By Tanya Plibersek

21 July 2020


MONDAY, 20 JULY 2020
SUBJECTS: COVID-19; the economy; Parliament; Christopher Pyne’s memoir.
RICHARD GLOVER, HOST: The Monday Political Forum - joining us this week, Tanya Plibersek is the Shadow Minister for Education and Training and Member for the seat of Sydney. Lucy Turnbull, former Chief Commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission and Christopher Pyne, former Minister for Defence and author of the new memoir 'The Insider: the scoops, the scandals and the very serious business within the Canberra bubble'. You might have heard him talking to Cassie the other day on Focus on ABC Radio Sydney. They all join us. Lucy, good afternoon to you. 
GLOVER: And Tanya, good afternoon to you. 
GLOVER: And Christopher Pyne, or as we know him, having read his book, Innocent the XIV. 
CHRISTOPHER PYNE, FORMER MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Hi Richard, it is nice to be back. 
GLOVER: Which we will get to, in due course! Now, the COVID seeding that started at the Crossroads Hotel has led the state to a crossroads of a different sort. The Premier saying this morning that the next two weeks will be crucial in terms of whether we can suppress the outbreak or end up in a similar sad situation to Victoria. How confident are you that people will play by the rules in the ways necessary to stare this thing down - Tanya Plibersek. 
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think Richard, that most people absolutely want to do the right thing and are doing the right thing. I'm always a bit surprised when I hear these stories about people refusing to be tested or renting houses for wild parties, but the vast majority of people really do want to do the right thing. They want to protect themselves, of course, but their families, their communities, their neighbours. They really want to suppress the spread of this virus and they're also trying, I think, to look after their local businesses, look after people who are on their own in the community who might need a little bit of extra help with, you know, shopping or transport or so on. So, I've seen a lot of really great neighbourly behaviour at this time.
GLOVER: All the same. It's not going - we were in such a good position quite recently. I wonder if the second time round we will be more sober because we've seen what has happened in Victoria or whether we'll simply be tired of the restrictions that we mostly cheerfully put up with first time round.
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think people have been pretty good at following the medical advice and seeing what happens in Victoria, how quickly something takes off, or the Crossroads Hotel here, or Batemans Bay. I mean, there's quite a few hot spots now. Seeing how quickly the virus can take hold in an area, in a community, in a group of people. I think it's a very strong reminder that we've got to stay vigilant, keep following the medical advice. That's what helped in the first instance and we can't we can't relax now.
GLOVER: Christopher Pyne, do you think we are going to manage to stare this town or are we becoming complacent? 
PYNE: I think there was a high level of complacency creeping into the Australian people a couple of weeks ago. I think the Victorian disaster has shocked people here in Adelaide, for example, and this week was very common to hear people saying well, no one's got coronavirus in South Australia - which they still largely don't - and you know, we've beaten this thing and now we can get back to normal. I think the Victorian situation has reminded people that this thing spreads dramatically faster than people really estimated and it will be a salutary reminder to us all about social distancing, wearing of masks, hand sanitation and so forth. So I do think, unfortunately, the Victorians and we don't wish it on them at all, but they've been a very good example to everyone about what happens if this thing gets out of hand and Gladys Berejiklian quite right to say look, we're not we can't achieve elimination but we can certainly suppress, and the Victorian example is given us all pause for thought that we're not through this by any means. 
GLOVER: Yeah, and also, I think, the Crossroads example shows that, like the bushfires, one lit match into the into the drive field and that's all you need. 
PYNE: It's extraordinary and the fact that you know, one person or two people can go to a club and have dinner and then potentially dozens and dozens of people are being impacted just reminds us all that the last thing we want is to allow this devil to spread. And, when I think about the aged care homes and particularly if it gets into aged care homes, that there will be deaths and you know, my mother's 91 and they've got all sorts of rules at the aged care home, and I think well, I'm glad they do. But a couple of weeks ago. I think people were starting to say I'm sick of COVID now and you know, we've beaten this thing and they were starting to act like it was over and clearly it is not.
