By Tanya Plibersek

25 January 2022




SUBJECT: Labor’s $440 million plan to help kids bounce back from COVID.  

Joining us with more is Shadow Minister for Education and Training, Tanya Plibersek, in Sydney. Nice to see you this morning Tanya. Are you comfortable with kids going back to school despite low vaccination rates?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Look, I think it's really important to take the best medical advice on this. Parents are really worried. They're worried that their kids have missed out on a lot of schooling over the last two years, they don't want to keep them home any longer than is necessary. But they're worried about kids going back into classrooms because, of course, the paediatric vaccine rollout has been too slow and that stresses parents. So that's why today Labor’s announcing a $440 million dollar plan to help our kids bounce back from COVID safely. We're talking about upgrades to classrooms to make sure the air quality is better, opening up windows, moving learning outside if that's possible. And also another boost for kids wellbeing. Of course they've missed out on learning their maths and reading and writing and all the rest of it, but they've missed out on so much more - the sitting around with your mates at lunchtime, school sport, excursions, getting to know one another, growing up. So we've got a wellbeing boost in there for our kids as well. 

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Okay, so you're promising $440 million in dollars in funding,  it's ostensibly a state responsibility - you're saying they need the help that they have a shortfall there that needs to be plugged?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we're saying that the federal government, the Commonwealth government, should work with the states and territories to make sure that our classrooms are safe for kids and for school staff. That the air quality is as good as it can be with ventilation, filtration systems, reopening painted over doors and windows to let in the fresh air, moving learning outside when we can - we want to help with that, and we think Scott Morrison really should have been planning for this stuff for months now. So we want to make sure the physical environment is safer. But we've also got an element in there of - 

STEFANOVIC: But it is a state responsibility though right?

PLIBERSEK: No, it's a shared responsibility. It's always been a shared responsibility. The fact is Scott Morrison walked away from school funding, including school funding for upgrading our schools, he cut that, he decided it wasn't his responsibility. Like a lot of stuff, he talks big and then he says to the states, well you better fix it. We believe it's, well we know it's a shared responsibility and we want to partner with the states and territories to make sure that our classrooms are safer for kids and for school staff who are returning this year. We want to make sure their quality is the best it can be. 

LANGDON: So are you saying that classrooms are currently unsafe? Do you not think classrooms are safe for kids to return? 

PLIBERSEK: No. No, I don't want to alarm people. What I'm saying is that the better the air quality, the more fresh air in there, the lower the risk of COVID transmission. And we know that some states have already invested in filters. We know that in a lot of older schools, the windows were nailed shut 30 years ago and painted over - we need to be able to open them up and get some fresh air. And we know that some schools have plenty of room in the playground and if we put up a few shade structures a lot of the learning can happen outside with kids having better social distancing, and school staff getting more fresh air. These are simple measures. We should have been planning for this as part of the return to school. Scott Morrison could have been helping and showing leadership, but he hasn't. And then the other part of this, of course, is that kids have missed out on so much of their social development. All those school sports, excursions, 16th birthday parties, school formals that they've missed out on have really taken a toll and parents see it in their kids. A survey of parents talking about their family's wellbeing and mental health shows that many of them are very concerned for their kids. So we're setting aside extra funding, for school counsellors, school psychologists and other wellbeing measures that would help our kids bounce back after COVID.

STEFANOVIC: My daughter’s got a school formal this year, year 12 - I'm comfortable with her not attending. (LAUGHS) 

LANGDON: Not going. She may not be though.

PLIBERSEK: I bet you’d be worried about schoolies as well. You’re already worried about schoolies aren’t you?

STEFANOVIC: Don't get me started. If Labor abolishes schoolies you’re going to get some votes. 

PLIBERSEK: We've got your vote then. I think a lot of parents would vote for that. 

STEFANOVIC: There you go, thanks Tanya.