By Tanya Plibersek

25 January 2022


SUBJECTS: Labor's plan to help schoolkids bounce back after COVID; Teachers strike; Ukraine; Aboriginal flag. 
LISA MILLAR, HOST: As state governments unveiled back to school plans, federal Labor is today announcing its own plan for schools around the country. Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek joins me now from Sydney. Good morning to you, welcome to News Breakfast.
MILLAR: So, how are your kids feeling about heading back to school?
PLIBERSEK: Well they're not super keen on going back, but it's got nothing to do with COVID it's just that they've been enjoying the holidays I think! But the serious point here is that a lot of parents are worried about their kids. They're worried about the two years of disrupted learning they've had. They don't want to miss too much school, but on the other hand they're worried about whether the kids will be safe when they go back. That's why today we're announcing Labor's $440 million plan to help our kids bounce back from COVID. It includes one element that is about making sure our classrooms are safer, that the air quality is better, money set aside to move kids to outdoor learning, to open up windows that have been painted shut, air filtration systems, upgrading air conditioning and so on. So making sure that our air quality is better for students and school staff. Then there's another element that's about the kids wellbeing and mental health. We know that kids have really copped it over the last two years. They've missed out on all of the really important milestones of growing up: the school sport, the excursions, the sleepovers, 16th birthdays, the school formals. So we've set this money aside to help with their mental health and wellbeing with more school psychologists, school counsellors, but other sort of wellbeing measures as well - so if the school decides that what the kids need to reconnect to school and each other is a sport carnival or a camp, the money would be available for that sort of measure as well.
MILLAR: Do you feel that the state governments haven't done enough to prepare schools to ensure that parents feel that it's safe sending their kids back?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think state governments are doing the best they can to get schools ready for kids to go back safely. I think the real lack here is in national leadership from Scott Morrison. This is something he could have been working on with the states and territories for months now. It's no surprise that school was going back, and what we've seen from the federal government is, as usual, lots of fine words but no effort. They just look to the states to do all of this on their own. School funding has always been a shared responsibility and it would be great to have a Prime Minister who was as interested in making sure that kids can go back to school safely as their parents are. Their parents are beside themselves.
MILLAR: It is a balance, isn't it for you? You’re trying to alert people to what you feel is the missing gaps, but you don't want to alarm parents. Surely this is difficult.
PLIBERSEK: I think that parents are already worried. In a lot of cases they've been trying to get the younger children vaccinated and the pediatric vaccines haven't been available. Parents have been running around all over town trying to make sure they've got enough rapid antigen tests at home. They've really struggled to get the supplies of rapid antigen tests. So parents have been stressed. And over the last two years they've watched their kids really suffer during this time. A lot of parents have seen their kids become withdrawn, miss out on all of the milestones that we look back on so fondly about our own time at school. And so we're saying that we believe that the Commonwealth government, a Labor government if elected, should work hand-in-hand with parents, with schools, and with states and territories to make sure that our kids bounce back from COVID, that they're back on track with their learning and they also get the help they need to reconnect to their friends and make sure that they want to be at school. That they're happy when they're there. 
MILLAR: Teachers are threatening to strike in South Australia on the first day back. What kind of impact do you think that's going to have?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I've got to say, teachers are really some of the heroes of this pandemic. They have been asked to move, almost overnight, to delivering online learning, remote learning. They've been asked to walk back into classrooms with kids, in many cases, who are unvaccinated. It is a tough time for school staff as well.
MILLAR: Is it the right time to strike?
PLIBERSEK: I'm not going to comment on that because I'm not in the business of criticising school staff at a time like this. They've been dealing with enormous stress over the last two years, as parents have, as students have, and I think it's important that state governments work with the teaching profession to make sure that school staff also feel safe returning to school.
MILLAR: We've been following the story in Ukraine, Australians are being told to leave. How involved do you think Australia should become in this situation?
PLIBERSEK: Look, it's a very difficult time for Ukraine and it's a very difficult time for Australians of Ukrainian descent as well, and my thoughts are with them. I think it's very important that the Government say what more Australia is prepared to do to support the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. Labor obviously supports the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine and we want to work closely with the Morrison Government to make sure that that message is sent loud and clear. At a time like this, in an election year, it's important that we do this in a bipartisan way. That the Government keep us up-to-date in any measures that they're considering taking, and we would seek to work cooperatively with them. These things are too big for domestic politics. This is a very substantial issue in Europe at the moment and could have global implications, and we want to be working with the Morrison Government to make sure that Australia makes the best decisions to show that we want to see the continued safety and sovereignty sovereignty of Ukraine
MILLAR: And overnight we heard about the move with the Aboriginal flag, that it would now be free for all use. What's your thoughts on that?
PLIBERSEK: I think that's a wonderful step forward. I think many people were very surprised to know that the Aboriginal flag was copyrighted, not like the other Australian flags. I think the fact that this Aboriginal flag, such an important symbol for Australia, will now be treated in the same way as other Australian flags and be shown the same respect as other Australian flags is a great step forward.
MILLAR: Tanya Plibersek, I'm so glad we got that interview in just before that plane flew overhead. Have a good day. Thank you.
PLIBERSEK: Thanks so much.