GLOVER: Lucy Turnbull do you think Christopher's right that, you know, Victoria does give us this very vivid example and maybe will shock most people into doing the right thing. 
TURNBULL: Yeah, I think we've really woken up again and I think you know as both Tanya and Christopher have said, you know, being vigilant about health and distancing and sanitation is critical, but one of the things that shocks us is, if you like, the super spreading of certain venues and events like the Crossroads, like the club in Batemans Bay...
GLOVER: The Soldiers, I think.
TURNBULL: The Soldiers Club in Batemans Bay. And these places, as fabulous as they are and as great a job as they serve in the community, are potential viral super spreaders. They're like bushfire igniters, and I can't believe that Batemans Bay is getting a second bushfire in a viral form, six months apart. 
GLOVER: Yeah, I mean, should we be sure we'd be closing down pubs and restaurants and clubs again?
TURNBULL: Well, I think if there's not a directional shift away from community transmission and these kind of super spreading venues and events triggering large lot of spread of the disease, I think we're going to have to look at that, and I think the Premier said that this morning.
GLOVER:  Yeah, that's right, that's right. We'll just have to look at the data and be guided by the data. I guess. Tanya Plibersek is here, Lucy Turnbull and Christopher Pyne. Now, earlier today on our radio station, again on Cassie's show, a young woman, Eli, rang to explain how it felt to be a young professional, she's a mechanical engineer, but with no prospect of a job at the moment because of COVID, or really any sense of what her future might hold. Here she is as she gets understandably emotional about her situation. 
ELI: It's the lack of plan and the lack of vision for a future that makes it really hard to keep going and because it's even the meaningful jobs that you apply for are disappearing because people can't afford to offer you casual work anymore. And, so then you kind of wonder why you have these skills and what part you play in society, if there just doesn't seem to be a place for you anymore. And, that's the worst part of the whole conversation and when the Government makes but seemingly casual comments about how all this money is disincentivizing people - they aren't looking for work, they aren't trying. The way that you would, I'm sorry for getting emotional, but the way that message comes back to you is heartbreaking. It's really, really hard to hear that from your Government - that comment about you, but they don't come and talk to you. There's no voice that you have to saying I want to participate in this society. I want to have a job. I want to earn money. I want to be a good citizen, please let me participate.
GLOVER: It is Eli. She's in her late 20s. She's got a qualification of a mechanical engineer, but that's not enough at the moment. COVID is hurt so many people but are we doing enough for that younger generation who were just marching out into the world of work for the first time, you know with their certificate in hand when all this happened, Tanya Plibersek. 
PLIBERSEK: No, we're not doing enough and it's actually the young people that I feel most sorry for in a sense because, well, we've got all this information that you know, physically, older people are more vulnerable to the virus, the impact on young people's lives has been so extreme. I mean, you heard that in Eli's voice. I remember what it felt like graduating at the beginning in the 1990s recession and thinking I don't know if I'll ever get to use my degree. I don't know why I've been studying so hard when there's no jobs available and this is on, you know, a magnitude much greater than that early 1990s recession, the way I felt then. We should be aiming for full employment, our economy should aim for a job for everybody who can work and we are so far from that at the moment. We've been losing two thousand apprentices a week and we've got some measures recently, but you know, again only the tip of the iceberg. We’re making it harder and more expensive for young people to go to university. You think about how hard that is on the 180,000 or so young people who are in Year 12 this year, who have struggled through their exams, who have just been told that their university education is going to become harder to get into uni and more expensive if they get there with some courses more than doubling in cost. We've got 330,000 young people unemployed and twelve people applying for every job. But you know, if you're a young person, that you'll be the first to lose hours, the first to be laid off, that someone with experience is much more likely to get the job than you are, if you're in your early years of your career. And now, you know, on top of all of that, we've got the threat to snap back to a $40 dollar a day unemployment benefit, which is terrible. It's terrible for people who are living in poverty. And it's terrible for demand in our economy. 
