By Tanya Plibersek

01 April 2022


SUBJECTS: Visit to the Riverina; Women in Parliament; Investing in schools; Teachers; Federal election; Debt and deficit.
SALLY BRYANT, HOST: It’s 19 to 9 on Riverina Breakfast and I’m joined this morning by the federal member for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek, who’s in the Riverina today. She’s the opposition spokeperson on education, and also on the status of women. Tanya Plibersek, good morning.
TANYA PLIBERSEK: Good morning, it’s great to be with you. 
BRYANT: You’re in the heartland of great country in the Riverina, you know that.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Oh it’s beautiful country. I love coming up here and it’s a beautiful day today, so I’m looking forward to talking with the Wagga City Council about their domestic violence strategy, visiting Charles Sturt University as well. And I'm going to pop it into the Micah Hub at Vinnies as well to see what they're up to there.
BRYANT: So seeing what’s happening on the ground in this part of the world, as far as local issues are concerned.
PLIBERSEK: Yes, absolutely. And I'm going to pop into the Headspace as well because I know that youth mental health and wellbeing is such a critical issue in the area as well.
BRYANT:  One of your current responsibilities is the spokesperson on the status of women. What do you think about the current status of women in politics? Because it’s been a pretty ugly period recently, and I would say probably you’re referencing both sides of the house. 
PLIBERSEK: Look I think it is really offputting for people who look on from a distance and they see a lot of reports of bullying and bad behavior. I've got to say, the biggest change I've seen in my time in politics is the increased number of women in the Labor party. We’re at almost half women representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate now, and that has made a difference to the culture. It's not perfect, but it has made a difference. And people often ask me to how do you operate in an environment like that?  A very hostile environment. I think the best advice I can give to people who perhaps thinking of a career in public life, whether it's at the local government level or state or federal politics, is if you keep focused on what it is that you want to do for the community you represent, that really does help you get through some of those hard times.
BRYANT: Doesn’t it bring you down though. Is it necessary for people to behave so badly, so viciously?
PLIBERSEK: No of course it's not. I think the other important message is you have to be yourself and behave in the way that you feel is honorable and true to your own values. And you don't have to behave badly or aggressively. I've got plenty of friends on the other side and I don't agree with them on everything, and I can tell them that I don't agree with them, but you can do it in a civil way. And again it goes back to focusing on what you want to do in public life. I've got the education portfolio, and the status of women portfolio. I desperately want to see better schools for every Australian child - no matter where they live, no matter their family background, they should expect a world-class education. I desperately want more young people to have the chance to go to TAFE or to university to get skills after school so they can get the job of their dreams. I absolutely want to see equality between men and women, not special treatment but equality - we've still got a big gender pay gap, we still see too many Australian women who are victims of domestic violence, or sexual assault - we can change that as a nation that. If we focus on these things, then the rest of it takes care of itself I think.
BRYANT: That portfolio position that you’ve got in education, it’s tricky though, for a federal person. Because education is largely at the behest of the state government. We have horrendous problems with recruiting teachers in this part of the world, yet it's not really something that the federal government can directly influence. 
PLIBERSEK: Look I think it's very much a shared responsibility. The federal and state governments both put money into all three school sectors - public schools, catholic and independent schools. And I think very clearly the federal government has dropped the ball on funding to public schools that teach two thirds of our kids. In fact, the funding formula actually bakes in public schools getting less, about 90% of the funding that non-government schools get. That's just not fair, we can fix that. We’re determined to do that. And if you talk about teacher shortages, this is one of the most important areas where the federal government can have an influence. Because of course the federal government is responsible, mostly responsible, for universities where we are teaching our next generation of teachers. So what do we do to attract more people into teaching courses, make sure that the people who are studying teaching love kids, want to be great teachers, have the capability to be great teachers. And then making sure that teacher education in our universities is really high quality so that when those teachers go out into the classroom, they are inspiring a generation of learners to be their very best.
BRYANT: A difficulty here is though, and we see this here in the Riverina, you get young, keen, enthusiastic teachers heading into some of these rural and regional areas - they find themselves teaching off subject, they find themselves doing the administrative role that used to be done by other people within the department. And again, I come back to the fact that this in the hands of the state government. What could the federal government do to make teaching as exciting as these young people thought it was going to be when they studied it?
