By Tanya Plibersek

09 March 2022




SUBJECTS: NSW and QLD floods; Government response to the floods; Labor’s plan to teach school students about respectful relationships.

LAURA JAYES, HOST: Joining me now is Shadow Minister for Women and Education Tanya Plibersek, who joins me from a very soggy Sydney this morning. Shadow Minister, thanks so much for joining us. Finally, we're going to see this declaration of a National Emergency. Do you think it's too late?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Look, I don't think the federal government has been particularly good in its response to the shocking flooding that we're seeing in Queensland, and in New South Wales. A lot of people on the ground really feel like they've been let down by a response that's been too slow to really catastrophic events. We see in the immediate sort of safety and rescue operations, there's been lots of reports of people waiting too long for the help they need. And when it comes to financial assistance, we've seen the federal government really drop the ball on the way that that financial assistance is getting into people's hands. Obviously, the people who've lost family members, our hearts really go out to them, but in addition to thinking about those people that lost life, we need to be focusing right now on the people who are still struggling, who are in danger as we speak, who have lost their homes, lost their businesses. How do we help them right now? Longer term, we need to be looking at how we rebuild our communities, making sure that they're safer, making sure that we're mitigating against future floods, future fires and droughts too. The Government's got a $4.8 billion fund that it set up three disaster seasons ago that it hasn't touched, it’s gained $800 million as it's been sitting there untouched and unused, when we could have been building flood levees, building culverts, building better drainage. It's inexplicable to me that that money hasn't been used to protect our communities. 

JAYES: Why hasn't that happened? Because, you know, Bridget Mackenzie said “the federal government doesn't operate the bulldozers", the state government's saying, "well, that part of the clean-up is the Federal government", the local councils are buck-passing to Resilience NSW. This has been a constant theme of everyone I've spoken to over the last week. How do you fix that? It's bureaucracy.

PLIBERSEK: It's just maddening and for people who are dragging their ruined lives out of their houses onto the footpath, waiting for the dump trucks to take it away. Having three levels of government complaining about whose responsibility it is, it's just heartbreaking and frustrating. We've got a Prime Minister who should be leading our nation at a time of national emergency, I'd like to see him take a leadership role. 

JAYES: Once in a century floods were talked about 11 years ago in Brisbane. Now, we're seeing it 10 years later in Lismore. It's once every five years in parts of Sydney, just last year they had this kind of flooding. What we're looking at, is this climate change?

PLIBERSEK: Well, every scientist will tell you that natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more extreme, and it is of course it's related to climate change. Now, that's not to say there were never bushfires or floods before. It's about the frequency and the severity of these natural disasters. We absolutely need to be preparing for that change by building our communities so they can be safer in the future, and to have almost $5 billion sitting there unused when we're facing these sorts of catastrophes is absolutely inexplicable. Labor has already said that we would use at least $200 million a year from that fund to build safety into our communities. So that means things like levees and culverts and better drainage and evacuation centres. I mean, it's extraordinary, isn't it? That we have to be thinking about this, where are we going to rebuild so that communities can know where to go in future emergencies like this?

JAYES: So, would you have a purpose-built evacuation centres?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that's something that we need to discuss with communities. A lot of communities have centres that are, you know, the school gymnasium or a local community hall or something that's been used as an evacuation centre in the past. It could be upgrading those facilities. But we know that we need to be using some of that money that's been set aside for emergency and disaster response right now. Because the scale of the devastation we're seeing, it's heartbreaking. Why on earth has the Government failed to use that money to help with the disaster right now and to rebuild in a way that keeps people safer in the future. And Laura, the other example, I mean, there's so many examples of the Government not planning ahead for this sort of stuff, but included in all of the university cuts, we see the flood research centre in Lismore closed down because there wasn't the funding for it. I mean, it's this sort of short-sightedness. Today, of course, what we're focusing on right now is saving lives, saving homes, saving businesses, cleaning up after the deluge. But not to focus on this sort of preparedness, the kind of research we need to help predict and prevent flooding, it just seems so incredibly short-sighted to me. 

JAYES: Indeed. Look, we're going to be speaking to the New South Wales Treasurer, Matt Keenan in just a moment about what support is available. But before I let you go, it's been International Women's Day just yesterday, so let's call it international women's week. You made an announcement yesterday about relationship education in schools. Why is that so important? 

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think Laura, people know the shocking statistics of violence against women. One in three Australian women will experience domestic violence. One in five will experience sexual assault. As someone pointed out to me the other day, it's actually more common for an Australian woman to be a victim of sexual assault than to be a smoker today. It really is quite incredible when you think of it in those terms. Forty percent of Australian women have been sexually harassed at work, not in their lifetimes, but in the last five years alone - two out of every five women, sexually harassed at work. So we need to change the attitudes in the behaviours that lead to these really high rates of violence and that starts with our young kids. It means teaching little kids about how to be good friends, how to share and take turns and not use your fists to solve a problem. It's about talking to our teenagers about what healthy and respectful relationships, making sure that we're dealing really directly with issues around sexual assault and consent, so that our young people understand what healthy sexual relationships look like. Labor would invest $77 million to make sure that our schools across the board are able to teach respectful relationships. Making sure teachers and Principals have the support they need to deliver this really important curriculum.

JAYES: Tanya Plibersek, thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.