GLOVER: In the end, the Government's not going to quite do that though. I'm not saying they will keep it at the current level but they're not going to put it right back to where it was. Don't you think? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, I hope not because it's not just bad for the people we push into poverty. It's actually bad for economic growth because we know, that people who are relying on JobKeeper or JobSeeker or any of these benefits are spending their money. They are creating work for others. If you've got, you know, two bucks in your - two bucks doesn't buy much these days, but if you got five dollars in your pocket, you might buy a cup of coffee when you're out. If you've got nothing, you're not creating any work for anybody. So, it is really important that we continue to support people by making sure the jobs are there in the private and in the public sector and making sure that the people for whom there is no work, we are giving them a decent amount of money to live on and enabling them to create work for others too. 
GLOVER: Tanya Plibersek is here, so is Lucy Turnbull and Christopher Pyne. Christopher, there are so many people to feel for. You can feel for people in nursing homes for instance who cannot see their grandchildren at the moment. You can feel for business people who are going broke, but there is some special category isn't there for these young people who are kind of just marching out into the world for the first time, full of what should be bushy-tailed optimism and they must feel that it's just a future that has no defining edges at the moment. 
PYNE: Well, Richard, the issue I think particularly for young people is that this has been such a shock. We've had twenty-six years plus of continuous growth. Tanya and I both graduated around the same time and that recession, during the end of the Hawke period and the beginning of the Keating period was gradual, so you could actually see it happening and you'd think that's not great, but it wasn't a shock. The problem with the Coronavirus is that you know in January, most Australians, most young people looking for work thought I'll get it because the economy is in good shape and then in February to July, suddenly, the whole world is turned on its head. And I've got to say I've got friends in Sydney and elsewhere who been texting me who are very seriously depressed by what's happened and in many cases living in apartments, particularly in Sydney in the CBD for that period when they couldn't go out and basically locked down. It was really, really tough. So, I think there's going to be some very long-term implications but it's happened so fast that the governments, Federal and State, have had to react very quickly and a lot of the thought might go into how to ameliorate these social impacts - we just haven't had time to yet do it, but it will happen over time. So I think, for Eli and the people like her, you know, the Government understands. I'm sure the need to help but it's been a very quick issue that's arisen that's needed to be responded to.
GLOVER: I mean, the other point that Eli made along the way was that this discussion about "Oh, if you put up JobSeeker too much then people won't want to work". That didn't land well in her ears because she desperately wants to work. She wouldn't care what - you could pay millions for JobSeeker. She wants to work. She wants to be part of society. She wants to use her degree. It's kind of insulting she was implying to have all this talk about, you know, pay people another five bucks and they'll sit on their hands. 
PYNE: It's a very old-fashioned argument that used to have some currency in the sort of 70s and 80s when people said things like that...
GLOVER: But the Prime Minister said it Christopher. 
PYNE: I think most people accept that JobSeeker has been increased, doubled, and I think that was appropriate. I think the Government will make announcements about that in the coming weeks and months about how that will be going forward, but obviously in a crisis, which is what a pandemic is, you can't apply the same rules as you would in normal circumstances. 
GLOVER: Okay, but the Prime Minister did say he was weary of putting it up too much because then people would sit on their hands.
PYNE: Well weary, of course, everyone should be weary, but in a pandemic crisis, the Government has reacted quite appropriately and responsibly and I think they'll continue to do so.
GLOVER: Christopher Pyne is here. So is Tanya Plibersek and Lucy Turnbull. Lucy, this is not a race to say who deserves the most sympathy in society, but you do feel for people in their twenties who are kind of marching out into what should be life's glorious dawn.
TURNBULL:  Desperately because I mean people are like Eli have got the double whammy. Their future career prospects as a mechanical engineer, in her case have had a dramatic downward shift. I'm aware of a lot of young people who are just graduating from degrees like planning etcetera, and architecture. They have a massive downward shift in their career expectations. But at the same time, the availability of the casual labour that would hold them over, tide them over until they went back into their career jobs or found career related jobs, are not available either because tourism and hospitality has been massively impacted. So, these people have double whammies hitting them. I have an idea though Richard, and I'll be interested to hear what Christopher and Tanya think about this because I think while Parliament is not sitting, why don't we give these young people a voice through a Youth Parliament? Obviously not turning up to Canberra but through Zoom or some similar application, where we can actually hear from these people. Because, one of the things I heard from Eli is that she feels she doesn't have a voice. And, I think there are millions of young people who truthfully feel not only economically disenfranchised but politically disenfranchised and I think we've got to empower them and give them a sense of dignity and value through giving them a voice. 
