By Tanya Plibersek

08 March 2022


SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan to teach students about respect and relationships; Violence against women; Support for flood-affected communities.  
LISA MILLAR, HOST: Shadow Minister for Women and Education, Tanya Plibersek joins us now from Sydney. Good morning, and thanks for coming into the studio. I know that we've been hearing just how absolutely drenched Sydney is at the moment, and I might ask you about that in a minute, but can I talk about this school funding that Labor is announcing. What are you trying to achieve with it?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Well, we saw recently that the national curriculum had been upgraded to put more emphasis on teaching respectful relationships in schools, but that's the kind of high level objective. What we're doing is putting the meat on the bones of how we would do that. So we're saying this $77 million will be used to release teachers from their face to face class obligations to go and learn how to deliver respectful relationships education in schools, it'll be about bringing in outside experts to work with the whole school community, about bringing in outside programs that are evidence-based and tested and proven, to make sure that all schools across Australia can really deliver on this objective of teaching kids from quite a young age about respectful relationships. So, in an age-appropriate way, we can work with quite young kids about better, healthier friendships, taking turns, not snatching, not making your friends play games they don't want to play. And then, of course, as children become teenagers and they're starting to form romantic and sexual relationships, talking more explicitly about issues like consent, like control in relationships. What we want to see is a real change in the prevalence of sexual assault and domestic violence in our community. We've got to change these numbers. 
MILLAR: By chance I was talking to a high school teacher on the weekend in country Queensland who was quite dismayed at the kind of language she heard amongst her teenage classes, and was really quite devastated by it. Do you feel like we've almost lost a generation because we haven't been working hard enough on this?
PLIBERSEK: Well, the statistics are really troubling. We see that violence against women is one of the few areas of crime where the prevalence is actually growing. And we know already today it's more likely that an Australian women will be a victim of sexual assault than she is a smoker. So about one in five Australian women experience sexual assault. One in three experience domestic violence. 40 per cent of women have been sexually harassed in the workplace in the last five years. It's just not good enough. We have to change those numbers. We have to change our legal system, judicial system now to deal with the epidemic of crime that we're seeing. But we also need to change the relationships, to change the attitudes of young people, so that as they grow up they are much less likely to commit these crimes or to accept that violence is a part of interpersonal relationships. We really need to change the dial to make sure that we're seeing less of this. And one of the things that really troubles me, of course, is that so many young people these days are accessing quite violent and degrading pornography from quite an early age. The average first age of seeing pornography in Australia today is about 10 years old. And so if this is the sort of stuff that kids are watching, if they normalise violent and degrading sexual relationships because of exposure to pornography, I think that is troubling and it's bad for us for the future.
MILLAR: There's a couple of other issues I just want to ask you about. Let's talk about these storms, just in the last few minutes the New South Wales Premier on Radio National breakfast has pretty much sort of confirmed that, in will his words, there needs to be an honest assessment once we get through this about the response. That's sort of comes off the back of Andrew Constance saying that things haven't changed much since Black Summer when it comes to responding to disasters like that. Given that this is your home state, you would have been watching this very closely. Where's it gone wrong here? What's needed? What would Labor do?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm an Australian so I've been watching the terrible events in New South Wales and Queensland. Wherever this is happening, it is devastating. And the first thing to say is all Australians are thinking of those families who have lost loved ones and our deepest sympathies and our thoughts go to those families. To those people who've lost their homes, sometimes lost their homes again after previous flood events, lost their businesses, lost farming land - we are thinking of all of them and the first priority has to be getting emergency assistance to those people. It is shocking that so many of them felt like they were completely on their own. So we do have to look at the whole of the response, there will be time to do that. Right now we have to focus on helping people whose need is still extreme. What I would say is we've got a government that set aside $4 billion for emergencies and natural disasters, and instead of spending that money to mitigate the worst impacts of these types of disasters, it's just been sitting there gaining interest. It's gained about $800 million worth of interest and the federal government hasn't spent any of that money. Not on the bushfires, not on these floods. We do have to work methodically and thoughtfully about how to make our communities more resilient because we know that these events are likely to become more frequent and more severe over time.
MILLAR: Well Labor did support the theory and the legislation behind how that money was to be used. So do you think it needs to be looked at that? That it needs to be changed?
PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. We need to be spending some of that fund to make our communities more disaster resilient, and Labor has already said that we would spend at least $200 million a year from that fund to try and better disaster-proof our communities. And look the other thing I'd say is we had, for example, a Flood Research Centre in Lismore run by Southern Cross University - the neglect of Australian universities by the federal government meant that that centre closed down. It is so short-sighted for us not to be working in every possible way we can to make our communities safer from these types of natural disasters. It's also right now, right now we have to focus on making sure that people are physically safe and that they have the financial support they need to get through the next few weeks. 
MILLAR: Alright, Tanya Plibersek, we'll leave it there. Thank you. 
PLIBERSEK: Thank you.