12 September 2019




SUBJECTS: Climate change; Low apprenticeship numbers; Early childhood funding; Education.

LAURA JAYES, PRESENTER: Labor's emissions reductions target is in the spotlight again today, suggestions perhaps Labor might abandon its 45 per cent emissions reductions target to 2030. Joining me now is the Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek. Thanks so much for your time. Is it feasible


JAYES: Between 2022, so in eight years, is that enough time to achieve such a target?

PLIBERSEK: Look we do have to have a calm look at all of our policies. As our Leader Anthony Albanese has said, it is a time for reflection and looking at all the policies we took to the last election. Now I'll tell you this much. I am for an ambitious pollution reduction target and it's really the Government that needs to be answering some questions about what's happening with climate change policy. We're on the, I don't know whether it's the 15th or the 16th kind of version of their energy policy, we continue to see billions of dollars of taxpayer money spent despite the fact pollution continues to rise. We need to be holding the Government to account on their failure when it comes to real action on climate change.

JAYES: Would it be more realistic to look at a 2050 target rather than a 2030 one, that is, even if you win the next election?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I'm not going to just speculate off the top of my head on these things but I can tell you that during the last election campaign there was very strong support from the Australian public for real action on climate change. Australians get it. They understand that with pollution continuing to rise in Australia we are not doing our share globally and the consequences for our grandchildren are stark.

JAYES: One of the problems during the election campaign was that moment when Bill Shorten was asked what the cost of his climate policy would be, he was unable to answer that. I know you're going through a review but do you think Labor, as a whole, needs to come up with a better answer on the cost?

PLIBERSEK: We had an answer on the cost. The cost to the budget was non-existent and this is very different to the Government's policy. The Government is billing taxpayers to give money to big polluters despite the fact that pollution continues to rise. When you looked at the impact on economic growth it was marginal and the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was very dishonest about this. He was continuing to say 'Labor doesn't know the cost of its policy, we know the cost of ours' and then he was pointing to the cost to the Budget of their policy not the cost of the economy. He was using two different measures throughout his very dishonest scare campaign on Labor's policies.

JAYES: Aren't you being bit dishonest about the cost to, perhaps, households as well though?

PLIBERSEK: No, absolutely not, because looking around Australia and around the world, renewables are becoming cheaper all the time and certainly renewables are cheaper than building new coal-fired power stations. There's a reason that when we came to government there were, I don't remember the number now, but it was about 7,000 households with solar rooftop panels and by the time we left government there was a million. There is a reason that households invest in solar power. There is a reason that people are buying batteries to supplement their solar power now - because renewables are becoming cheaper all the time -and if we had a proper electricity plan, a power plan in this country that gave business certainty we would see the price of electricity come down as businesses had the confidence to continue to invest in more renewables. Now, of course, there will be coal, there will be gas as part of our energy mix for the foreseeable future but when you look at the comparative cost of investment in renewables and the cost of new investment in coal, renewables are cheaper.

JAYES: Okay, but looking at the reports today do you accept and can you confirm that there is an active consideration, a view to review that 45 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030, just simply because of the timeline?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, look everybody in the Labor Party has the right to express their opinion over the coming months about the policies they think need changing, reviewing, the ones that we want to keep. The Leader has made it very clear that we are re-examining all of our policies. He's also made it very clear that we're not in a hurry to do that. So we're going to take our time, we're going to be methodical, we'll have many, many internal discussions about our policies but I, for one, believe that we need to be ambitious in our pollution reduction targets. Australia needs to do better in reducing pollution and we need to have one firm energy policy that encourages business investment in generation of new electricity supply because what we are doing at the moment is spending billions of dollars of taxpayers money on pollution going up, less certainty and power prices continue to rise in the face of all of that.

JAYES: Changing back to your portfolio now, the AIHW shows today that apprenticeships are lower than they were a decade ago. Now over the past decade, Labor was in power about half that time so do you share half the blame?

PLIBERSEK: Well, this Government has been the Government, sadly, for 6 years now so you are right, apprenticeships are lower today than they were 10 years ago. This Government has cut $3 billion dollars from TAFE and training. There are 150,000 fewer apprentices today than when the Liberals came to office - apprentices and trainees - 150,000 fewer. This is at a time when businesses are crying out for skilled workers. AIG said recently that three quarters of the businesses they surveyed said they were finding it hard to find the qualified workers they need and yet, we have 1.8 million Australians who are unemployed or under-employed. So we've got this report from the AIHW that says we have got fewer apprentices today than 10 years ago, that there are more people dropping out of training than completing their training, that there are fewer apprentices graduating today than any time since 2001, yet we have high unemployment and under-employment, skills shortages. These 3 things should never co-exist. We should be training Australians for these great jobs. We've got shortages in bricklaying, carpentry, motor mechanics, hairdressing, pastry chefs - I mean, across the board these are jobs that we could be training Australians for and we are not because we have cut funding to TAFE and training.

JAYES: Look, I'd hate to be going up against you internally in the Labor Party when it comes to, you know, if you have got any kind of razor gang going on, but have you been able to seek some kind of promise within your party that education is quarantined or is it likely, as part of this review, that the realistic approach will be to reduce funding? You promised $14 billion at the last election - is that going to remain?

PLIBERSEK: Like I say, everything is on the table. Our Leader has been very clear on that but I can tell you Labor's values mean a great education for every child. I mean, we had another OECD report overnight that shows that we spend about half on early childhood education, half of the OECD average. It shows that as a share of Government spending, that we have cut funding to schools and TAFE

JAYES: So you are not going to, kind off, cop a cut to your promises?

PLIBERSEK:Well, I am going to do the very best to argue for Labor's enduring value that we invest in education because it is the ticket to a lifetime of opportunity and when we lock people out of a decent education, we are locking them out of jobs. We have a fast changing economy

JAYES: Sounds like you are ready to go nuclear on this one!

PLIBERSEK: Well, it matters! It really matters! Think about yourself as a parent. I know I have said this to you before - what do you care about? You care that your kids are safe, that they are healthy and that they get a great education. That's what we want for every child in this country. That they are safe, that they are healthy and that they get a great education because it is not just important for those individual kids, it is important for our nation. The world is changing, jobs are changing, the economy is changing very quickly indeed - we have seen the decline of the manufacturing sector but new jobs taking the place of those manufacturing jobs. How can we be certain our people are prepared for that? Giving them a great education is the ticket to a lifetime of opportunity for every Australian.

JAYES: And you will be there at the next election to prosecute it?

PLIBERSEK: Oh yeah, I love the Education portfolio. I think it is a wonderful way to make a difference to the lives of individual children and young people and it is a really important economic building block for our country. If we get education right, we get our prosperity right for the future.

JAYES: But you are running at the next election?

PLIBERSEK: Oh yes of course.

JAYES: Okay, just checking.

PLIBERSEK: I thought you were asking if I was changing portfolios - no, no absolutely! I am still a baby, I am still a baby Laura, I've got years to go!

JAYES: Okay. Well good luck to you, Jim Chalmers, you are going to need it, it sounds like. Tanya Plibersek thanks so much for your time.

PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure.