By Tanya Plibersek

29 September 2021



SUBJECTS: Wage subsidies; Reopening NSW; Students returning to school; Cross-border travel.
Joining me live now is the Shadow Minister for Education and Women, Tanya Plibersek. Good to see you. What do you think of today's announcement? Is it the right time? 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION & SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Good morning Laura. Look, I think it's obvious to everyone that payments can't go on forever, but we are worried about some parts of Australia, some locations, and also some industries. Even at 80 per cent vaccination rates, there will still be restrictions in the economy and we don't want to see supports withdrawn from those areas too quickly. We believe a couple hundred thousand jobs were lost after JobKeeper was withdrawn too quickly. We don't want to see that again. We need to keep strong employment in our community for the individuals that it impacts but also for confidence and demand in the economy. So a little bit of common sense I think is called for, and of course if we hadn't spent $13 billion of taxpayer subsidies to companies whose profits went up during the Covid crisis, then we'd have more to help with the sort of mum and dad small businesses in western Sydney that are going to keep doing it tough for a while. 

JAYES: So do you think that money should have been redistributed to those mum and dad businesses to - when til? Til the end of the year? To well into next year?

PLIBERSEK: Well, just a bit of common sense. Labor is very supportive of JobKeeper. It was our idea to have wage subsidies, but what we're not supportive of is the way the Government has rolled it out. So the companies that had record profits were able still to get JobKeeper, even though there was no danger they were laying off staff. Some companies have used it for big fat executive bonuses, some have sent money to overseas shareholders, despite the fact they've had record profits. And what's even weirder about this, of course is the Government pulling out all stops to prevent publication of the detail of even who got the subsidy in some instances. I think that it's a good idea rolled out extremely badly, when you've got billions of dollars of hard-earned taxpayer support going out the door to companies that never needed it.

JAYES: But aren't we forgetting that this was a crisis and this money, while supporting individuals and businesses, was also rolled out to stimulate the economy? We know from the GFC, when you roll out payments, they're not perfect. They weren't perfect and they're not perfect now. Do you accept that? 

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think if during the GFC we had wasted $13 billion giving subsidies to companies who didn't need it -

JAYES: You sent cheques to dead people.

PLIBERSEK: You'd hear the Liberals screaming. I think Laura it is incomparable, absolutely incomparable. To have one or two errors like that compared with $13 billion worth of waste is really not comparable at all. And I think it's worth saying that the design of this, where companies were asked to forecast whether they'd have a revenue drop, they could claim money based on a forecast and if the forecast didn't come true, there was no onus on them to repay that money. That is a big fat design flaw where hard-earned tax payers’ money is going to pay overseas shareholders of luxury brands, going to buy new mansions for company executives getting multi-million dollar bonuses. That's just not right. That's not how this money should have been spent. When you’re sending cheques to overseas shareholders, that's not stimulus for the Australian economy. 

JAYES: Well, let's look at where we are now and things are looking a little bit more positive in New South Wales. Vaccination rates are up right around the country, some states are lagging of course. So when we get to reopening, it’s really difficult for businesses at the moment because, at least for seven weeks, they're going to have to police the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. What should be done there to take that burden off those businesses?
PLIBERSEK: I think it is very, very hard. Particularly for small businesses that want to welcome back vaccinated staff, having to have someone checking the status of people walking through the front door, it is tough to ask that of every business. But I know as a consumer, I will be looking for businesses that can assure me that I'm dealing with vaccinated staff and that the other customers are vaccinated as well. So during this period I think that inconvenience is real. We shouldn't ignore it. But it is, we hope, a sort of transition to a future where higher numbers, the vast majority of Australians take up the opportunity of being vaccinated. Whatever help, whatever certainty the Government could give - 
JAYES: So you don't think governments should offer protection - yeah right okay sorry to interrupt you, I was getting to that. So what can the Government actually do here? 
PLIBERSEK: I think the real problem is Scott Morrison's gone missing in action on this. It would be really great if there was a strong message from the Prime Minister saying that businesses that are trying to protect their staff and trying to protect their other customers by asking to see vaccination status will get the backing of their Prime Minister. And I don't think that message is out there nearly strongly enough.
JAYES: Okay what are you most looking forward to - kids are going back to school on the 25th of October, I believe it is. Does that line up with businesses and mums and dads being able to get back to work as well?
PLIBERSEK: Look it doesn't exactly line up. And I think it's probably up to the New South Wales government to explain why businesses are able to reopen in some cases before schools are going back, but I don't want to be too critical of the plans for returning kids because gee teachers and school staff have done such a magnificent job of supporting remote learning. And so have parents, so have the parents and carers, and I think in a lot of cases, grandparents have been invited in to help listen to reading and help with maths lessons remotely over the Zoom. We have as a community done a great job in really difficult circumstances. I would like to understand why it is that pubs and restaurants and so on can open up before schools can. But I don't want to, you know, I don't want to be too critical of that. It's been a tough time. The kids are desperate to see their friends again, I think not only is their learning suffering but their social and emotional wellbeing is really taking a toll. And let's face it, parents are going back to work. Even the ones who've been able to supervise remote learning. A lot of them will be returning to work before schools open up. Not quite sure how that's going to work, it's a bit confusing. 
JAYES: Yeah, it is certainly another problem on the horizon. Before we let you go can I ask you about Queensland. A lot of people in New South Wales and Victoria have family members in Queensland that they haven't seen for months. We're talking about babies being born, weddings going ahead and people unable to visit or unable to attend. Now Annastacia Pałaszczuk isn't really giving those people a timeline as to when she'll open her borders. What should happen there?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think as vaccination rates increase the interstate borders should open, and in the meanwhile there needs to be a common sense approach where if people have pressing reasons to visit a more case-by-case approach needs to be taken. I have heard some really tough stories about people, as you say, who have got family members who are sick, in some cases very sick, who are struggling to get to see them. We need to take a compassionate and a common sense approach. And meanwhile for the for the love of God, get vaccinated. I mean the fastest way to get back to something that looks like normal life for all of us is for people to roll their sleeves up and get vaccinated. And while Queenslanders have low case numbers this is exactly the time that people in Queensland should be getting vaccinated as soon as they have the chance, as soon as there's a vaccine available for them, because that's the best way to be reunited with the people you love. 
JAYES: We just haven't seen that compassion that you're talking about though. And I think the media have published stories that have got some action, but many people have been pleading for compassion for more than six months now, and it hasn't happened. 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, in some cases we've seen it, and in other cases I've been shocked by the noes that people have got and frustrated that we haven't been able to help those individuals more because for them it's a big deal to be separated from someone they love at a difficult time. So I do want to see that cross-border travel available to more people as quickly as possible. And I can't say it often enough, the fastest way to make sure that's happening is for people to get vaccinated. 
JAYES: I mean, that's leadership though. Isn't it? Annastacia Pałaszczuk has the power to do it, and she just hasn't.
PLIBERSEK: Well, you're focused on Queensland, but travel restrictions are there for Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and as Premiers of states where case numbers are zero or very low and you're looking at New South Wales and Victoria where they've been bumping along just under a thousand, just over a thousand, of course they are worried about what happens if they let the Delta variant rip in their state. You see the lockdowns, the very harsh lockdowns, we've had in Sydney and Melbourne - I don't blame people saying we don't want that in Brisbane or Perth or Adelaide or Hobart. I don't blame them for that, it's just it can't go on forever. We need the plan for getting back to normal. 

JAYES: We certainly do. We'll have to leave it there Tanya Plibersek. See you soon. 

PLIBERSEK: Always a pleasure Laura.