By Tanya Plibersek

21 February 2022





SUBJECTS: Visit to Rockhampton; Labor’s plans for TAFE and university places; NSW transport lockout; Liberals’ attacks on workers; Cost of living. 

Hi everyone, I'm Professor Nick Klomp, the Vice-Chancellor and President of CQ University. CQ University is delighted to hear of Federal Labor's commitment for 465,000 free TAFE places. Many people regionally will know, but perhaps they don't know across Australia, that CQ University is Queensland's only dual sector university. It means that in the region we're absolutely committed to produce graduates, everyone from Cert 1s through apprenticeships all the way through to degrees Masters, PhDs, and post-doctorates, and the regions are crying out for this sort of skilled workforce. So we're delighted to hear about that commitment from federal Labor and we're looking forward to the decision by the population to see who should be in government coming up.

JOURNALIST: In your meetings today with the candidate for the upcoming election and Ms Plibersek, what was discussed?

KLOMP: Yes, we have a great relationship with Russell and delighted to be working with him, and we're talking about the sorts of priorities that we have here at CQ University. We stand for supporting the regions. It's really important to us and the best way to support regions is to provide that workforce. And so we've got to make sure that we're not just producing graduates that are good enough for jobs now, we have to look over the horizon and be thinking about graduates in the future, and that might be in changes of energy use, it might be in hydrogen, or it might be in electric vehicles. I'm not just talking about electric cars, I'm talking about electric vehicles for the mining sector and the big end of town. So there's lots of things, you can't just leave it for another three years and suddenly wonder where your workforce is coming from. You’ve got to be working ahead of the time and it's been a delight to work with Russell on those sort of agenda items. 

JOURNALIST: Will it be something that you're also working on with other election candidates on or just the Labor candidate?

KLOMP: Oh no, CQ University will work with anyone who is committed to the regions. That's what's important. That's our mission, and not just in Rockhampton of course, we're all over the shop throughout regional Queensland, and we've got physical presences in nearly two dozen locations around Australia. We stand for the regions. The regions recognise how important we are in providing workforce but also in providing relevant research and extra support. We're often the biggest employer in town. These are the sorts of things that are really important to the local folk.

JOURNALIST: Did you talk about potentially moving the TAFE campus over to the north side?

KLOMP: Yes, it's one of the things that is on our agenda. It's perhaps more a state thing, but I am having those discussions because we need to make sure that we have the latest equipment and facilities and we've got to deliver it in a way that is efficient. So having two locations is something that isn't very efficient, so over time we're working with the state government, but also working with anyone who will listen to us, including federally, that the most efficient thing to do is to upgrade our facilities here, all our trade facilities and hospitality and aged care, and all the areas that we produce graduates in, upgrade them and have them in one location so we can have that seamless delivery for the community.

JOURNALIST: And of course international borders are going to reopen today, I know you've spoken about this previously, but what kind of revenue difference will that make for the university having international students back and welcome?

KLOMP: International students are a major part of the operations of CQ University, for a number of reasons. One of them is because it provides that diversity in our classes and it's fantastic. It's great for domestic students, it’s great for our international students. But this is the important bit that a whole lot of people miss out. Some people think that perhaps we use international students and there's extra money on top or it's extra money to drive our research. We use the international student income, which for us is maybe $100 million a year, a lot of money for the operations of CQ University and it allows us to continue operating in the thin markets. It allows us to deliver in Gladstone and Emerald and Bundaberg and Rockhampton, areas that other universities and TAFEs fear to tread. We are proud of that. It's great for the regions, it brings in international students, it’s great for our domestic students and it’s income that the Australian taxpayer doesn't have to pay for and yet allows us to deliver our services, our degrees, our diplomas, our apprenticeships, and our research around regional Queensland. It's a win-win. So I'm just delighted to see that international borders are open and the international students are beginning to return. It's going to take a few years to get back to the sorts of numbers that we enjoyed in the past. CQ University degrees are a hot item, recognised internationally, and international students want to come to us. It might take a few years to start building back that market, but I'm delighted to see that the borders have finally opened for most of the states of Australia. 

