on shorter term contracts, and consequently they weren't eligible for JobKeeper. We've had great policies, as you know, in the past - Creative Nation and others that have really invested in making sure that we tell Australian stories in Australian voices. Our support obviously for restoring the funding of the ABC is another way of making sure that we tell Australian stories in Australian voices.
EPSTEIN: 1300 222 774 is the phone number. I'll get to more of your questions. Tanya Plibersek, you've announced previously, I think it's about $440 million. It's a fund, schools can apply to it, they can ask for different things maybe that they can't get from their state governments. That's a lot less than you've announced at previous elections. You had a really, I think was about 10 times the amount of money at the last election. Not a criticism that you haven't that announced yet, but where's all the money going to come from? We've already, you know, we are heading toward trillion dollar debt. I think everyone loves the idea of a fund that schools can ask to dip into. Can we afford it?
PLIBERSEK: We can definitely afford an investment in education because we know that those investments are repaid many times over. We've got education policies that go from Early Childhood Education and Care, making childcare more affordable for 97 per cent of Australian families. We know that early childhood education is a fantastic investment for children. It helps them spring into school ready to learn, but it's also great investment for families, meaning that both parents can do more hours of work. In schools, as you've said, we just announced $440 million to help kids bounce back from COVID, a chunk of that money goes to making sure that our schools are physically ready for that, that they've got good air quality, that school staff and kids can return safely to classrooms. But a big part of that as well is for student wellbeing, because we know that kids struggled with remote learning in some cases, they've fallen behind in some cases - but what they have really missed out on as well is the growing up that happens at school. The friendships, the school formals, the sports, all of the things that help kids develop socially and emotionally. So, part of that money goes there. We've got 465,000 free TAFE places. We've got another 20,000 University places. We've got investments in physically upgrading our TAFEs and our universities.
EPSTEIN: Will you change the funding model for private schools especially, that's been a contentious issue previous elections. Are you going to change the way private schools funded? 
PLIBERSEK: We're not going to take money away from Catholic and independent schools, but we are committed to getting public schools up to their fair funding level. So what this government's done is they've cut funding for all schools then they've replaced the money for Catholic and Independent schools, but they've left public schools to languish. So in two important ways we're going to boost public school funding. The first is $188 million worth of building money because -
EPSTEIN: Is that part of the $440 million you were talking about?
PLIBERSEK: Yes, this part of the $440 million, to upgrade things like vocational education facilities, like the old training centres that we built. They're ready for an upgrade now, that's one example of what we might do. That matches funding for non-government schools. We've also committed to getting every school to its fair funding level as determined by that needs-based funding that the two Gonski reviews went through. At the moment what the Government has done is said that for non-government schools all of them get to 100 per cent and more of their funding level, but they've capped public school funding at 95 per cent of fair funding for public schools, which is just not fair. The idea that two thirds of kids in Australia will never ever get to 100 per cent of their funding level because the federal government has capped their funding, we just don't think that's fair.
EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek is the Shadow Education Minister. She also covers the portfolio of Women. She's the MP for the seat of Sydney. If you've got a question for Tanya Plibersek will get to it after we get some traffic.
EPSTEIN: Just some of the feedback and then I'll get to more calls. This text: 'Tanya Plibersek's response to your question only serves to confirm there's really no substance behind Labor's claims. No new policies and no new vision. Same old. Same old. They're all out of touch'. Different texter: 'Hi Tanya, for God's sake why can't you remind people of the historically great things the ALP has done. Get out there and shout it out loud! And keep reminding us all how your policies are investments, not expenses'. I know, I'm going to ask you to resist the temptation to comment on those Tanya Plibersek. Let's go to James, who's in Bendigo. What you do you want to ask James?
CALLER: Hello. Thank you, Tanya, I'm wondering, will Labor listen to what the vast majority - I'm a former aged care worker - will Labor listen to what the vast majority of workers and unions have been calling for for decades,  and that being safe staffing levels in the form of a mandatory ratio?
EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek, that's a question from James, former aged care worker. I think that is a recommendation from the Royal Commission, is Labor committed to restoring something like a ratio?
PLIBERSEK: Well, we are very committed to taking seriously the recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission and we've said that. We are keen to work with people from the aged care sector to make sure that we are properly looking after older Australians.
EPSTEIN: Anthony Albanese's pledged a nurse and every in every aged care facility. That's not a commitment to ratios though.
PLIBERSEK: Well, we think it's important that there's a nurse in nursing homes. It is an unbelievable thing that overnight you might have had dozens of residents left without a qualified nurse in an aged care facility. We think it is a very important thing to have nurses on duty. But look, I think the most telling thing about the Royal commission into aged care is that story after story from the residents in aged care, the staff in aged care, was pointing out that the workforce there are desperate to provide a better quality of care, but the funding as it exists at the moment gives them only minutes with every resident and it is impossible for them to provide the quality of care that they want to the residents that they're looking after. 
EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek is joining you to answer your questions. I'll get two more calls on 1300 222 774. One of the issues of the last election, Tanya Plibersek, is you were accused of saying one thing on climate in the cities and another thing in the country. You were against a gas-fired power plant in the seat of Hunter and New South Wales, the Kurri Kurri gas-fired power plant. You were against it. Now you're for it, although you want it on green hydrogen. If I can just play one of the Prime Minister's criticisms directly aimed at the opposition Leader.
