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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 8 November 2016: changes to education regulations; marriage equality; Government's proposed changes to the Migration Act; Newspoll

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SUBJECTS: Changes to education regulations; Marriage Equality; Government’s proposed changes to the Migration Act; Newspoll

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Yesterday in the Senate, the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, tabled these regulations. This is the latest nail in the coffin of the Gonski needs-based school funding reforms. These proposed regulatory changes reduce the transparency and accountability in our schools and will no doubt lead to a weakening of the improvement efforts that schools are making with needs-based funding. One of the features of the school funding system that Labor introduced was not just extra dollars - although of course extra dollars are absolutely vital - but an effort that every school identify its own areas for improvement and make sure that when they’re spending their extra resources they’re really targeting what will make the biggest difference for children in their schools. These regulations reduce that transparency and accountability. They take away the incentive for schools to come up with those schools-based plans to improve teaching and learning in every school. Simon Birmingham, as Education Minister, is presiding over the dismantling of a system - that will mean that every child in every school suffers.

I also wanted to talk very briefly about something else that happened in the Senate. Late last night, of course, the Senate rejected the plebiscite legislation and I know that there will be very many Australians waking up this morning relieved that their relationships and their families will not be subject to a vote by other Australians determining whether those relationships, those families, are worth as much as every other Australian family. I know this has been a difficult period for many Australians. I

know they will be relieved at this decision. But this is not where the fight for marriage equality ends. We now need Malcolm Turnbull to do what old Malcolm would have done, and allow a free vote in the Parliament, a free vote on marriage equality where every Parliamentarian can, according to their conscience, come into the Parliament and vote as they see fit, representing their local constituencies on the issue of marriage equality. This could be done in these final two weeks of Parliament, It’s up to Malcolm Turnbull now to say that he will allow this free vote and it’s up to those brave people in the Liberal Party who I know support the ability to determine this in the Parliament - for them to make their voices heard within the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister has made it pretty clear now that the plebiscite’s gone down the issue is off the agenda until the next election, so that’s a couple of years away…

PLIBERSEK: Well, Malcolm Turnbull said that Section 18c of the Race Discrimination Act was a done deal and not something that he was going to reopen and he’s reopened that. And there’s a lot of things that old Malcolm and new Malcolm don’t agree on. I hope that old Malcolm wins out on this one. He has said in the past that the right place to determine the issue of marriage equality is in the Parliament. Old Malcolm should follow his conscience here and allow a free vote in the Parliament on the issue of marriage equality.

JOURNALIST: You’ve said that some families are probably relieved that the plebiscite won’t happen and that it won’t be used as part of that campaign, but perhaps other families will be upset that this whole thing won’t be done and dusted by February after all?

PLIBERSEK: We took our time in making a decision on Labor’s position on this legislation for this very reason. We know that many Australians have been waiting a long time for marriage equality. They’re keen to get there in the fastest possible way, but as we considered the issue of the plebiscite, as we thought about the $15 million that would be spent on the yes and no campaigns, as we heard from mental health experts, as we heard from counselling services like Twenty10 in my electorate, about the damage that was already being done, about the increased homophobic violence and harassment that the LGBTI community was already experiencing during the lead-up to this plebiscite debate - we determined that the cost of this approach was not worth it and that was the very strong and overwhelming message that we had from families with same-sex parents and from the gay and lesbian community more generally.

JOURNALIST: What sort of message will you be bringing to your Caucus colleagues today in regards to the Government’s changes to the Migration Act?

PLIBERSEK: Well of course I don’t like to pre-empt Caucus debates, we’ll have our debate this morning, but I think you don’t need to be a mind reader to work out that people in the Labor Party are not impressed by this legislation. Peter Dutton’s been out there for years now saying he’s stopped the boats - well then this legislation just looks like a desperate effort to draw the conversation back on to ground that he feels

comfortable on. We’ve got Peter Dutton, I think, secretly harbours ambitions of becoming leader one day and I think he wants to show his colleagues what a tough kind of leader he’d be. Nobody can tell us why this legislation is necessary - Peter Dutton himself can’t tell us why this legislation is necessary, he can’t tell us what difference it would make - and when you put to people the proposition that someone from Manus Island or Nauru becomes a US citizen, becomes a Canadian citizen, in forty years’ time can’t come here as a tourist - I think people see it for the absurdity that it is. I think Peter Dutton should get on with his main job, which is actually now finding a permanent home for the thousands of people who are still on Manus Island and Nauru, and stop mucking around with distractions like this.

JOURNALIST: Obviously the Newspoll, does Labor feel a lot more emboldened now with today’s Newspoll - 53-47 - do you feel more emboldened to basically put your policies forward in a… not compromise as much with the Government?

PLIBERSEK: Well the polls come and go and we take nothing for granted. We’ve worked very hard to be a unified Opposition, to give a clear offer to the Australian people. We went to the election with more than 100 Positive Policies and a unified team. Malcolm Turnbull, in contrast, presides over a team that are out to get him. There’s no clear policies coming from the Government. They’re a rabble. It’s stuff-up after stuff-up. The list is a long one - the Senate running out of business, you’ve got people leaving early, you’ve got the debacle of the Census, you’ve got the $200 million plebiscite waste of money, you’ve got Christopher Pyne’s $10 million advertising campaign which was apparently based on a lie -his Department was warned that he was engaging in false advertising - you’ve got a $300 million ice program where none of the money’s actually hit the streets yet, you’ve got a domestic violence program - $12 million - where they’ve introduced one program worth about 1.5 percent of that money, and they can’t govern. They are not united, they have no clear agenda, and they cannot govern, and of course this is reflected in the polls. It doesn’t make us take anything for granted. It reminds us that Labor’s only success is in discipline and unity. Thank you.