By Tanya Plibersek

06 September 2021




SUBJECTS: National Women’s Safety Summit; [email protected]; JobKeeper; Labor; Violence against women; Vaccine rollout; Opening up after lockdown; Victorian Liberals.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN, HOST: Tanya Plibersek joins us, she's the Labor MP for the seat of Sydney. She is also Shadow Minister for Education and Shadow Minister for Women. Tanya Plibersek, good afternoon. 
EPSTEIN: I'm okay. Last time you were on this program, at the end of the interview you were visibly upset just telling me about the conversations you'd had when all of the allegations surfaced around Brittany Higgins. I just wondered if those tough conversations have continued all year?
PLIBERSEK: Well they have, Raf, but I think it's a really important thing for victim-survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment, to have the opportunity of telling these stories and I'm always willing to listen. It is sometimes hard to listen to the stories, but it's so important that we do.
EPSTEIN: Do you think the Prime Minister's genuine in trying to fix this?
PLIBERSEK: I really think everyone, almost everyone is genuine in trying to fix it. I'm not sure that everybody knows how to fix it, and I really hope that this National Summit is an opportunity for real action. I think the Prime Minister's speech this morning was fine - it was actually very good speech, I thought. The problem is after eight years, we've seen a whole lot of areas where we could have improved, could have done better. Actually by international standards, we've gone backwards on rankings for women's economic equality, for women's safety and health. We know that wages and conditions for low-paid workers have got backwards, childcare's cut, Medicare, schools - there's areas where we should be doing better, where we are actually going backwards. This government wanted victims of domestic violence to drain their own superannuation before they received any government assistance. We have such opportunity, we know what we need to do. There's been report after report - Royal Commission, Parliamentary Inquiries, [email protected], you mentioned a minute ago. We've had so much information, so many suggestions and recommendations from victim-survivors of violence, people who work at the frontline. We just have to act now. We just have to act. We need to get on with it.
EPSTEIN: But it's not that easy to pull the levers, is it? I mean, we have lots of reports, but Scott Morrison's-
PLIBERSEK: There's a bunch of stuff we know we can do. We're not going to fix anything overnight Raf, but there's so much that we know we should be doing. We should be investing more in emergency accommodation and a safe place for victims of violence to go to. We get asked all the time, 'why didn't she leave?', when we should be asking, 'where would she go?'. We know that we need to invest more in emergency combination. 10 days paid domestic violence leave - multiple people today on the first day of the summit, including Jennifer Westacott, a business leader, said that 10 days paid domestic violence leave is a good idea. There's general agreement, there has been for years that this is an important step forward. Why haven't we acted? [email protected] - the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, as you said, spent two years coming up with 55 recommendations. The Government voted against strengthening their Bill last week. They came to the Parliament with a Bill that implemented six of the 55 recommendations. We said we can do better as a Parliament, and the Government voted against that. There's so much stuff that we already know we should be doing but we're not doing. 
EPSTEIN: So what do you think the issue is? Because I think you said earlier that the Prime Minister is genuine. What do you think the issue is? What's stopping movement forward?
PLIBERSEK: I don't know, you'd really have to ask him. I do genuinely believe that most people, most Australians are horrified by the fact that one Australian woman dies every nine days in a domestic-related homicide. I can't answer for him. I can't answer for why he hasn't done more.
EPSTEIN: Do you think this summit will make a difference? 
PLIBERSEK: I hope so. I really hope so. I'm participating with an open mind in the hope that it will. And I've got to say the people who have been speaking today have been fantastic. The problem is not a lack of knowledge, it's not a lack of ideas, it's not that we don't know what we should be doing, the problem has been willingness to act and proper funding. The truth is, proper funding is one of the big gaps here.
EPSTEIN: 1300 222 774 is the phone number, Tanya Plibersek is with us, especially today as the Shadow Minister for Women, but also as the Minister for Education, as we - fingers-crossed - hope that there's a relatively normal education year next year. You can text as well as 0437 774 774, I'll get to your calls in a moment. Just one idea that's floating around today, Tanya Plibersek, the Greens are proposing a super profit tax on some of the biggest companies. So it'd only be after they've paid tax and given a bit to shareholders, your government tried something like that in the past. Is Labor interested in what the Greens are proposing? 
