TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
FRIDAY, 19 JUNE 2020
SUBJECTS: Liberals’ university announcement; Youth unemployment; NSW Labor.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Thanks for coming out this afternoon. We heard the Minister for Education today at the Press Club talking about big changes in higher education. But the one thing you can be sure of is the more things change, the more they stay the same. What hasn't changed with this government is the underfunding of our university students. What hasn't changed is their preparedness to lock people out of a university education. So today the Minister announced extra places at Australian universities for Australian students - that's a good thing. The fine print in this announcement is that other students will be paying for these extra students. What we see on average is that students will be paying extra for a university education to make room for additional students. We also see that there are still thousands and thousands of students who will miss out on a university education. We heard just this week that double the number of high school students are applying for a university education this year compared with last year. Well that makes sense - it's very hard for them to get a job. It makes sense that if you're not earning you should be learning. That means you get a better chance of a good job down the track. But this government will lock out thousands of those students because the additional student numbers are very small in the scale of things. When you look at the number of students that have been lost to university education already, the Minister shouldn't get a pat on the back for replacing some of those spots that have been lost. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: Given that Australia's unemployment rate [inaudible] isn't the Government justified in trying to push more young people into career paths that will give them a job more easily?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm very concerned about the unemployment rate, and the effective unemployment rate in Australia at the moment is over 11 per cent. So of course I'm worried it. I was a university graduate in the 1990s, I know what it feels like to leave university and go into a labour market where there are so few jobs. But here you've got the Government saying that they want to change the pricing at universities to encourage or discourage particular courses of study. I really think it so underestimates students and their parents. If students and their parents have good information about where the jobs are likely to be, I think we can trust them to study a course that will help them graduate into employment. Nobody wants to do years at uni and incur a HECS debt and then go out into the workplace and not have any options. It's just a bit strange for the Minister to think that getting a job is not incentive enough. Now we're very pleased, of course, to see that prices will come down for some courses like nursing and allied health and teaching and so on. It's a good thing. The problem is that prices will go up, and they'll go up by a lot, in some other areas.
JOURNALIST: Given that a lot of these university courses are pretty substandard at the moment as people have to learn online, are these changes even more disappointing?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think its fair to fair to say that the university sector has been under enormous pressure due to COVID-19 and the announcements today from the Government don't help. I mean, basically, what have we heard today? That the Government has announced more places, but they're going to be paid for by increasing student fees. We've heard the Government announce some other policies - all of that is paid for from money that the universities already receive. This is a government that is pretending, it's just an accounting trick. It's one more accounting trick - they want to be seen to be doing something with universities, but they're not going to fund any extra student places so they move the deck chairs around a little bit. It's not enough for a university sector that is facing enormous challenges from the loss of revenue from international students. It's a sector that's under enormous pressure. The Government has deliberately gone out of its way to make sure that, for example, universities don't have access to JobKeeper payments. And this announcement today, while we welcome extra places, the problem with it is that it's extra places paid for by existing students.
JOURNALIST: So, studying Arts in particular is a bit of a running joke because they often take a while to get jobs after their course. Doesn't it - well isn't it time for universities to consider introducing more double degrees or on-the-job kind of training anyway, to their courses?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm an Arts graduate and so is the Minister for Education so I’m not sure you can draw the conclusion that we're completely unemployable - Arts graduates. I think it's important, obviously, for students to think about the sort of work they want to do when they graduate but I really don't think the Minister for Education choosing their courses for them. If you give information to students about where the job opportunities are going to be in years to come - people aren't dumb, they don't want to get thousands of dollars into debt without the prospect of a job. What we don't have is very good information about where those opportunities are going to be. So if the Minister could focus a little bit more on that and a little bit less on telling people what they should study, I think that would be a healthy first step.
JOURNALIST: Obviously the Government is suffering financially, as a lot of sectors are. Shouldn’t the universities do their bit to, I guess, help the Government out or help them regain some of that lost revenue?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the other way of looking at it is: what will help our economy grow in the future? And one of the things that is critical to our economy growing in the future is a skilled and trained labour force. If people aren't working now, they should be improving their education or training. So just this month 100,000 young people alone joined the unemployment queue. And we're going to put a few extra thousand places into our universities - it won't even begin to touch the sides of the number of extra young people that have joined the unemployment queue, in this past month alone. Doesn't it make more sense for the Government to be providing an education or a training opportunity for those unemployed young people? If they're not in educational training they're going to be on the dole queue. What makes more sense? What's going to make a better contribution to the Australian economy in the long run - paying someone to be unemployed or helping them get an education or training opportunity?
JOURNALIST: A lot of young people when they get out of uni, they're struggling with rent affordability and also saving up to buy a house, so is having a bigger student loan now one of the things keeping people from studying further down the line?
PLIBERSEK: Of course it is, and the difficulty is Australia is one of the countries that has already a very high proportion of the university, cost of going to University, paid for by the students themselves. And with this package, we welcome the fact that some courses will end up costing less, but on average students will be paying more, and some students will be paying a great deal more.
JOURNALIST: Just on another matter, I've just had some news that one of the State Labor MPs here, Julia Finn, has stood down on branch stacking allegations. Are you aware of that?
PLIBERSEK: I'm sorry. That information must have just come through, I haven't heard anything else about that I can't really tell you any details on that.
JOURNALIST: But you obviously were elected in NSW, does it concern you that this branch stacking saga is starting to affect yeah, starting to come alive in NSW?
PLIBERSEK: Look I don't want to make any comment on the particular issue because I don't know the details, but I will make some general comments. My branch members, the people I know in the Labor Party, joined the labor Party because they are passionate about making their community and their country better. They joined the Labor Party because they want to see action on climate change, because they want to see homelessness addressed, because they care about our health system, and our education system. Because they care about inequality. Because they want a fairer tax system, where everybody pays their share and we use that money to pay for the social safety net that makes us a stronger nation. The people I know who join the Labor party do it for the very best reasons and if anybody, if anybody, is doing the wrong thing, if they're breaking the rules, if they're taking advantage of people, then that should be stamped out because it's not just bad in that individual instance. It's not just bad for the Labor party, though of course it is, it's bad because it undermines people's faith in democracy. Our democracy is precious. People around the world fight and die for the right to vote and we have it, and we sometimes take it for granted. When political parties do the wrong thing it destroys people's faith in their democracy. And that faith is precious.
JOURNALIST: Are you willing to work with some of your State Labor colleagues in NSW to try and see what the extent of this problem is here in NSW?
PLIBERSEK: Well, look, it's not something that is happening in my area. If there's any assistance I can offer in a more general sense of course I will do that. But I think the best thing I can do is to encourage people of good will, who care about their community and their country, to join the Labor Party for the right reasons. Thank you.