15 August 2019




SUBJECTS: Pacific Islands Forum; Climate change; Education; Skills crisis; Economy; Wages.

LAURA JAYES, PRESENTER: Joining me now is the Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek. Thanks so much for your time. At the moment the Prime Minister is focused on the Pacific Islands because that's where he is. Jacinda Ardern hasn't held back really. She says that Mr Morrison should be listening to Pacific leaders and must answer to them on climate change. Do you agree?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Well I think we have to answer to Australians that are concerned about climate change. We're looking at the worst drought in history in New South Wales right now. And we have to answer to the world. We made commitments about reducing our pollution and in fact pollution is going up. And this Government's policies see it going up every year until 2030. We're spending billions of dollars of taxpayers money only to see our pollution get worse. So yes, we've got to answer to Pacific Island leaders, but first of all we have to answer to Australian taxpayers, why we are spending billions of dollars of their money to make pollution worse in Australia. I mean it really is no surprise that Pacific Island leaders are a bit sceptical when it comes to Scott Morrison. They know that he's the guy who dragged a lump of coal into Parliament, into Question Time. They know that he was standing around joking with Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott about water levels rising in the Pacific. I mean this is at a time when - the Pacific Island leaders aren't being rhetorical when they say this is an existential crisis for them. They have whole communities that are having to leave islands that they have lived on for generations because water levels are rising, it's affecting the supply of fresh water on those islands, it's affecting the sort of crops they can grow. This is really a very serious time for them.

JAYES: Is it reasonable though for Pacific leaders to demand Australia gets out of coal? I didn't see them making the same demands of China, for example, and is it Labor's policy for Australia to get out of coal?

PLIBERSEK: No, we see coal as part of our immediate future and our future because there's a demand in our energy system to have that dispatchable power. But the global economy is changing. Renewable energy sources are becoming cheaper all the time. More and more Australians are investing in solar panels and batteries for their own roofs, for example, because they know that renewable energy is cheaper in the long run. We need to, as a nation, begin to plan for that low emissions future. Instead we've got a Government that's populated by people who are thinking up new and creative ways of increasing our pollution - increasing it. It's exactly the wrong direction when you look at what's happening globally - countries are looking to reduce their pollution and rely more on renewable sources of energy.

JAYES: Well is Labor's climate policy under review after the election? I know everything is under review but does this remain, would you be more ambitious than a 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030?

PLIBERSEK: Well, as you just said, all of our policies are being reviewed at the moment so I'm not going to start saying yes or no to particular elements of policies that we took to the last election.

JAYES: But is there a chance that it could be more ambitious though?

PLIBERSEK: We've got three years until the next election. People will have well and truly enough time to determine their views on policies that Labor takes to the next election. But we have always been more committed to real action on climate change than the Liberal Party.

JAYES: Yep, well that's clear in your policies. As you just discussed all Labor's policies are under review. You're the Shadow Education Minister. At the last election you promised $14 billion more for schools than the Government, is that also under review?

PLIBERSEK: I don't mean to sound repetitive but as you've said Anthony Albanese as our new leader, has made it very clear that all of our policies are under review. It is three years until the next election but what I can tell you -

JAYES: But this has been an article of faith for you, hasn't it?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, and -

JAYES: So, is it being quarantined, are you fighting for it to be quarantined?

PLIBERSEK: - and investment in education will continue to be an article of faith for me and for the Labor Party. We are always the party that sees this as an investment in the individual - it gives every Australian the opportunity of having a better life, getting a great education - but it's also an investment for our nation - like you're a parent, you know how much time you spend thinking about your own child's education, giving them a great start. We have to have the same attitude as a nation. Labor will always be committed to investing in early childhood education because the evidence is in on those early years, right through our schools. We are not going bake in underfunding of our public schools, as this Government has done. And investing in TAFE and university. There is a skills crisis, business is calling it out. It's no wonder - we have cut billions dollars from TAFE and universities. We've got 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees today than when Labor left government. If you lock people out of education, you are locking them out of a job. We will always fight that.

JAYES:Don't start me on early childhood education because that's a whole other conversation -


JAYES: Both sides of politics has not quite got it right, but look, I just quickly want to ask you because we had Jennifer Westacott on the program and she is backing in and says the Government should adopt the investment guarantee that Labor took the last election. But she's also asking for some changes to industrial relations laws. She wants the Government to look at unfair dismissal. Are you open to that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, first of all on the Australian investment guarantee. It was great policy. It would have driven investment, particularly from small and medium businesses - spending that would have really benefited the Australian economy so I am sorry that that policy isn't there to benefit business and to drive investment. When it comes to industrial relations changes, of course we will listen to and have good discussions with business about that. But what really surprises me is you've got Liberal backbenchers freelancing again - demanding a return to WorkChoices, which was resoundingly rejected by the Australian people. You look at the problems in our economy today. We've got historic low wages growth that is affecting consumer confidence, that is underpinning the very low rates of growth we see in our economy. We are in a per capita recession. Our economic growth levels are about the same as they were in the GFC. We are actually going backwards when it comes to growth and confidence in our economy. The last thing we should be doing is further driving down wages. We have got historic low wages growth at the moment and it is actually causing problems in our economy, let alone around the kitchen table when people are trying to work out how to make ends meet. So we should be looking at ways of increasing wages and increasing productivity. Productivity has been going backwards too. Paying people less and making them easier to sack, which is the Liberals response every time you talk about IR reform isn't the way to drive growth and investment in our economy.

JAYES: Tanya Plibersek, as always, thanks so much for your time, we'll have to leave it there.

PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure.