By Tanya Plibersek

13 March 2022




SUBJECTS: Kimberley Kitching, Scott Morrison's response to NSW and QLD floods, School funding, Labor's plan to teach school students respect and consent, Cost of living.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Now I'm joined by the Labor frontbencher, Shadow Minister for Education and Women, Tanya Plibersek. It was a shock, as Michael Sukkar said, the news around Kimberley Kitching, but she absolutely made her mark didn't she? In just five and a half years, Tanya.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Absolutely. Kimberley will be really missed. She was a good friend to many of us in the Labor party and my thoughts really are with her husband and family and friends. She made a really big contribution in the time that she was in the Senate and would have gone on to make a very substantial contribution in the future as well. She had a lot of work still ahead of her that she was determined to do. She will be very sadly missed.
GILBERT: There'd been some stressful moments apparently. Bill Shorten said that apparently there'd been some questions over her preselection and so on. Have you got any more information, anything to shed light on that side of things? 
PLIBERSEK: No. No, I'm not going to get into all of that. It's a terribly sad time for Kimberley's family and friends. I think I'll just leave it at that.
GILBERT: Okay, let's look at the National Emergency declared in New South Wales, but not in Queensland. The Prime Minister says he listened to the feedback and acted accordingly, isn't that appropriate?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think what the Queensland Premier was saying is we could have used a hand a couple of weeks ago. And it just blows me away that once again, we're in a position where Scott Morrison is refusing to take responsibility, refusing to be a national leader. He could've declared a National Emergency, he could have done that two weeks ago in Queensland. I was up there about a week and a half ago with my colleague Graham Perrett in his electorate, walking the streets and looking at the water line on houses there. Water had come up above my head. People pulling their lives out onto the footpaths again, only a few years after the last time they had been flooded. Obviously help was needed and obviously it was too late coming. We're still seeing a lot of communities in Northern New South Wales desperate for additional assistance. I think Australians are pretty tired of having a Prime Minister that is never there when you need him, and when he's called out on it, finds someone else to blame every time.
GILBERT: Defence did offer support, it's been revealed this morning in the Sunday Telegraph, on a number of occasions before, at least two occasions before the rain bomb hit, but were rebuffed. So beyond that, what more could the feds do?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think instead of now talking about who should have done what when, the focus needs to be on rebuilding and rebuilding together. And we still have communities next door to each other, where one community is getting emergency payments and the other's not. We've got a situation where New South Wales apparently is in a national disaster and Queensland right across the border is not. This looks chaotic and it's not reassuring for Australians. And taking a step back Kieran, what I would say is we've got a $4.8 billion emergency fund that hasn't seen a single cent spent since it was set up three years ago. So the work that should have been done to build drainage systems, culverts, levees, the work that could have been done to upgrade emergency centres, hasn't been done because this government is incapable of planning for the future.
GILBERT: Let's talk about planning for the future on another front, on schools. The ACT is the only jurisdiction that is hitting the mark set by Gonski as part of that funding plan for a fair funding level, coming up to 10 years ago now. Will Labor, if you win, commit to a Gonski-type funding for schools, if you win in a few months from now?
PLIBERSEK: Yes, we've already said that we would work with the states and territories in future funding agreements to get every child to its fair funding level. At the moment, we have - I'm not going to talk about funding formulas all morning, but you need to know this, this is really important - catholic and independent schools will get to their fair funding level under the funding arrangements that the federal government's set. Public schools never will. Under the formula that the Liberals introduced, public schools will never get to the fair funding level for every student. So instead of what David Gonski originally said, he talked about sector-blind needs-based funding, we don't have that at all. We have, for catholic and independent schools a formula that quite rightly gets every kid to their fair funding level. For public schools, that teach two-thirds of Australian children, they will never get there under this government's formula.
GILBERT: If you become Education Minister and in that context, as you say you don't want to get bogged down by funding models, but something that Andrew spoke to Michael Sukkar about is relevant to you as well, because so many kids have had their education disrupted as you know, as a parent yourself. Do you have a plan for either secondary or primary for I guess a COVID catch up for the education lost which was substantial? 