PLIBERSEK: There's plenty we can do. So we need to attract and retain really good teachers in our schools. So that's about pay, conditions and respect. We need to use the evidence of what works in the classroom, like we do in medicine - we need to know exactly what it is that is the best way of teaching kids how to read, and then we need to make sure that every school has the opportunity of using that approach to help their kids. We need to focus on things like classroom management and behaviour. We need to make sure that our kids are actually behaving, not driving their teachers crazy and that comes back to communication between school and families as well. Equipping those first year teachers as they come out with the skills they need to manage the classroom. Keeping the skilled teachers have been around for a while, giving them a little bit of time to manage and mentor and support those younger teachers. I take it back to this, when Labor was last in government we had a national program for school reform, for education reform. When Christopher Pyne was the Education Minister, he just got rid of it. He said that's just red tape. But we have to have a plan for making every classroom in every school in every part of Australia an environment where kids are learning every day, and we can do that. We can do that with proper funding, using the evidence of what works, and making sure that we're attracting and keeping the best and brightest as teachers in our classrooms.
BRYANT: It’s 11 minutes to 9 on Riverina Breakfast, I’m speaking with Tanya Plibersek, the opposition spokesperson on education and the status of women. She’s in the Riverina today to meet with locals. Before I let you go, we had somebody from the office go out recently to do some vox-popping about the issues that matter to them. The most common answer was, ‘I don’t care because it doesn’t seem to matter to the major parties. They’re always in election mode, and it’s about personalities and not policies’. How do you talk about policy, how do you get people re-engaged in the political process? 
PLIBERSEK: I think that the policies that governments pursue have such a huge impact on people's lives. When I'm travelling around the country, the thing that people most often raise with me is that they're struggling to make ends meet. They feel like life is getting harder. Everything's going up but their wages. Well these things are really influenced and determined by the policies that governments decide on, we have to have an industrial relations system that says wages go up. When people work hard and their businesses are going well, then we want to see some of that success passed on to ordinary workers as wage rises. We need to make sure that people who are working casually in the gig economy on short-term contracts aren't undercut in their wages by people from labour hire firms coming in doing the job cheaper. These are all decisions of government. And aged care, childcare, schools, TAFE, university, the environment we live in, whether we invest in cheaper renewable energy that's going to power our homes and businesses, petrol prices - I mean the things that impact on your everyday life, all too often are decisions that governments are making. So you've got to choose the right government, the one that's got your interests at heart and I'm really excited that I'm going to be with Mark Jeffreson, the Labor candidate for the Riverina today, talking to him about what's going to make the biggest impact for people who live in the Riverina, who feel like life's getting harder, not easier under the Morrison Government.
BRYANT: So we haven’t got the election date announced yet, what sort of campaign is Labor going to run once the election date is announced. How are you going to convince Australians that they need a change of government?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think Australians by and large are telling me that they want to change government, because life is getting harder for them. They want a government that's going to help a little bit, not just with a few short term payments five minutes to midnight before an election. You saw in the budget on Tuesday night, a few last minute giveaways from a government that just wants to push all the problems off til after the next election. A temporary cut in petrol prices, at one-off payment to people on income support pensions and so on, a one-off boost to the low income tax offset. That in itself is something that the government is going to end after next year. In contrast, what Labor is proposing is permanent help. Permanent help with lowering childcare costs, permanent help with lowering your power bills, permanent increases to wages. 
BRYANT: And while all those things are really attractive, are you not concerned that if you take government, you’ll get a poisoned chalice? We’ve got a huge deficit. How are you going to fund this stuff?
PLIBERSEK: Well I tell you what, it's really good that you have raised the deficit. Because even before COVID-19, this government had doubled debt, doubled the deficit, but they're very happy to blame COVID-19 for the trillion dollars of debt that Australia is heading towards. But that debt and deficit disaster started before COVID-19. Here's this mob who try and convince people they're good economic managers, who have been putting our future on the national credit card for years now. Yes, we're going to have a big challenge ahead of us. But why would you give three more years to the people who doubled the debt and deficit before COVID-19, have stacked everything onto the credit card since, whose only solution now is a few short term payments to get them beyond the next election. Instead, why not trust the Labor party that has long-term plans that will lift incomes, increase job security, invest in early childhood education and care, in schools, in TAFE, in universities, in aged care, in our health system, in our roads, in our environment. That's what we're proposing, a positive vision for the future.
BRYANT: Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much for your time this morning.
PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure to talk to you.