By Tanya Plibersek

24 November 2021




SUBJECTS: Religious freedoms bill; Reopening borders; Peter Dutton politicising national security; Labor’s plan for women’s safety.

LAURA JAYES, HOST: Let's go back to Canberra now and joining me live is the Shadow Minister for Women and Education, Tanya Plibersek. Thanks so much for your time. I note that Anthony Albanese has just made an important announcement about women. But first, can I ask you about what the Parliament is meant to be considering this week - apparently the religious freedom Bill, but you haven't seen any legislation. Does Labor support it in principle anyway?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINSITER FOR EDUCATION AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Well, of course we support religious freedom in principle. No one should be discriminated against for their religious beliefs or their religious practice. It is a basic human right that you've got a right to practice your religion. And we've only just received the legislation. Of course, we'll be examining that closely. It's likely to go off to a Parliamentary inquiry so that people will be able to make submissions to that inquiry about the details of the legislation. But in principle, we don't support religious discrimination just as we don't support discrimination on other grounds.
JAYES: This has been significantly watered-down. It is there to also protect students and teachers, you couldn't discriminate on the grounds of someone being gay for example, that's how I understand the bill, is that your view of it too?
PLIBERSEK: I saw the Education Minister say that on your program recently, and the Attorney General has also said that, but I think it's important that we take the time to examine the legislation properly and make sure that those protections, particularly for students, are still there. I mean, we did have the Prime Minister say in 2018 that he was going to clarify that students couldn't be expelled from school for example, but we haven't really seen much action or any action on that since that announcement was made. So we're going to take the time, have a look at this legislation closely, listen to people in the community about their analysis of the legislation. We’ll do that in a proper and methodical way.
JAYES: Okay, let's talk Queensland. It's all getting a bit ridiculous isn't it? Are you clear on how you can get into Queensland if you want to, once that double dose milestone is reached?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I'm clear that I want to go to Queensland because it's been too long since I've been there and I'm really looking forward to getting back up to Queensland and campaigning on the ground with the fantastic candidates we've got up there. Look, I just think all these things need to, we just need to take a bit of a common-sense approach and I believe that this morning the announcement has been made that as long as you've got your average sort of COVID test you'll be okay to get in.
JAYES: The Government seems to think there's something coordinated going on with federal Labor and the Labor states is there?
PLIBERSEK: Honestly, I don't need a phone call from a Labor Premier to tell me that Scott Morrison did a bad job on the vaccine rollout and quarantine, and that he’s vacated the field. And in fact, I've said to you Laura more than once, thank goodness for the state Premiers - Labor and Liberal. Australians have been fantastic in response to the Covid crisis, we've got very high vaccination rates across most of the Australian community and by comparison with the international situation we've had low death rates. Because we have looked after each other. We've been disciplined, we've been kind. We've gone out and got vaccinated, we've worn our masks. We've done the right thing. And it's been the state governments, Liberal and Labor who've been running the hospital system and doing the heavy lifting during this pandemic.
JAYES: As you and I have both noted though, there has been some unkind decisions made when it comes to compassionate exemptions on the borders. How do you make up for that? How do state Premiers wind that back because that really has damaged some families.
PLIBERSEK: It has been really hard. And in fact I've had in my office people very upset when they haven't been able to travel, either overseas or interstate, for important family reasons, and I think it has been really distressing in some cases. I accept that. I think right now as we get back on this track to something more like normal, that we still have the opportunity where border restrictions are in place to take a compassionate approach, to take a case-by-case approach, where that's warranted. I think we should that.
JAYES: Yeah, let's talk China now. Penny Wong and Peter Dutton aren't exactly exchanging pleasantries over China at the moment. Isn't this just playing into China's hands?
PLIBERSEK: Yes, and that's why it's so irresponsible that Peter Dutton wants to weaponise Australia's foreign policy in a domestic election campaign. And what's even worse, is it seems like he's not even just doing it for the election campaign, that there's internal ructions inside the Liberal Party. People are worried about Scott Morrison's performance, Peter Dutton is burnishing his leadership credentials and he wants to come across as a big tough man in an internal Liberal leadership contest. It is so irresponsible. Labor always seeks to be bipartisan on issues of National Security and our foreign policy, and I think it's beyond, it's beyond childish to see Peter Dutton trying to use foreign policy as a domestic political weapon.
JAYES: So is it that you don't disagree with him in terms of China's threat, but you'd rather him just not say it?
PLIBERSEK: I'm not going to start getting into hypotheticals about our foreign policy. We have a strong, good relationship with the United States, with the United Kingdom. We see in the AUKUS arrangements that being taken a step further. Labor has been very supportive of that. We also recognize that China continues to be a very important partner for Australia, particularly for our export markets. The Australian economy is very much tied up with China's success. We also know that we need to strengthen our relations with other ASEAN countries in particular, other countries in our region. We are a major Pacific power, we have to step up our relations with our Pacific neighbours. India, again, another really important partner for Australia. We have to improve our relationships, continue to improve our relationships there. This is not you know, it's not an opportunity for Peter Dutton to be going around making a big man of himself.
JAYES: Labor, on another issue, has just promised to elevate women's safety to a national priority, how you're going to do that?
PLIBERSEK: Well, we know that too many Australian women face domestic violence at home. One woman is killed every week, on average, in Australia. And quite often people say, why didn't she leave? And the real question is, where would she go? About half of women who approach a women's refuge every night are turned away, and Labor has a plan to make sure women have a place to go and someone to help them. We already announced some time ago our plan to spend $100 million building more emergency accommodation, 4,000 new homes for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Today, we've announced the component that goes to someone to help. We've said 500 new community workers should be employed across the country, half of them in regional areas, to make sure there is someone there to help. So women will have a place to go and someone to help them. We've also announced a new Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Commissioner to make sure that when we have our next national plan on violence against women and their children, there is a strong body to hold government and other levels of government accountable for progress in this area.
JAYES: A Liberal Insider told me quote, that ‘the government has a diabolical problem with women’. Would you say that's about right? And is it a vote changer in your view?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think Australian women who marched for justice not so long ago were saying very clearly that they are angry at this government. They're angry about the recent issues, the terrible handling of Brittany Higgins' experiences here in Parliament House, the disrespect shown to Australian of the Year Grace Tame. But also throughout the time of this government we have slipped to 50th in the world for women's equality. Australia has slipped to 50th in the world. We've seen cuts to childcare, cuts to Medicare, cuts to schools. We've seen a government that wanted to make women drain their own superannuation if they were fleeing a violent relationship. It's no wonder that Australian women are angry at this government.
JAYES: Okay. We'll see you in Question Time Tanya Plibersek. Thanks so much.
PLIBERSEK: Thanks, Laura.