By Tanya Plibersek

10 October 2021



SUBJECTS: BCA announcement on emissions; Glasgow Climate Conference; Students returning to school; Support for Year 12 students; National Anti-Corruption Commission.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Joining me now is the federal Shadow Minister for Education, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining me this Sunday morning. Lots to talk about, I do want to get your thoughts on the climate issue as well. But first one of the big appointments as well this week, some of our viewers interstate might not be aware, your husband Michael Coutts-Trotter appointed to be the top public servant, number one in New South Wales with Dominic Perrottet. Were you surprised by that?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Well, I'm not surprised because he's a highly skilled person, very good at his job. He's served Labor and Liberal governments as an apolitical public servant for many years and he's done it with diligence, he's done it with courtesy to the people around him, he's very committed to it. More importantly to me, of course, he’s a very good husband and father, and as long as he keeps up his share of the work at home, we'll be fine.
GILBERT: Well that's a fair comment, I think. But how do you balance your political ambitions with such a senior role that he has with a Liberal government at the moment?
PLIBERSEK: We've managed up til now. We've managed up til now and I'm sure we'll keep working together to make sure our kids and our family are okay, that we're looking after each other. What he does at work, what I do at work, that's at work. That stays at work. 
GILBERT: Let's look at the climate issue now. The BCA, were you surprised by their commitment yesterday? They represent some of the biggest emitters in the country - BHP, Rio Tinto. Last election they said that 45 per cent emissions reduction would be economy wrecking. Now, they're backing in a 46 to 50 per cent reduction. What do you make of that?
PLIBERSEK: Well better late than never I guess. Yeah, look it's fantastic that we now have every state and territory, all the major business groups agreeing with Labor that you can reduce emissions, grow jobs and grow the economy. This is so important for Australia's future because we know that solar is now the cheapest form of electricity in human history. With cheaper, cleaner energy we can grow jobs, grow jobs in manufacturing, in retail, in other areas of the economy that are energy intensive. We know that by investing in renewable energy we bring down the cost of power for households and for businesses and that has an economic dividend. There's a reason that one in four Australian homes now have solar panels on their roofs. It's not because they're all mad greenies, it's because they have worked out the benefits of cheaper energy for their families. The same is true of our business community. They have worked out that there are economic opportunities in reducing emissions and reducing the cost of power and that comes with greater investment in renewables. 
GILBERT: So will you commit to the same targets? Now you've got the New South Wales Coalition Government committing to 50 per cent. You've got BCA, the Business Council of Australia, not the trade union movement, not the Greens, this is the BCA. Surely Labor's got to go to somewhere around that too doesn't it? 50 per cent?
PLIBERSEK: Well we've made very clear our 2050 targets and we're sticking to our 2050 targets, and interim targets we will make clear before the next election. We are looking very closely at what happens in Glasgow obviously. This is an opportunity for the world to do something really significant to bring down pollution but also invest in a clean energy future that brings with it prosperity and jobs. 
GILBERT: Should the PM go to Glasgow?
PLIBERSEK: Look, it's pretty extraordinary not to take the opportunity to be at the table when these huge decisions are being made. They have a huge effect on Australia and our future, and it would be, it makes sense to me that Australia would be represented at the highest level at something like this. 
GILBERT: Now to schools and the returning of kids to classroom. Such a relief I think for families, for kids themselves to get back face to face with their mates, as you wrote in The Daily Telegraph last week that they've missed a lot. They've missed a great deal. Should they have to wear masks, primary school kids?
PLIBERSEK: Look I think it's good for the kids who can, the older kids in particular, to wear masks. Masks are important where it's possible, ventilation is very important. We see that the Victorian Government has invested big time in high quality air filters for classrooms. I know the New South Wales Government has done a review of ventilation in classrooms, but it's not really clear that they've invested in the same way in the air filters so it would be good to have some answers around that. Obviously vaccination for the groups that are eligible, teachers and school staff, but also those older children, the teenagers 12 to 15 year olds. We'd like to know what the plans are for vaccinating younger children in the future, there are vaccines that might be appropriate for younger children as well. All of these questions really do demand answers and we'd like to see a little bit more information from the Prime Minister on this. It is very concerning for parents, we are super keen to get our kids back in the classroom but we want to make sure that they'll be healthy when they are. And the other thing we need to look at really significantly, Kieran, is what have they missed out on and how do we help them catch up? And that applies to their academic work, it also applies to the stress that these kids have suffered. I mean, in Victoria and New South Wales in particular, they have missed out on so much. We know that their social and emotional welfare has been compromised.