PLIBERSEK: Well no we're not planning on following what the Greens are proposing here, but I know where we could find a lazy $13 billion and that would be in the JobKeeper money that was paid to companies that actually saw their profits increase during -
EPSTEIN: But you can't get that back now.
PLIBERSEK: No, we can't make them give it back, but it would be really nice if we had a Prime Minister and a Treasurer who were even prepared to ask for the money back, instead of justifying the companies that have held on to it. I'm really pleased that some companies have voluntarily paid it back. If you didn't need the money because of lost profits, you should pay it back. It is very clear that this money wasn't intended to be paid as executive bonuses and increased dividends. 
EPSTEIN: But you can't retrospectively change the rules on JobKeeper, you don't want to do that, do you?
PLIBERSEK: No you can't retrospectively change the rules, but it should have been better designed in the first place and, you know the thing that's kind of annoying about it is that the Treasurer won't even ask for it back. He won't even say, 'come on guys, do the right thing'. He's justifying the design of this scheme still, and not even allowing a basic level of transparency that would allow consumers to say to companies 'we want to shop with companies that are prepared to do the right thing here'. 
EPSTEIN: A whole lot of texts have come in when we were talking about the Women's Safety Summit and quite a few people texting 'getting rid of alcohol at Parliament House', because this was sparked by an alleged incident in Parliament House. I don't want to get into the back and forth of that because there's a court case and everything, but a ton of people saying, 'get rid of alcohol in Parliament House'. Do you think it would be helpful, Tanya Plibersek?
PLIBERSEK: I don't think drinking at work's a good idea, but I think there's something more fundamental underlying this. We still have there - one in three Australian women would expect to experience domestic violence in her lifetime, one in five or or one in six, sexual assault. That's not just about prevalence of alcohol in our community. That is part of the story, but inequality between men and women is a driver of gendered violence and where inequality between men and women is greatest, that's where violence against women thrives. So, yes, let's look at alcohol misuse and other sort of situational things that are going on, but we really need to look at gender relationships. We need to start talking to kids from a very early age about what respectful, healthy relationships look like. And Raf, one of the things that hasn't been mentioned all day today - it really bothers me - that the average first age of viewing pornography in Australia today is 10 years old. These kids are getting sex education from the worst possible places.
EPSTEIN: How do you solve that though? I mean the technology is ubiquitous.
PLIBERSEK: Do we really think that we couldn't work with the tech giant's to work out age-appropriate access to some of this material. 
EPSTEIN: Is that possible? 
PLIBERSEK: I'm not a tech genius, but I reckon there's lot of them out there, and it does mean putting appropriate filters on family devices and so on. But truly, if that's how kids are getting their messages about relationships, and the stuff - it's not Playboy bunny, it's actually violent and degrading material available at the swipe of your fingertips. 
EPSTEIN: Is there a significant way? I think tonne of people would agree with you that we don't want kids looking at it, but is there a significant way to actually do that? Every time you put up a digital wall, someone else finds a significant way around it.
PLIBERSEK: Let's make a start, let's have a go. Let's have a go and let's also start talking to young people in really honest conversations about how damaging it is to watch this stuff, and how far from healthy relationships what they're watching online is.
EPSTEIN: I'll come back to your calls with Tanya Plibersek - 1300 222 774 in just a moment. 
EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek is the Shadow Education Minister. Dan has a question, calling from Hawthorne. You there, Dan? 
CALLER: Yes, I am.
EPSTEIN: Go for it. 
CALLER: Hi. Look, I'll preface this question with a comment that Tanya I know you'll be loyal to Albo, as politicians always are to their leader, but I know I, and I'm sure many people, have watched you over the years and thought 'she is just so articulate, and clever, and would be such an amazing leader'. So, my question is, would you ever consider standing for the leadership of the Labor Party, notwithstanding that I'm sure you'll say you're loyal to Albo now, and he'll take us for the next election, blah blah blah?
