By Tanya Plibersek

11 May 2021



TUESDAY, 11 MAY 2021

SUBJECTS: MorrisonKeeper Budget; Government’s failure on COVID vaccine and quarantine; Aged care; NAPLAN.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Let's go to Canberra now. And joining us live is the Shadow Minister for Women and Education as well, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning, as always. That was an interesting comment from Josh Frydenberg, who said there that the Budget will outline assumptions on when borders can reopen. It's hard to provide certainty in such an uncertain time though. But when would you like to see those borders reopened?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION & SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: It's hard to provide certainty at a time when this Government is so comprehensively failing with the vaccine rollout. And the Prime Minister, just a few weeks ago, was saying that borders would reopen perhaps in July, and people could home quarantine. We were supposed to have six million Australians vaccinated by now. We're nowhere near that target. And that reopening of borders looks a lot further off. In fact, the Prime Minister himself has said more likely 2022. 

So there's a lot of confusion there. And the reason for the confusion is because this Government has failed with the vaccine rollout, and also failed to provide a national quarantine facility - as was recommended to them more than a year ago by their own advisers - former senior public servants saying that the Commonwealth should get involved and build quarantine facilities. It's not like we couldn't predict the fact that there would continue to be outbreaks all around the world. We've got 40,000 Australians stuck overseas desperate to get home. In particular, desperate to get home from India at the moment. 

So this really shows that vaccine and borders have been great failings in the Commonwealth's COVID response. 

STEFANOVIC: Given that - let's say an India - can happen at any time. Would you be more comfortable working on an assumption though that international travel can't really resume, like Simon Birmingham has said, until the second half of next year, would you be more comfortable with that kind of assumption?

PLIBERSEK: We have to follow the medical advice. We have to make sure that we don't overwhelm our health facilities here. But honestly, this would be a lot easier to manage if more than a year ago, when the Government was advised to build surge quarantine facilities outside our capital cities - if they'd taken that advice. We're paying the price now. Australians stuck overseas, thousands of miles away from the people they love, the country that they love, can't get home. Their Government has let them down. And it's not just they’ve let them down in the last week. They've let them down because over the last year they have not planned and worked to bring Australians home, who are desperate to get home.

STEFANOVIC: Overall $53 billion better off is the forecast which has been published this morning. It's not a bad turn around.

PLIBERSEK: Look, any turnaround is welcome. But we've got a trillion dollars of debt and not much to show for it. What we know for certain is that the Budget tonight will be a MorrisonKeeper Budget. It'll be all designed around short-term spending, big dollars, to deal with political problems of the Government's own making. Take aged care for example. Scott Morrison was the Treasurer who cut $1.7 billion from aged care. He was warned at the time that it would it would be catastrophic for the system. It turns out it was catastrophic. We've seen, you know, maggots in wounds, and half of residents malnourished, and staff working in residential aged care desperate to look after people without the hours and the resources to do it properly. That was all predicted. So now the Government's going to fix a political problem of its own making. And what we expect is as usual from this Government - big flashy headline - they'll do really well with the advertising and then it'll be 'T&Cs may apply'. Another example, the centrepiece of last year's Budget was supposed to create almost half a million jobs. A thousand jobs out of that. Almost half a million promised, a thousand created. The difference between promise and delivery from this Government is extraordinary. 

STEFANOVIC: But on aged care, I mean this is not a problem that has emerged in the last couple of years, this has been around for 20, 30 years. So doesn't Labor have to take some blame of the problems as well?

PLIBERSEK: This is the Government in its eighth year, and of course we've always needed to do better on aged care. But the $1.7 billion cut by Scott Morrison when he was Treasurer. we know it made this problem dramatically worse. We know that tens of thousands of people have been waiting for home care for years at a time. People die waiting for the care that they've been promised in their homes. People who work in aged care do fine work. But they will tell you they have never been more under the pump than they have been in recent years. 

STEFANOVIC: The Government has essentially doubled funding for women. Is it enough, how much further would you like to go? 

PLIBERSEK: Honestly, this is a classic example of read the fine print. Any extra support for women and children trying to flee domestic violence is welcome. Just weeks ago, this Government was telling women to drain their own super, to fund their escape. And now what they've done is, it seems, continued a couple of programs that were going to expire and called that increased spending. I mean, again, we've got unprecedented need in our community. Housing in Australia has never been more expensive to buy or rent. The emergency accommodation services in regional communities are telling me that in 30 or 40 years, they have never found it harder to find a place, an emergency place for a woman trying to leave a violent relationship and take a kids with her. Of course any extra help is in the right direction. But this does not go close to touching the sides of what's required in our community. 

STEFANOVIC: Just finally Tanya, on to NAPLAN. It starts today. The teachers’ union believes it should be abolished. What do you think it should happen to it?

PLIBERSEK: I think after 10 years it's worth having a look at whether NAPLAN still serves its purpose. But I absolutely believe that we need a way of making sure that all schools, and all school systems, are teaching kids the basics – that our kids are learning to read, and write, and do maths. I think parents really want to know how their child and their school performs against other schools and other systems, so they can be reassured that their kids are getting the type of education that every Australian child should expect. I understand the concerns of teachers and parents that there's a big gap between when the test’s done and when you get any information that might help kids. We need to look at that. And we need to take the pressure out of this. I mean, parents in particular, and teachers, need to take a chill pill and not put too much pressure on the kids. What I say to my kids is this is just a way of checking that we've taught you everything you need to know, at the age that you're at. So let's not make it high stakes testing. Let's see if we can speed up the gap between when we do the test and when we can usefully use that information to teach our kids. But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think it's important that we know that every school is teaching kids how to read, and write, and do maths. 

STEFANOVIC: Tanya Plibersek, appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us.