By Tanya Plibersek

02 September 2020


SUBJECT: Job Ready legislation; JobKeeper payments; Australia Post.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Last night the Government pushed its higher education legislation through the House of Representatives.

They gagged 18 speakers, meaning 18 people couldn't express their concerns about this legislation that makes it harder and more expensive for people to go to university. The Government's also trying to stop the Senate inquiry into the same legislation. Seriously, if they think this Bill is so good, why are they so determined to avoid scrutiny?

This legislation makes it harder and more expensive for people to get a university education just as the country plunges into the first recession in 30 years. Now, we'll see official figures later today, but officials will tell you, economists will tell you that it's pretty certain we are in recession. But you don't need to talk to the experts to tell you that. You only need to talk, as I do, to my local businesses. To people who live in my electorate who have lost their jobs or lost hours at work. Businesses have closed their doors or gone to part-time. People feel it in their bones. They feel it in their family budgets. The country is struggling. Why would you pick this time to make it harder and more expensive to get a university education?

You know Scott Morrison, as part of his marketing spin, runs around the country trying to develop this daggy dad persona and at times of trouble he wants to rise to be the father of the nation. Right now when we've got more than a million people on the unemployment queues for the first time. Why would you pick now as the time to make it harder and more expensive to get a university education? Scott Morrison's running around, he’s trying to convince people he's the daggy dad or father of the nation. What kind of father would rather see people on the dole queue than getting an education?

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned as well, given there's so many people on the dole queue, that a lot more people are perhaps going to extend their time at university or want to or maybe even go back to university and not be able to at this time because of these changes?

PLIBERSEK: Well 100 per cent. There are two big groups that are affected by this plan to make it harder and more expensive to go to university. The first group is those kids who have been struggling through their final exams this year. This has been the Year 12 from hell. They’ve been remote learning, they've had their lessons interrupted, some of them have had to self-isolate for weeks at a time. These kids have struggled. They've missed out on their formals, they've missed out on their graduation ceremonies. Honestly, you would not wish this Year 12 on any kid. It's stressful enough as it is, and now a whole lot of those kids have been told that the degree they were planning to do will more than double in cost. So that's the first group I'm concerned about. The second group I'm concerned about are those people who've lost work or lost hours of work, whose businesses have closed, whose employers have asked them to take a voluntary redundancy, who’ve sacked them. People who want to retrain now to make themselves more employable as our economy recovers should be encouraged to do that. Let's face it - we're going to be facing a very difficult labour market just for months, but for years to come. Wouldn't it be better to help people get an education, improve their skills make themselves more employable, instead of what Scott Morrison is doing which is making it unaffordable and unattainable to getting university degree or go to TAFE?

JOURNALIST: The economic figures due out today - a contraction of around six per cent is the consensus, but it could have been much worse if not for the Federal government's actions, couldn't it?

PLIBERSEK: Well look, JobKeeper - the payment that keeps people attached to their employers, the wage subsidy - is something Labor in the union movement were calling for that the Government resisted, saying “it was unnecessary. It was impossible. It's bad policy. It shouldn't be done.” So things would have been worse if the Government hadn't listened to Labor and the union movement and introduced JobKeeper, but I'm concerned for the millions of Australians who would have had their jobs saved by this government had acted earlier and if the Government had extended JobKeeper to other industries. Just today and yesterday we've heard of hundreds more sackings from universities - why did the Government change the JobKeeper rules three times explicitly to exclude universities? Why is the Government excluding workers at dnata, the old Qantas catering? These are Australians who have paid tax in Australia for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years of working with the same company. That company got sold, the management changed, so those workers miss out on this payment. How does that make any sense at all? And now the Government is making changes to JobKeeper, of course we approve of and agree with the extension of JobKeeper to last longer, but there are workers who will actually get less than JobKeeper because their company is doing better than some other companies - that makes absolutely no sense at all. So could it be worse? Well, it could have been worse if the Government had stuck with their stubborn plan to deny people a wage subsidy, but I've got to say Scott Morrison does not have a plan to improve our economy, to help Australia in recovery. What we should be doing is building things, so investing in infrastructure that makes our cities more liveable and our country more competitive, able to export and trade with the world. We should be making things. We need to lower the cost of energy by investing more in cheaper, cleaner, renewable energy and make sure that Australia becomes a more self-reliant, manufacturing powerhouse again. We should be caring for people, that means investing in the services that we need in our community. How can it be we've still got, I think the last count is 103,000 people on waiting lists for home and community care, and we've got unemployed Australians who would be grateful to do the work but this government won't fund that proper home and community care support for older Australians, helping them stay out of nursing homes. And of course we need to make sure that the jobs are secure, that they are decently paid. Because unless people are confident that they're going to get a pay check next week and the week after, they're not going to spend money, they're not going to create jobs for others. So let's build things, let's make things, let's care for people and let's make sure that jobs are secure and decently paid.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned as well by these reports out of Australia Post that they're trying to make some workers deliver things voluntarily at the same time as they're trying to pay executives a bonus, should the Government be stepping in there and saying that's just not on?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I haven't seen those reports, but I continue to be shocked at the excuses, the way that people will use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to protect the interests of the narrow few and cut the pay and conditions of ordinary working Australians.