PLIBERSEK: I'm absolutely committed to Labor winning the next election with Anthony as the leader, and I really want to work as part of his team to get Labor across the line because I can't stand the idea of three more years of Scott Morrison. And we've got such an opportunity to rebuild coming out of COVID. We've seen what Australians are capable of, and if we turn that discipline and that spirit of working together to rebuilding fairer, the world's our oyster. But thank you for the call.
EPSTEIN: Do mind those questions, Tanya Plibersek? We get a few of them whenever you're on. Do you mind that?
PLIBERSEK: It's so lovely that people, they're thanking me for my work I guess and I really appreciate that. But what matters is a Labor team that can form government.
EPSTEIN: Isn't what matters offering alternatives? Anthony Albanese appears to have, I mean, there's lots to criticise of a government in a pandemic. We know that better than most in Victoria. Doesn't Labor need to offer more than just accountability?
PLIBERSEK: Well, we do need to hold the Government to account but yeah, of course we need to offer a vision for what Australia on the other side of COVID looks like. And you know, Raf, you and I have talked about this before. It's about the jobs we create, the fairer society that we want to build, it's the jobs that come from decarbonising, it' the infrastructure jobs, it's investing in care.
EPSTEIN: Those things are easy to talk about.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, then why do we have a government that's not doing that?
EPSTEIN: The issue, the issue I guess I'm trying to get out with the question is, do you need to offer sharper policy difference than you have?
PLIBERSEK: I think we've offered some really important policy differences, including cheaper childcare, investing in transmission lines  so it can put more renewables into the grid -
EPSTEIN: But they're on the margins those issues, aren't they? 
PLIBERSEK: I don't know. If you're a family struggling to pay for childcare, if you're a business considering investing more in renewable energy, I'd say that you'd be looking at those sorts of policies and thinking that they make a really important difference, and we'll have more to say between now and the next election as well. 
EPSTEIN: Jeff's got a question from Corowa. What is it Jeff? 
CALLER: Yes. Since the Government rejected 49 of the 55 recommendations to overhaul sexual, workplace sexual harassment, I was just wondering, Tanya, is there any way that you can maybe summarise three or four of the major points, or most obvious points, or points that will give an explanation for that were actually rejected by the Government or whatever? Because trying to find them is incredible, to try and find out what these 49 points are, that's all. 
EPSTEIN: So you want to know what is the good stuff in there that they haven't adopted? Is that what you mean, Jeff? 
CALLER: Well, the more contentious points? If they can give them reasons for it, why they didn't vote for it. 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Look I'll give you a few examples. One is to try and get employers to offer what's called a 'positive duty', so to put the responsibility on employers to make workplaces safe and free of sexual harassment. So in the same way that you can't let someone work around live wires without protection or with asbestos floating through the air, saying that you've got a duty as an employer to prevent sexual harassment, not just deal with it after the fact. Another example would be making equality an object of the Sex Discrimination Act, so actually saying that what we want to achieve in Australia is equality between men and women, or having in the industrial relations laws ban on sexual harassment in the workplace. Protecting victims from being handed big legal bills if they take a case that is unsuccessful. Letting unions or other representative bodies take action on behalf of people who've been harassed, so for example, if someone's too worried, too shy, but they're happy for their union to take an action on their behalf, being able to do that. So bunch of things like that. There's also, it's not just about the laws that needed to be changed, it's investment in things like Working Women's Centres in every state and territory. That was one of the recommendations of the Kate Jenkins' report, was to invest in Working Women's Centres that can offer private confidential advice, and not just on sexual harassment but on things like the gender pay gap and whether you're being paid the award or whatever. There's also a recommendation that the Human Rights Commission be funded to be like a first port of call, a one-stop shop that you can go, anyone can ring up and say 'I'm being harassed at work. I'm not sure what my next step is. What are my options?' There's just a few of the recommendations that haven't been taken up.
EPSTEIN: That came easily to the top of Tanya Plibersek's mind. She is the Shadow Minister for Women.
PLIBERSEK: I may have been thinking about this.
EPSTEIN: That's okay. Are our problems with vaccine supply over? We spoke to Lieutenant General James Frewen today. There's going to be 9 million mRNA doses distributed around the country this month, the same next month. Do you think the issues with supply are done?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I hope so. It's really up to the people who are rolling out the vaccine program to tell us for certain one way or another, but I really hope so. We've been having all sorts of conversations about whether vaccination should be mandatory. I can tell you I have had so many people calling my office saying 'I'm desperate to get vaccinated, how? How? Where? When? When can I do it?' And I know particularly amongst younger people, they've been very keen to get vaccinated, but they haven't really had the opportunity. They want to do the right thing by their community, their family, their work and their workmates, and, you know, bring It on. 
EPSTEIN: Do you think the Prime Minister's on a winner? He's offering hope with the national plan. He is trying to basically say that, well, he is saying Labor's for lockdowns, he's for hope. That's going to work, isn't it?
PLIBERSEK: Honestly, what a foolish, simplistic thing to try and make it a political issue, a party political issue. All of us want life to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Like, just on a personal level, I'm going a bit crazy trying to do my job and supervise the kid's  schooling. I'm getting calls every single day from people in my electorate, who are facing most heartbreaking circumstances, family businesses that have been going for 10, 20, 30 years, they look like they'll fold. It's terrible. We want life back to normal. Everybody wants that. 
EPSTEIN: That's why the Prime Minister's offering hope, no?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well, it would have been - it's a bit rich actually from someone who stuffed up the vaccine rollout and continues to refuse to do anything proper about quarantine. The reason we're in this second long lockdown in New South Wales is because we got vaccinations and quarantine wrong at a federal level. So it's a bit rich for him to be lecturing people about opening up again. 
EPSTEIN: That's Gladys Berejiklian's issues with vaccine, vaccinating limo drivers. That's not the federal government's problem, is it? 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah wouldn't it be good if we'd actually got jabs into people's arms a bit sooner? Wouldn't it be good if we had a proper quarantine system? We've had 27 outbreaks from hotel quarantine, 27 at last count. It is absolutely the responsibility of the federal government to get the vaccine rollout and quarantine right, and we're all desperate for things to get back to normal. It's just silly to pretend that this is a party political thing. 
EPSTEIN: Do you think Labor contributed to any of the hesitancy around AstraZeneca?
PLIBERSEK: No, I don't think so. And I've had AstraZeneca. I've been telling anybody who'll listen that I've had, I'm double dosed with AZ, so is my husband and -
EPSTEIN: Having a go at the Prime Minister for late night press conferences around AstraZeneca, maybe that actually contributed. If you think there's a problem there with the way the Prime Minister portrayed the changing advice on AstraZeneca, did you make the problem worse by ramping that up and focusing on it?
PLIBERSEK: I really think that's a long bow to draw, Raf. I really do.
EPSTEIN: Did you have any side effects with your AstraZeneca? Did you get a sore arm or any flu-ey symptoms or anything? 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, little bit of a sore arm and I felt a bit tired afterwards, but yeah just no worse than that, really.
EPSTEIN: Have you ever met either Matthew Guy, who used to be the Liberal leader in the state Parliament, or Michael O'Brien. Have you ever met either of them?
PLIBERSEK: I don't think so. But I'm really worried that if I say no emphatically then I'll have met them somewhere at a community function -
EPSTEIN: I mean they were in power and they might have been actually ministers when Labor was federally in power, so I just thought you might have had a working relationship with either Michael O'Brien as Treasurer or Matthew Guy as Planning Minister, but I'm not sure. 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, nah, not really.
EPSTEIN: Got a preference for who should lead the Liberal Party in Victoria?
PLIBERSEK: Oh no, completely up to Victorian Liberals. And you know, my only comment on Victorian politics is "go Dan".
EPSTEIN: Understandable, same party. Tanya Plibersek, thank you. 
PLIBERSEK: Thank you. Thanks.