GLOVER: I mean the one thing that you heard there, I mean, people have their own view, I'm sure, about that what they heard in her voice. But to me, the one were was helplessness. 
TURNBULL: Yes. And that is such a terrible situation. 
GLOVER: That she couldn't could she couldn't see a road out of here, you know. 
TURNBULL: No and often when you feel helpless speaking to other people is actually a powerful thing to do. 
GLOVER: Yeah. Monday Political Forum - Christopher Pyne, Tanya Plibersek and Lucy Turnbull are here. Just a note on the text 'Thank you Tanya. This is a message that needs to be louder. The voice of Eli on your show is the voice of many including my friend, who has this week been lost to suicide. It is devastating to be in our generational situation with the Government who continue to disregard the immense pressure on youth right now'. That's on the text. We have Tanya Plibersek, who's the Member for Sydney. Lucy Turnbull, former Chief Commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission and Christopher Pyne, former Minister for Defence with us on Drive. I'll check the traffic in a second. But first, Parliament's next sitting fortnight, due to begin on August 4, has been cancelled due to COVID-19. The PM saying he didn't believe it would be right to exclude Parliamentarians from Victoria from the Parliament as would be necessary, I guess. Is that fair enough or should Parliament sit, but with some members participating through something like Zoom, as happened in the UK and how important is it that Parliament regularly gathers. Well, Christopher Pyne, you were part of Parliament for a long time and the kind of the performance aspects of Parliament, the gathering involved in Parliament, how important is it and couldn't they find a way around this problem at the moment? 
PYNE: Well, I think it is important for Parliament to sit in person and it has been doing so during this year despite the circumstances. I don't see a lot of point in Parliament sitting with some people on a Zoom and some people in the Chamber. I can't see that being fulfilling the requirements of accountability. From what I understand, the Government's likely to schedule more sitting weeks when the Victorian lockdown is lifted and of course, the Parliament needs to sit for the Government to be held to account. Not because the Government's doing a bad job, but because that's what oppositions do, that's what our adversarial system should be like. Every idea needs to be tested. But, I think, the Government is right to cancel Parliament for those two weeks when the Victorians can't be present. There's at least a third of the Parliament that are Victorians, and all the staff who are associated with it. And, I think it's the correct and sensible precaution.
GLOVER: But Christopher, the Poms managed it. Some people turned up to Parliament, other zoomed-in.
PYNE: No, I don't think it was a very good way of managing the Parliament. I don't think that Parliament sitting for debates is going to impact dramatically on our Government's response to a pandemic. If the Brits did it, good luck to them. But, I'm a traditionalist. So, I think you need to be present for the Parliament to work effectively. 
GLOVER: Tanya Plibersek, do you go along with that? 
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think the technology can help at times like this, but I don't think it can replace face-to-face meeting of the Parliament and I think Christopher's quite right that we're spending hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayers money at the moment. We need to make sure that that money is really hitting in the targets, getting people working, getting our economy moving. The best way to scrutinise that is face-to-face through Question Time and other forums of the Parliament. But at the same time, we are telling other people that they need to follow medical advice. So, if the medical advice is it's not safe to do it, right now then we have to follow that medical advice. I think, people keep talking about the, you know, the Zoom and all these things. That that has come in handy with things like Parliamentary committees. It's allowed people to continue to give evidence and, in fact, I think it's probably improved the Parliamentary committees because it means you don't have to travel to Canberra or to a capital city to give evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry. But, as for the day-to-day running of the Parliament itself, I think you can't really replace, you know, bringing together people from all different parts of Australia, from all different electorates to get the benefit of their, you're going to laugh when I say this, but combined wisdom on the policies that are really challenging us at the moment. 
GLOVER: Tanya Plibersek, Christopher Pyne and Lucy Turnbull are here. And I'll come to Lucy on the subject of the Parliament in just a second. 
