By Tanya Plibersek

15 July 2021




SUBJECTS: Victorian lockdown; remote learning; companies offering ceremonial and cultural leave.

CHRIS SMITH, HOST: Let's go to Alan’s panel. I'm outnumbered now. We're joined by two very influential political women, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who’s done outstanding work in her role as a New South Wales Senator for the Liberal Party, and Tanya Plibersek, the Labor MP for Sydney and a force to be reckoned with - as we know. Ladies welcome along



SMITH: Good to have you with us. Has the Andrews Government jumped the gun again, Concetta?

FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Look what we don't want to see is lockdowns being a default position and I have to say Chris that increasingly people are getting fed up. At the beginning, I think they were prepared to understand and comply, and get the apps, and comply with the lockdown provisions, but they've seen Draconian measures put in place, their liberties removed - often in the absence of discussion by parliaments, both federal and state, and I think they are just fed up. as you said earlier, in the end, businesses are not going to be able to cope - this stop and start will mean that in the end, businesses will be lost, livelihoods will be lost, jobs will be lost and the consequent mental stress, Chris. In the end, we are going to see the Australian public blaming and looking for somebody to blame and they're going to blame the politicians.

SMITH: Tanya, 18 cases. Now, I saw the explanation today at the press conference. It was Geelong game. It was at the MCG so there might have been members of the MCG that went back to Geelong. Don't you just circle Geelong and circle the metro area, circle the hot spots, than shutting down places like Mildura and the snowy regions of Eastern Victoria. It seems to me to be totally disproportionate. 

PLIBERSEK: Well, Chris I think the Victorian government is hoping to open up some of those areas sooner than five days, but basically, I'd rather lock down for five days, get on top of it, than let Coronavirus rip and end up locked down like we are in Sydney for four weeks or goodness knows how long. Better a short, sharp-

SMITH: You reckon go in this hard, this early? 18 cases.

PLIBERSEK: It's not for me to decide that it's for the medical advisers in the Victorian government to decide it. But if I had a choice between a short, sharp lockdown and a month or longer like we're facing in Sydney, I know what my choice would be. 

SMITH: All right, well I tell you who I'm most concerned about - not just business - and I've said enough about that on the program tonight, but I'm worried about final year school students. My daughter went through it last year. Sadly, when both parents work, kids don't have the skills to discipline or teach themselves as we think they should have. They’re anxious as hell just having to face the HSC or the VCE. At the end of the day Concetta, couldn't we get an empty school, because most of the most of them are empty right now, and socially distance year 12 so that they can study, do trials, prepare for their exams?

FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Chris I think that children and students, the long-term impacts on them are yet to be fully determined and I think that that's going to be a real issue. In fact I saw recently there was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that actually referred to some studies that have been done, where lockdowns do more harm to children than the virus itself. And it was interesting to see some statistics by the Murdoch Children Research study that school closing should only be as a last resort, and also this interesting statistic, Chris, The Royal Children's Hospital poll, did a poll on last year's Victorian lockdown, 50 per cent of Victorian children suffered deteriorating mental health while they were away from school last year, so that I think is the portent of things to come. 

SMITH: I saw a report today that said that something like 2,000 kids in New South. Wales didn't even get to their HSC exams because they deemed it to be a waste of time. Tanya, if you went to your school, there's plenty of room for Year 12s, isn't there? 

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, look obviously it’s good to get kids back to face-to-face learning as soon as it's safe to do that, but I've got to pay full credit to the teachers and the school staff who've moved kids so quickly on to remote learning. They are just doing an amazing job, Chris. The last email we got on Monday night before school went back on Tuesday morning for my youngest came at 1.28 a.m. in the morning on Tuesday morning. Like these people have been flogging themselves so that our kids aren't let down. And I did notice that the federal government in October last year put aside a few million dollars to help kids who are falling behind catch up after the first lot of lockdowns, last figures I saw on that they've spent 4 per cent of that money, so it'd be good to see some of that money actually flow to helping kids who've fallen behind and it’s the littlies, the ones who started school and it's the ones who are graduating this year that I'm most concerned about. It's their school work, but it's also the social interaction, particularly for the teenagers, they're going stir crazy.

SMITH: They sure are, they sure are. My other son is 16 and he is too. Now this story about Indigenous workers receiving days off for ceremonial or cultural leave. I did this on Sunday, on my Sunday night show. It involved staff at KPMG, it's now being done at AGL and we’re now hearing that have been done at Sydney University. Really Concetta?

FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, I have to say that the comments that Jacinta Price has said - that basically there shouldn't be exceptions made for any group in Australia - I think are absolutely accurate and particularly in a multicultural society like we have, if everybody started to take leave for every day or every important event in their heritage, then I think that that would be a real issue. I think we should all be treated equally and people do have leave and if they choose to take leave, they can do so for whatever reasons that they want. But it's part of their annual leave.

SMITH: A quick comment Tanya. Where does this end? 

PLIBERSEK: Why are we even talking about it? Chris, a minute ago you talking about businesses closing down because of the lockdowns, laying off staff. I mean, that's really where my concern is at the moment. I’ve got  businesses in my electorate that don't know whether they'll survive this lockdown. They don't know whether they can keep their staff on. That's what I'm concerned about. And what private businesses do in order to attract and retain the best staff - that's their business. 

SMITH: But where's the fairness here for other people that have their own religions?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah and most bosses will say if you've got a funeral take, take a day's leave. We're not going to give you a hard time. I think these like-

SMITH: But this is more than a funeral.

PLIBERSEK: Let’s not take this out of proportion. Let's just use a bit of common sense and let's focus on what really matters to you, which is the Covid-19 shut down. That is going to make it almost impossible for some businesses to keep going, like in my electorate - tourism, hospitality, retail, the university sector itself - that they're all shedding jobs right now. Let's focus on the jobs.

SMITH: Well that's true. Tanya Plibersek, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, I thank you both for being on the program tonight. 


PLIBERSEK: Thanks Chris.