PLIBERSEK: We absolutely do. Yeah. We've set aside $440 million, about half of that money would go to building. We know that schools would like to upgrade their air conditioning systems, improve ventilation, move some of their learning outdoors. We want to make schools safer for students and school staff to return to. The other half of the money that we've set aside is actually for things like school counsellors, school psychologists, but also things like camps, so that kids can get to know each other again, can improve their mental health and wellbeing. It's been a really tough two years for kids. Sixty percent of parents say they're worried about their kids' mental health and education during COVID. Sixty percent of kids say that they feel like they've fallen behind. We need to help those kids catch up by making our schools safer in a COVID world, and also by helping specifically with those measures like school psychologists and school counsellors. 
GILBERT: Yeah, they've absolutely suffered too much through the pandemic disproportionately. Let's look at this other announcement you made last week along with Anthony Albanese - just under $80 million on consent education. Some of the stats here are just so shocking to even try and get your head around: one in five Australian women experience sexual assault, forty percent sexually harassed in the last five years alone. It's the only area, and you made the point during the week, where this crime rate's going up. All other crime rates are going down. This sounds like it's not just a 12 month, 18 month project here. There needs to be a fundamental shift. How does that happen?
PLIBERSEK: Well, we need to start young. So of course we need to deal with our legal and justice systems to make sure there's fewer rapists walking around the streets. We need to make it easier for people to go to court. It is highly traumatising, if you're a victim of sexual assault, to go through the court process. For many of them, they feel re-traumatized. It's important to make those changes to our laws and justice system now, but we also need to go back to working with kids from quite a young age, in an age-appropriate way, to teach them about what respectful relationships look like. You can start when kids are very little, talking to them about sharing, taking turns, not using their fists to solve problems. There's great programs out there that can set those attitudes early. And then as kids grow into their teens, when they're establishing romantic and sexual relationships, we have to be direct with them. What does consent look like? I say to my own kids, if it's not "hell yeah", then it's no. We have to have those explicit discussions with teenagers because we know that rates of sexual assault continue to climb and, one of the reasons I've got to say, the average first age of viewing pornography in Australia today is 10 years old. These kids are getting their sex education from online pornography that is violent and degrading, and if we're not talking to them about what healthy, respectful relationships look like, then they're getting their information from somewhere else and it's not good. It's not good.
GILBERT: Should governments be taking that up with internet providers as well? Because that is unbelievable.
PLIBERSEK: Well, isn't it interesting that the big internet companies can manage to stop carrying Australian news pretty much overnight, if it doesn't suit them, if it suits their economic interest not to. But apparently, we can't really work out an age bar to stop 10 year olds watching violent and degrading online pornography. I don't know. I really think this is an area where yes, we should be working with the internet companies. But also as parents, as parents in families, as teachers in schools, we need to be talking to our young people about the fact that this isn't real life. This isn't healthy stuff to be watching and it's not the sort of thing that you should bring into your own relationships as an adult.
GILBERT: Absolutely. And just finally before we go, we're almost out of time, but the Treasurer and the Assistant Treasurer warning interest rates will rise. You heard the comments earlier from Michael Sukkar, and the Treasurer said a similar thing. This looks like this is going to be a problem, if the polls are right, that Labor's going to have to manage. It's not an easy thing to grapple with, rates rising and cost-of-living soaring. 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I think there's pretty widespread agreement that rates will rise, it's how much and when that's the question. But even before COVID, this is a government that presided over eight years of flatlining wages and since then we've seen everything go up but people's wages. So cost of petrol is through the roof, cost of housing, cost of groceries - all through the roof. Labor has a plan, first of all to make sure that when companies do well, when businesses are successful, people's wages go up. We have to tackle the very low wages growth we've seen, in fact wages going backwards. We also need to tackle cost of living and in areas like childcare, making childcare cheaper for 86 percent of Australian families, making it cheaper to run a car by reducing the cost of electric vehicles so that people can buy a cheaper EV and have the benefit of the very low running costs of electric vehicles. Saving $275 a year for the average family on their power bill. Labor has a plan to lighten the load on families. Everywhere you go, everyone I'm talking to will tell you that they haven't had a payrise in years. They've seen the purchasing power of their pay packet go backwards. The cost of living is the thing that people raise with me every day when I'm travelling around the country. This is something that Scott Morrison has absolutely failed on because everything is going up, except people's wages. 
GILBERT: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for your time this Sunday. Appreciate it.
PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure.