By Tanya Plibersek

20 October 2020


SUBJECTS: HSC exams; university fees; affordable childcare.
LAURA JAYES, HOST: 76,000 students in New South Wales will begin their final exams today in what will be an HSC period like no other. Joining me now live is Shadow Minister for Education and Training, Tanya Plibersek. Thank you so much for your time. I really feel for these students today, do they have all the support they need in this very strange 2020 year? 
TANYA PLIBERSEK SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Oh Laura, I feel for them too. It's really been a year from hell for these year 12 kids. They've had their schooling disrupted. A lot of them have been remote learning, depends where you are in the country. Sometimes that's been for a short time, sometimes it's been for many weeks. And of course, they've missed out on all those big rites of passage. A lot of them have missed out on final school assemblies and presentation days and the sporting events and I think formals are back on in most states and territories now, but it's been a very disrupted year. And the last thing these kids need is the legislation that's just passed through the Parliament now which will make it harder and more expensive to go to university next year. 
JAYES: Well just on that legislation, you've been pretty vehemently opposed to it. Does it mean that one of Labor's priorities if it becomes government would be to reverse it?
PLIBERSEK: Well, our priority is always to make it possible for people to go to TAFE or university and get the education they need to get the job of their dreams and that's going to be more important than ever. We're in a recession, one in three young people is looking for a job or looking for more hours of work. We want to make university and TAFE more available and more accessible for those kids who are graduating but also for people, you know later in their careers who've lost their job or changed their job, to upgrade their skills or education so that they can work. Our big focus over coming years has to be on our labour market, getting more people into jobs, making sure those jobs are there, making sure people have the skills and training to do them. Before the COVID recession hit we had skills shortages right across Australia. We were filling them with temporary migration. We can't do that at the moment. You see that with the fruit pickers issue that's become so prominent. But it goes throughout our economy. We need to be training Australians for the jobs that we will see growing as we recover from the recession. Instead it seems Scott Morrison would rather see these young people on the dole than going to uni. 
JAYES: The pandemic surely has changed a lot of thinking on a number of things. Labor, I would say has had a bit of a come-to-Jesus moment on childcare. Can you explain why Labor now wants to support women, who you once deemed to be in the rich category? 
PLIBERSEK: We are making our childcare policies broader. They'll help more families, families will have thousands of dollars more in their pockets. At the end of the week. And it goes back to this problem of the recession. The Australian economy needs a productivity boost. We need to make sure that no one has to say no to a fourth day a week of work, or a fifth day a week of work, because they can't afford the childcare. We know many, many women were doing that and we want more money in their pockets- 
JAYES: This was happening before the recession, so why the change of thinking in Labor?
PLIBERSEK: I think this is an advance on our thinking. We've always wanted to make sure that child care was affordable and available for more families, but it's more critical than ever now in a recession because we don't want anyone saying no to an extra day of work because they can't afford the childcare. It's good for kids. We know that early education helps kids become school ready. It's good for families. Our plan will put thousands of dollars more in their pockets. It's also good for the childcare workforce. We know that every million dollars we invest in childcare creates about eight new jobs for women. Those new jobs are critically needed at a time like this. 
JAYES: We say women as well because the reality is that most women are the ones deciding whether or not to go back to work because it's the male in the household who's still the dominant breadwinner, that is changing. I take their Prime Ministers point yesterday, the pay gap is closing but perhaps not fast enough. Childcare, as you know is a hugely profitable sector. How do you make sure that centres don't put profits over affordability and quality, if you are going to up the subsidy?
PLIBERSEK: I think that's a really, really important point here because we're talking about more than $6 billion extra government investment over the first few years of this program. We don't want that to go straight into profits for childcare centre operators. We want it to go into the pockets of working families. So we're asking both the ACCC and the Productivity Commission to look at this issue. The ACCC in the first instance to make sure there isn't price gouging, that the system is working effectively and that the money is flowing through to families. And longer term, we're asking the Productivity Commission to make sure that the design of the system is fit for purpose. So that government investment goes into making childcare more affordable, making sure that we've got the workforce that we need to deliver this absolutely vital service for families. 
JAYES: The productivity gains, the ACCC point is really important, but aren't the productivity gains obvious? Why are you pushing out the, I guess more generous part of your scheme till after a report in a couple of years? 
PLIBERSEK: Because what we don't want to do is put billions of dollars of taxpayers money on the table and see that disappear straight into profits. We need to make sure that this money flows into the pockets of working families and there will be, as you say, productivity gains that are enormous. On one measure a $10 billion increase in our economic activity, as we allow more women to work the hours they want to work without being penalised by actually losing money by doing extra days of work every week. I keep saying women, of course, there are men in the same situation as well. But we know that predominantly in Australia today, it's still women that are giving up those extra days of work every week and what that means is that they're earning less every week. It means the family’s got less money, they're struggling with their mortgage payments, they're not creating jobs for other people. But it also means that women are retiring poorer, this is a long-term benefit- 
JAYES: Would you ever make it tax deductible? 
PLIBERSEK: We've examined tax deductibility more than once over the years Laura and what we found is that it's not the most efficient way of spending the money to make it more affordable. I'm not closed-minded to it. I think that there are things that we can do through workplaces, we've looked at workplace based childcare in the past and so on. I just think we need to make sure that every dollar gives us our maximum bang for the buck.
JAYES: Is that something you could have the Productivity Commission examined as well?
PLIBERSEK: I'm not sure, we could absolutely ask Amanda Rishworth next time she's on your program, who’s our childcare spokesperson. But you know, it has been examined in the past and there are always proponents for it. What we need to make sure of, is that families are getting more money in their pockets and the program that we're suggesting at the moment puts thousands of dollars extra money into people's pockets. Every week, it's good for them. It's good for the economy and drives confidence and demand in the rest of the economy. And it's good for the extra childcare workers who'll get a job from expanding the services. 
JAYES: Perhaps I should have declared my interest in that, given I'm just back from maternity leave at the beginning of the interview, but I'm doing that now. 
PLIBERSEK: Laura, can I congratulate you - this is the first time you've interviewed me since coming back. It's a lovely, beautiful thing to celebrate, congratulations. 
JAYES: I’m not alone. Thanks so much. I appreciate it.