GLOVER: Lucy. Does it matter or, is it was a Prime Minister right actually, is the better question, about the need to suspend Parliament due to COVID in Victoria. 
TURNBULL: Well, I think medical advice is really critically important and that has to be followed. But I just make the obvious point that our democratic system is heavily hinged and contingent on Parliament being sovereign and for Governments to be accountable to the people through the Parliament. And so, Parliament's importance as the fundamental building block of democracy can't be underestimated. So, I think you can't just say "Oh, Parliament doesn't have to meet full stop and this this year will show us that Parliament's actually not terribly necessary let's, you know, be like some state capitals in the US and sit for eight weeks a year". I think that would be a shocking error of judgment and a shocking abrogation of our democracy. It has to be very clear that this is an exceptional year and it cannot ever become normalised. 
GLOVER: Okay. We might realise the importance of Parliament and all its sessions. In his memoir 'The Insider', Christopher Pyne confessed that when he was fourteen , his ambition was to be Pope. He'd even chosen a name he reveals - Innocent XIV. So what did you want to be when you were fourteen and can anyone beat Pope? Well, I'll go to Christopher, of course at some point, but let's go first to Lucy Turnbull - What did you want to be? Can you beat Pope? 
TURNBULL: Well, certainly not. I'm the wrong gende,r Richard. I could never be Pope. 
GLOVER: You're not optimistic enough about change!
TURNBULL: I don't think that was ever in my aspirations even if the gender problem could be overcome, and being educated in the Catholic system, I gave that a very low level of probability. No, when I was fourteen I desperately wanted to join Foreign Affairs and be a diplomat. There you go. That never happened. 
GLOVER: Well, other things did. Tanya Plibersek, what did you want to be when you were fourteen? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, I wanted to be a social worker or a journalist when I was fourteen. But I think back to the main point here, I don't think anybody who knows Christopher or considers him a friend as I do, would be at all surprised that he was planning on something with a bit of theatre and spectacle involved. I thought his choice of the name - Innocent XIV was very interesting and wouldn't have been the one I would pick for Christopher. 
GLOVER: I think, without being mean you could use the word unlikely.
PLIBERSEK: But I did notice when I looked back at some of the previous Innocents, that Innocent X was renowned as a very canny politician as well. So, he apparently, as well as been quite a conservative Pope, he extended the influence of the Vatican quite considerably with his canniness. So, perhaps Christopher was right to pick Innocent.
GLOVER: Christopher, we have two problems. One is the ambition itself. The other is the name. 
TURNBULL: But you would have been a really good Pope Christopher. I'm not sure the name would have worked. 
PYNE: Yes, well from memory, I think Innocent X was Lorenzo De' Medici. But I could be correct - a great Renaissance Pope. Well, the problem with the name, of course, was the choices that I rather liked were Innocent, Urban and Clement because they were great Renaissance and counter-reformation Popes. But I didn't have a vocation - that was the crucial problem, but I had read a book called 'The Cardinal' which I thought was a manual and I thought yeah, I could probably do that, I'll get to that conclave and I'll be unstoppable. Of course, when I told the Jesuits about this vocation, they were most surprised and said well, of course, Jesuits can't be the Pope. So I dropped the idea like a hot potato. 
GLOVER: That's not that's not right though. Is it? 
PYNE: Well, of course, I've been I was I was fooled because Pope Francis is a Jesuit. So the world was robbed of my papacy. 
GLOVER: Well, politics’ loss with Catholicism's gain or vice versa, I don't know which one.
PYNE: It would have been a glittering reign, I can tell you.
GLOVER: Thank you very we're out of time. But, thank you very much to Christopher Pyne, his new memoir is out, it's called 'The Insider'. Former Minister for Defence and a long time feature of Parliament House in Canberra. Lucy Turnbull, former Chief Commissioner the Greater Sydney Commission. Lucy, thank you very much.
TURNBULL: It's a pleasure. Thank you very much. 
GLOVER: And Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Education and Training and Member for Sydney. Tanya, thank you very much. 
PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Richard.