By Tanya Plibersek

12 August 2020



SUBJECT: Schools; Universities; Aged Care.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Let's bring in the Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya, good morning, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us. So first of all, just want to get your reaction to that outbreak. It's getting very worrying those numbers, up to 22. I think it's about 17 related to that particular cluster. What's your view of that?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Oh, look, I think the Premier is quite right to say that now is not a time for extracurricular activities or any unnecessary large gatherings. I know at my kids’ schools the end-of-year concerts aren't likely to go ahead. It's just been Education Week you can parents haven't been able to visit schools as they normally do. Schools have been sending, you know, videos and communicating with parents in other ways. Parent-teacher nights have mostly been cancelled. We did ours by Zoom. PNC meetings are happening by Zoom. So, I think schools, for the most part, are taking very seriously the, you know, basically minimising contact between students and other adults from outside the school. That protects the adults outside the school, it protects the students, it protects the school staff. We should be very careful to follow the medical advice now because we see how quickly things get out of hand if we don't.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah. I mean, I was going to ask you more broadly speaking how you think the schools are handling the crisis perhaps not just in New South Wales but also in the other states as well.

PLIBERSEK: I think they've done an absolutely amazing job and full credit to the principals, to the teachers, to the other school staff who went virtually overnight in a lot of states to remote learning. It's been tough on kids. It's been tough on parents, but you think about the principals, the teachers, the school staff that have been organising it all. They've done a magnificent job and a lot of them essentially went from a Christmas period, where we had those terrible bushfires, exhausted into a new school year and then very quickly were trying to work in a whole different way. They've done a great job but it's taking its toll on the school staff and it's certainly taking its toll on students. Like, I talked to a lot of students in their final year of school who are going into their HSC in New South Wales or the other, you know, final school exams around the country. They've had the most difficult year and the little kindy kids as well they had, in some places, six weeks of school to get used to their new teacher and their new friends, to start to learn, to read and write and do maths and suddenly school’s off. So, it's been tough and the most disadvantaged kids are the ones who suffer the most. They are falling behind. For every two months of remote learning, they're falling behind by a month. I mean it is a terrible time for them.

STEFANOVIC: Moving on to universities now Tanya and in particular those universities in the regional areas. There appears to be a design flaw in the university overhaul, that's according to the Nats anyway. They say they should be a halt to prices for mental health and social work subjects. What's your reaction to that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, two things. The first is the Nationals aren't the only one pointing out that this is a dog's breakfast of a new policy, that makes it harder and more expensive for people to go to university, at the very time when our unemployment queues are growing by hundreds of thousands of people every month. So, it should be easier and more affordable to go to uni. Instead the government's making it harder and more expensive. Now, the Nationals have pointed out some flaws, you know, they're not the only ones. The universities are pointing out the flaws. The employer groups, the professional associations of social workers, psychologists, scientists are all pointing out that instead of making it easier to study in their disciplines, this package makes it harder and more expensive. But, what's really extraordinary about this is you've got two government ministers fighting it out in public at a time when all we want from the government is that they show leadership. That they tell us that it's okay, we've got this, while these people are unemployed, we’ll help them get the skills and education they need so that their job ready as the economy begins to recover. That's what we want from the government right now. Instead, we've got two senior ministers slogging it out in public, taking their eye off the very important goal in educating our workforce for the jobs that will be available as the economy covers.

STEFANOVIC: So I mean Dan Tehan says that he will consider all feedback as it sort of gets towards final legislation. What more would you want?

PLIBERSEK: Oh, he should go back to the drawing board. Like, honestly, this is a dog's breakfast. The Minister himself, Dan Tehan, got up at the National Press Club and said he wants more people to study science, he wants more people to study psychology. He's made it more expensive for them to do that or he's cut funding to the universities for those subjects, so universities will be offering less places in those subjects. Social work has more than doubled in cost right around Australia. We've got communities on the brink with mental health problems, stress from the bushfires, the drought, now Coronavirus - desperate for that support. He's more than doubled the cost of getting a social work degree. We know there are jobs for social workers. Child protection systems right around Australia desperate for those graduates to work in child protection. Absolutely vital front line work. Why on earth would you make it more expensive to get a qualification where there are jobs waiting for you in the community that desperately need to be done. He should go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. The main problem here is the government is trying to cut funding to universities, at the same time as universities have lost billions of dollars of revenue from international students. And this is the result. On average students will pay more and there will be fewer places at university because of these changes.

STEFANOVIC: Just switching to aged care Tanya. I just want to get your reaction to it. I mean there's been new headlines every day out of Victoria at the moment, but this Royal Commission is serving up a few more. It's spending most of its focus on the issues that Newmarch House a few months ago now. Those problems have extended as we know to Victoria. Now, there's reports today that some elderly patients who had been positive for COVID-19 were turned away from hospitals, they were given sedatives. So, what's your reaction to the goings on there?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's heartbreaking. You look at nursing homes or aged care more generally across the board and I think this is obviously one of the area's that's been hardest hit and seeing what we saw in New South Wales, the Federal Government really ought to have had a plan for aged care across Australia. This was a very predictable area of concern. My mum's 88. My mother-in-law's the same age. She's in a nursing home. My husband and I are beside ourselves worried about our parents, like all Australians are who've got elderly parents, particularly if they're in a nursing home. It's very clear that the Commonwealth Government has responsibility here and it's unbelievable that the planning wasn't done for, you know coming out of New South Wales, for the whole of the rest of the country. The evidence that there was no plan is extraordinary. And what I would say is, you know, Daniel Andrews is getting up every day doing hour-long press conferences, prepared to answer every question, even the very uncomfortable ones and in contrast, we've got a Prime Minister who doesn't want to talk about the Commonwealth government responsibility for aged care, doesn't want to talk about the Ruby Princess, doesn't want to answer questions, wants to cancel Parliament so that we can't interrogate these issues. It's very disappointing and it doesn't give people confidence.

STEFANOVIC: Well, now there's a stoush between him and the feds though over the ADF. I mean, do you have a view on that? I mean, he says the ADF wasn't offered. The Federal government says it was. Do you have an answer there? I mean, it seems as though there was help though.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Well, my view is the last thing people want is governments pointing the finger at each other. They just want to be confident that if they need help, the help will be available. And I suppose the only difference I see is Daniel Andrews is prepared to stand there for an hour a day taking every question from every journalist. And we've got a Federal government and a Prime Minister who doesn't want to take any responsibility even for areas that are very clearly the responsibility of the Commonwealth government, and that in itself is very worrying.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah. Okay. Well, he is doing that though. There's no doubt about that. Tanya Plibersek, good to get your thoughts this morning. Thanks so much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Pete.