By Tanya Plibersek

01 March 2022




SUBJECTS: Ukraine; NSW and QLD floods; Defence spending; Labor’s education commitments. 

ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Joining me now is Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek. Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining us. I guess I first wanted to ask you, as someone of Eastern European descent, does this conflict have a special resonance for you? Does it hit buttons for you and what do you make of the world's reaction to it and the Prime Minister's reaction today?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINSITER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Well, I guess Slovenia, where my parents are from, is still quite a long way from Ukraine, but I think peace-loving people all over the world would feel a great deal of empathy for the people of Ukraine. They're going about their lives building a country, building an economy, building a society, and have experienced the most unprovoked, uncalled for, irrational, illegal hostility from Russia, their much larger neighbour. I think all Australians have a great deal of sympathy and support for the people of Ukraine and stand shoulder to shoulder with them. Labor has supported the Prime Minister's announcement today of further aid for Ukraine. We have asked for more detailed briefings - so far we've got the information that he has made public through press conference and so on - we would like more detailed briefing about the sort of assistance that will be offered and how we'll get to the front line of this conflict.
CLENNELL: And what do you make of that offer to send arms? Jonathan Lee was saying earlier - first time since Vietnam. I guess we're just following the rest of the world here, but it is out of our region. I imagine, if you said even a word opposing it Labor would be leapt on by the Government. But what's your own feeling about how that might expose Australia?
PLIBERSEK: I think it's completely the right thing to do. I think the global community needs to show Russia that this sort of aggression will have serious consequences. It's important for Russia to understand that, it's important for any country considering this type of military aggression to understand that the world will be united. Not just in condemning it with words, but acting with all the force that is available to us, and if that includes supplying weapons as well then so be it. 
CLENNELL: I wanted to ask you about the floods now,  obviously pretty distressing scenes and some good work from our Defence Forces. It's been put to me that flood mitigation strategies might not have been what they should have been in the Northern Rivers and North Coast because there's always opposition from Green-leaning mayors and the like to levies and barriers and that sort of thing. Do you think everything's been being done that could be done around preparing for this sort of disaster?
PLIBERSEK: All right, before we start criticising, let's start by saying that all Australians want to help people who have been affected by these floods. Our sympathies go most particularly to the families of those who've lost their lives. But you see from your own reporters’ excellent work on the ground there, the catastrophic impact of these floods - people's homes, people's businesses, people's farms, public buildings, all underwater. This will be a massive clean-up job. We need to concentrate right now on rescuing people in the first instance and then cleaning up the devastation afterwards. There are things that we believe the Government could do more than they are doing. I remember, I had the Human Services portfolio during the 2011 Brisbane floods and we had people from Centrelink on the ground as quickly as we could making sure that people who were affected could get access to emergency payments to buy nappies for the kids and medicine for themselves. It is important to get emergency assistance into people's hands as quickly as possible and not to be relying on or expecting people to do that online. It's been suggested that people have to get online to get that sort of assistance -  well, that just defies common sense given how difficult it is for people who don't have a computer, don't have a phone, maybe don't have power at the moment. We need to make sure that the just over $4 billion that the Government has set aside for emergency relief during the bushfires is actually spent. The Government set aside more than $4 billion, closer to $5 billion, to help after the bushfires. We haven't seen a single cent of that spent. In fact, that money has been gathering interest to the tune of about $700 million. So, if that money is not spent during the bushfires and at a time of catastrophic flooding like this to help people and help communities, you really have to ask what the Government is thinking. You also mentioned flood mitigation. I think it's incredibly short-sighted that, on this government's watch, the Flood Research Centre at the Lismore Campus of Southern Cross University is actually closed because of cuts to university funding. You see what a difference that kind of research would be making in flood-prone communities at the moment. And the final thing I'd add is in past natural disasters like this, we've sometimes seen insurance companies really not responding well, not responding in the way that people, policyholders, have expected to be helped. I think we will be watching very closely to make sure that that assistance is also provided.
CLENNELL: Indeed, and just a final question, Tanya Plibersek. We saw Simon Birmingham say on Sunday Agenda the other day there will be increased defence spending in the budget. At the last election, a lot more education spending was promised by Labor. As Shadow Education Minister, will that be occurring this time around? Will we see billions more promised for education?
PLIBERSEK: Well, Labor has also said that we want to make sure that Australia is safe, that we invest in the equipment that our Defence Forces need to keep us safe. We've got a government that instead of - the old saying talk quietly and carry a big stick, we've got a government that talks a lot but has left us with a capability gap particularly when it comes to our submarines. So we do want to make sure that we see continued investment to keep Australia safe. And at the same time we've made some very important announcements about education: 465,000 free TAFE places, 20,000 extra university places, cheaper early childhood education and care, cheaper childcare, for 97 per cent of families who are using the childcare system, and we've also said that we'll work with the states and territories to make sure that every school is properly funded over time. We've got $440 million that we've set aside to help our kids bounce back from COVID, that's help with things like school psychologists and so on, but also rebuilding our schools, making sure they've got proper ventilation, covered outdoor learning areas, the sort of school environments that are safer for kids and teachers.
CLENNELL: Sure, but more spending on top? Will there be more big-spending Gonski-type funding that was promised last time, will we see that?
PLIBERSEK: Andrew, we've made really significant investments in education - in TAFE, in universities, in schools, in early childhood. You can't just say, yeah, but what comes next? It's ‘what have the Romans done for us lately?’ These are significant investments and I'm very proud that we've made them. And we don't have to make them at the expense of the defence budget. We also say that it is important that Australia has the capability to defend itself in a world that is changing, in an increasingly hostile world.
CLENNELL: Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much for your time.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Andrew.