GILBERT: How do you achieve that catch up? What's your idea? I mean, not everyone can afford to have tutors and that sort of stuff to get their kids back on track, but what's your thinking on that to have some equity across the board? 
PLIBERSEK: Yes well I really think the federal government should be helping with the cost of small group and individual tutoring, where that is needed. We've seen some programs in Victoria and New South Wales with that sort of catch-up tutoring, the federal government really could help supercharge that. We also need support for how the kids have been coping -  so looking at counsellors or other sorts of supports, extra supports, extra school camps, the sort of things that will get kids back on track with their mental health. Looking at, for older kids, making sure that there's a place for them at University or TAFE or help to get a job. And those kids who are finishing Year 12 this year, they've had two years of disrupted learning at the most critical time for those skills formation that would help them get a job. We really need to see extra effort from the from the Commonwealth government, particularly with university places and TAFE.
GILBERT: Was New South Wales right to bring forward schools by week? Did you did you welcome that from Dominic Perrottet, and just going back to that piece that you wrote in The Daily Telegraph, because you said, as you wrote in the in that piece, it's largely a milder illness for younger ones. In that context shouldn't getting kids back in the classroom be our number one, if not number one, right at the top societal priorities?
PLIBERSEK: Look, it is a very important priority for us to get kids back into classrooms, but it has to be done safely. So we need to make sure that under vaccinated groups, if there are groups in the community that are not yet fully vaccinated, that they have the opportunity to catch up. And that would include the teenagers that are eligible, making sure that school staff who are eligible have been fully vaccinated. Making sure all of those things that I was talking about earlier - the ventilation, mask-wearing and so on - that that's under control. But yeah, I can tell you as a parent I've been watching these kids at home, really worrying about not just what's happening with their schoolwork but really what's happening with their friendships and their emotional wellbeing. They're lonely. They're desperate to get back to school to see their mates.
GILBERT: 100 per cent, and some of the 'shadow pandemic' that Pat McGorry has spoken to me about, I'm sure he's spoken to you over recent months, it's heartbreaking. Particularly in Melbourne, we've just got to move on from this as soon as possible for their sake. But just to circle back to where we were at the start, the new Deputy Premier he said, in fact, that masks for little kids is ludicrous. Can you see why some people would think that steps like that would be too much for those aged sort of eight, nine, particularly when they haven't had to wear masks throughout the pandemic thus far?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, look, I think we need to take a common sense approach to it. So we can work through this through with teachers, with parents. Little kids may well find it very difficult. Some will be fine, some might find it difficult. Kids with conditions on the autism spectrum disorder, for example, might also find it very difficult to abide by some of the new requirements. We need to take a sensible, compassionate, thoughtful approach to this and I'm sure it's not beyond us. I'm sure it's not beyond us to do that. 
GILBERT: Finally, on the notion of a federal ICAC. Well, first of all Gladys Berejiklian, you thanked her for her service. Do you think some of your Labor colleagues might raise an eyebrow at your generosity there, given there's a cloud of corruption over her?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I took on this job years ago and decided I wanted to try and do it without becoming a hater, and I think it's important that when we think about the people who sit across from us in the chamber that we consider them our opponents, not our enemies, and I really do think that the people of New South Wales look at Gladys Berejiklian's service during COVID and agree that she worked hard. She did her best for the state. That doesn't excuse her from answering questions before the ICAC. These are two separate issues and she has given evidence in the past, in private and in public. She is now the subject of an investigation and she's quite properly stood aside to face any allegations against her. I don't think that the people of New South Wales have suddenly decided that her hard work during COVID means nothing. 
GILBERT: And finally, the federal ICAC - the Prime Minister says he has concerns about simply replicating the New South Wales model. Can you see why he'd have concerns about that approach federally?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think he doesn't want federal anti-corruption commission with teeth because there are so many dodgy things that have happened on his watch. We've got sports rorts, car park rorts, water buyback, the Leppington Triangle - paying 10 times too much for land - the forged documents, branch stacking. This is a Prime Minister who would introduce a federal ICAC that didn't have the power to receive complaints from anonymous whistleblowers, that couldn't initiate investigations into matters that the Integrity Commission itself wanted to take up, they’d have to wait for the government to say 'Yes, you can investigate that'. It's really the weakest of weak Integrity Commissions, weaker than any Integrity Commission in any state or territory in this country. And many experts have said it's better to have nothing than to have the toothless proposal that's on the table at the moment. Am I surprised that Scott Morrison wants a weak and useless federal Integrity Commission? No, I'm not surprised at all that that's what he's after.
GILBERT: Tanya Plibersek. I appreciate your time. Thank you.
PLIBERSEK: Always a pleasure.