By Tanya Plibersek

22 June 2020


MONDAY 22 JUNE, 2020

SUBJECTS: Liberals’ university announcements; University amalgamations; Labor Party; Julia Gillard.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: Tanya Plibersek is the Shadow Minister for Education and Training and joins you now. Tanya Plibersek, good morning. Good to talk to you again.


TRIOLI: Is this new news? Was this sort of sneaked out as part of the Friday announcement?

PLIBERSEK: Look Virginia, it's like most of the things that this government does. You get the bold headline one day and the nasty detail the next. So you're quite right. On average students will be paying more. In some areas like the Arts they'll be paying much more - over a 100 per cent more - and even in the courses where the government says we want to drop prices to encourage students to study, in fact, because universities will get less to teach those students, we are likely to see a contraction in the number of places.

TRIOLI: So you've got courses like Law and English where it's going up, but as you say other courses where it's going down. Curiously Environmental Studies is one where it's actually going to cost you a lot less to study, so I wonder if that's an indication there of the way the government's thinking. But what will it mean for the Humanities degree and also for the skills that are learned by people out of a Humanities degree?

PLIBERSEK: When I think it's a very strong signal from the government that they don't value Humanities, which is a bit rich because when you look at the current Cabinet, for example, more than half of them have degrees in the areas that would go up in price under the government's proposals, including the Minister for Education who has an Arts degree and obviously managed to get a job after he did his Arts degree. And I think the, you know, it is a bit of a cultural wars sort of effort from the government here to say that these are not valuable degrees when in fact the employment outcomes from people who do Arts are good, the earning potential for people who do Arts is good, and when you look at some of the areas that they're encouraging employment in, for example, science and maths, I mean, they're incredibly valuable, important skills. But at the same time that the government is encouraging people to go and study science, they are cutting funding to our big institutions like the CSIRO, so there are fewer jobs for scientists in the long run because of the government's other policies. So, look, it is a bit of a disappointing package. There's a few things that are happening in higher education, so there's obviously more unemployed young people. We've seen the highest rates of youth unemployment in decades because of the recession. We've also seen, next year, you know, the 10 per cent or so of students who would normally take a gap year or work for a while. They won't be doing that. They'll be applying to go to university and consequently we've seen the number of students applying to go to university double in the last year. And on top of that we have what's called the Costello Baby Boom, all those, you know, "One for mum, one for dad, one for the country" that Peter Costello urged all those years ago. They're looking at going to university in the next few years. So demand for university places has gone through the roof. The income from international students that used to cross-subsidise Australian students and cross subsidise our research has gone through the floor. The government's claiming extra places, but they're not putting in a single dollar of extra funding. What they're relying on is Australian students paying on average more to go to university.

TRIOLI: Is amalgamation, fundamentally, what the Federal government, do you think or suspect or know, is after here, in the rather curious way that the tertiary education sector has been treated through Covid-19? I'm speaking to people inside the institutions, that's their strong suspicion. It's actually a belief that there are simply too many universities and too many single ones that they need to come together and amalgamate, and that might be the result of this this funding approach. What's your feeling?

PLIBERSEK: Well, what an incredibly destructive way to go about something. If that's your policy aim, I mean if the amalgamation is the policy aim of the government, seeing universities fall over, seeing tens of thousands of university staff lose their jobs, is an incredibly destructive way of going about it, and we know the estimate from the university sector is that 21,000 university staff will lose their jobs because of the falling international student revenue. That's not just academics that's you know, security guards and people who work in the cafeteria and the library and admin and a lot of those jobs obviously are in regional communities, there's about 14,000 university jobs in regional communities. So it's a very destructive thing that the government has turned its back on universities. It's actually changed the rules three times to stop public universities getting access to JobKeeper payments, although private university do have access to JobKeeper. I'd, you know, it's smashing the university sector and if the aim is to encourage amalgamations surely that discussion should be a sensible methodical discussion, not allowing universities to go bankrupt and then expecting that they'll be forced to join together.

TRIOLI: I wanted to, before I let you go, just quickly ask your response to the Labor branch stacking matter but from a slightly different perspective. We had Bronwyn Pike on the program, a regular on our program who's a former State Minister here in Victoria, and when I asked her about branch stacking she had an interesting take about the number of women who come up to her and asked about wanting to get into politics:


TRIOLI: Her point was you've got a better chance winning the lottery than actually getting through the preselection system and branch stacking in the way that we saw in Victoria doesn't help that. Is that keeping the sort of people that the Labor Party really needs in politics out of the system?

PLIBERSEK: Oh this is a lovely long conversation, Virginia, but I'll try and keep it quick.

TRIOLI: You've got 30 seconds.

PLIBERSEK: I think Bronwyn's right. You want to attract people who are idealistic who care passionately and I think the whole story about branch stacking is such a turn-off to people like that. People I know who joined the Labor Party because they want to see Labor governments. They want to work for no benefit to themselves but because they care about climate change or homelessness or health or education or tax policy. They want to see progressive Labor governments elected and if people aren't joining the Labor Party for that reason, I don't want to see them in the Labor Party. When it comes to pre-selecting women you absolutely need, you need targets. You know, we're in the Federal Parliament at almost 47 per cent now. When I joined, we were 25 per cent and the Liberals were 25 per cent. Now we're almost 47 per cent and they're still at 25 per cent. Targets matter and mentoring matters. That's why fantastic organisations like EMILY's List or the Elizabeth Reid Network are so important because you need role models and you need you need people supporting you inside the Labor Party and giving you advice about the path to preselection.

TRIOLI: I'm going to take some calls in just a moment but very quickly, one more thing. It occurs to me, of course, it's the anniversary this week of, I think is it 10 years since Julia Gillard became the first female Labor Prime Minister ever in this country. How do you reflect on that? All these years on, would Australia be a very different place now if she'd managed to hang on to that job for longer?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think there's a lot to reflect on. I'm proud of all of the achievements of our Labor governments. The Rudd and Gillard governments were great reforming governments in the tradition of Hawke and Keating, in the tradition of Whitlam. I'm proud of our policy achievements. Julia, during her time as Prime Minister, oversaw more than 560 pieces of legislation, incredibly productive big reforms like the NDIS, dad and partner pay added to paid parental leave which had been introduced under Kevin Rudd, starting the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses. I mean, all of all of these are great achievements and I think, as Julia said at the time, she was the first, it was hard for her. She hoped it would be easier for the second and the third. I think she has made it easier for the second and third.

TRIOLI: I'm just not sure how far away they are. Tanya Plibersek, good to talk to you. Good morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.