EPSTEIN: Is the PM right? You've switched on the gas-fired power plant in Kurri Kurri.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Well, I don't know if I'm going to take lectures on climate change and energy from the guy who dragged a lump of coal into Parliament. The Kurri Kurri plant, our announcement today is saying we're going to take an investment that the Government is making into a new gas fired power station and we're going to change that gas fired power station into a green hydrogen-powered power station, starting with the 30 per cent that Snowy Hydro  are building, Snowy Energy that are building the gas plant say is possible. The Government has heard that it's possible to have 30 per cent green hydrogen in this plant, and they've said we're not interested. 
EPSTEIN: We don't know if it's proven, no one is running a big power plant on green hydrogen yet.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, we know that green hydrogen will be an increasing share of Australian and Global energy in coming years and it's a bit expensive now, the same way as my first MacBook computer was more expensive than the most recent one I bought. 
EPSTEIN: But you were against it, now you're for it. That's the powerful weapon for the Coalition.
PLIBERSEK: Really? We're for changing a gas-fired power station, that even their own energy experts say will I'll be a stranded asset in a few years’ time. We are for converting that to something that starts at 30 per cent green hydrogen, and goes to 100 per cent green hydrogen as soon as it efficiently can, I think that's a good news story for renewable energy and it's a reminder that Labor has a policy to get to 43 per cent emissions reductions. We've got a policy to get to zero net emissions by 2050 and more importantly, we've got a road map for how to get there with money put into upgrading our electricity transmission network, so that we can feed those great new renewable energy resources into the transmission network that is struggling to accept them at the moment. We've got $3 billion for green metals manufacturing. We can be a world leader, a renewable energy superpower, if we harness green hydrogen and other renewables to power our manufacturing sector. We are talking about cheaper, cleaner energy and the jobs that come with it, more jobs, cheaper power, reduced emissions. 
EPSTEIN: I want to see if I can squeeze in a question on mullets, but I want to squeeze in Liam first in Seddon, what you want to ask Liam?
CALLER: Thanks for your time. Ms Plibersek love your work, but a question outside your portfolio. What if economic growth is over? Like, if you put aside evaluations from money printing and real estate, and look at the impacts of climate change, resource depletion, and long Covid, can Labor admit that *inaudible* is inevitable if not already happening?
PLIBERSEK: I'm sorry. I didn't hear that perfectly...
EPSTEIN: He is asking is economic growth over because of climate change and other things like the impacts of COVID?
PLIBERSEK: So I think we need to be much smarter in the way that we think about economic growth, and economic growth will come from increased productivity in our economy, not just digging up more stuff. That means we need to invest in education right now. I mean, just take the university sector as one example. We have seen 40,000 jobs lost in the last couple of years. We've seen about 7,000 university researchers lose their jobs. If Australia is going to have a prosperous future, we should be doing the exact opposite of making university harder to get into and more expensive. 
EPSTEIN: Not that that argument isn't significant, but I think Liam's question is are we banking too much on the very thing that's given us all of our problems - economic growth?
PLIBERSEK: No, I'm saying that economic growth can take different forms and you can get richer as a country by exporting more cheap things that destroy your environment to make, or you can get richer as a country by being smarter - investing in your people, discovering new things, discovering better ways to do things that actually improve and enhance our environment. I'll give you one quick example, in the University of Technology in my electorate, they've got a little laboratory underground, no windows. They're on 400 different types of algae there. They're growing that algae and making stuff from it like hard plastics that you would use in making outdoor furniture, soft plastics replacing cling film, just as two examples. We can actually, if we are clever in the way we invest, we can be a renewable energy superpower. We can be investing in great discoveries like this, that take carbon out of the atmosphere as the algae is growing and replace things that would otherwise be you know, using kind of petroleum-based resources to create. It depends how you conceptualise economic growth. I want to see full employment. I want to see strong growth. I want to see wages going up. I want to see Australia wealthy and prosperous internationally, but to do that, we need to be clever. We need to be a clever country.
EPSTEIN: Did you feel better with all the polls going Labor's way, does that make you feel better? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, you know, we had good polling before the last election and we lost it so I'm a bit sceptical.
EPSTEIN: Well better ahead than behind isn't it or not? 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I'd always rather be ahead than behind. I'm just saying we take these with a, you know, a healthy dose of scepticism.
EPSTEIN: And a mountain of salt. Ever have a mullet?
PLIBERSEK: I have not had a mullet, but I've got a couple of kids. I've got three kids, but two of them have had mullets over the school holidays. And my 17 year old told me that I should get my hair cut into a mullet because I would win the youth vote if I did. Watch this space. 
EPSTEIN: I'm after an honest answer. Do you ever look at your children with a mullet and do you actually believe in your heart of hearts that it looks good?
PLIBERSEK: Well, look, I saw the mullet competition and I gotta say on those kids it really did look great. They were some really special mullets, not so good on, I mean, I'm a Melbourne radio, my kids aren't listening. Not so good, on my kids. 
EPSTEIN: Ouch. You can be honest about your children. Thanks for your time. 
PLIBERSEK: Thanks Raf.