RUSSELL ROBERTSON, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR CAPRICORNIA: I'm Russell Robertson, Labor Candidate for Capricornia, and I'm here with Professor Nick Klomp and the Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek. It's great to walk through CQU and see these facilities and the role they have in training in the jobs of the future. As father of a son who's entering a motor mechanic apprenticeship, and with another son entering apprenticeships in the new year, these are the important factors and things in which the Labor Party supports and then grows young families like mine. We've seen with the opportunity for 465,000 new free TAFE roles, this is what's going to give Australian families the edge as we move forward in the modern economy. But it shows how Labor's committed to the regions and particularly CQU. Nine years of a Coalition government that we've seen less apprentices and trainees than when they first entered -  that's a disaster and it's a disaster for particularly in areas like here in Rocky. I've spoken to a number of clubs and pub managers who can't get chefs. These are basics. These are what we're seeing are being left behind by this Coalition government who has just neglected the regions and has made it clear that they’re in it for the big end of town. But we're here supporting young people and education and training. That's what you get out of a Labor government and something that I'm sure that the Shadow spokesperson, Tanya, will be able to back in for us. Tanya.


JOURNALIST: Are you treating this as a bit of an official campaign launch? What are your priorities for Capricornia?

ROBERTSON: Again what I've said is same job, same pay and this is an important piece to make sure they can get a springboard for young people in training roles. That's why I'm so excited about the 465,000 free TAFE roles. It's a great opportunity for Rockhampton to grow the tradespersons of the future.

JOURNALIST: How many of those TAFE roles would be local do you reckon?

ROBERTSON: As many as we can get, that'll be my view. I'll be fighting for as many as I can get to make sure that Rocky grows.

JOURNALIST: Any other priorities for the region?

ROBERTSON: I'm trying back in some more healthcare. We've seen the Coalition government absolutely disastrous on the health front, with a poor vaccine rollout and RATS. Again, when I speak to clubs and pubs, not only are not being able to find trained chefs, but they're also having major impacts for their staff, who are unable to get a RAT test to make sure they're clear to return to work. It's leaving huge holes in their staffing and it's slowing our hospitality industry right down.

JOURNALIST: And how are you feeling ahead of the election campaign? I think you're odds on betting apps have got Michelle Landry in quite a bit in favour. Are you feeling confident?

ROBERTSON: I'm going to work hard, but I don't want to make predictions. I'll work hard, put my nose to the grindstone. The important decision will be made by the voters out there and not by pundits.

PLIBERSEK: Well, thank you very much. It's a great pleasure to be here at CQ University with Professor Nick Klomp and Labor's Candidate for Capricornia, Russell Robertson. It's a real pleasure to be actually outside Wilby's restaurant. I was here, it feels like just yesterday, a few months ago for the Labor Day function. And when I was in the restaurant, I met a lot of young people and older people too who are retraining to work in retail and hospitality, and it really tells a story that right here in Rockhampton, right now, we have the opportunity of supporting a Labor government that will deliver 465,000 extra TAFE places and 20,000 extra university places, or continuing on with the neglect that we've seen for eight years from the LNP. There are actually fewer apprentices and trainees today in Australia than there were when the Liberals and Nationals came to office eight years ago. In this area, it's almost a thousand fewer apprentices and trainees than there were eight years ago. Now it just shows that Scott Morrison doesn't give a stuff about young people. If he cared about our kids as they are graduating from high school, he would be offering them a future. He'd be paying for those extra TAFE and uni places so they could get the skills they need to get a great job. We know that someone who does a TAFE education is likely to earn about $19,000 a year more than someone who hasn't been able to go to TAFE. And we know that employers right around Rockhampton and the region are crying out for skilled staff. Across Australia we've got one in four employers saying they can't find the skilled staff they need. We've still got too many people who can't get a job or can't get the hours of work they need, and we've got a federal government that has turned its back on those kids and those employers. What we need is a Labor government that's prepared to invest in education, prepared to offer 465,000 free TAFE places, prepared to offer 20,000 extra university places and make sure that young people, people retraining in the middle of their careers, have the opportunities they need to get the education and training for the job of their dreams, and the employers the opportunity they need to get the skilled staff they want to be able to grow their businesses. You know, before COVID, some of these problems were covered up by the fact that we have short-term migration. This government was bringing in skilled workers from overseas to meet some of those skills shortage areas. COVID has meant they haven't been able to do that, and what this has done is really shone a light on the fact that we've got too many young people graduating from high school without being able to go on to do further training at TAFE or university. We've got too many employers who've got jobs, want to be able to expand their businesses, who can't find the staff they need. We need a government that's committed to offering TAFE places, upgrading our TAFE facilities, offering university places, upgrading our university facilities, making sure that people have the education and training they need to get a great job, making sure that employers have the skilled staff they need to be able to grow their businesses. 

JOURNALIST: I've just got some questions here from Seven Canberra. Scott Morrison says industrial action like the train strikes in Sydney will be more common if Anthony Albanese is Prime Minister. What's your response? 

PLIBERSEK: Well, this isn't a strike. It's a lockout from the New South Wales Government. You've got transport workers that want to work, who were called 'heroes' by the same government during COVID because they kept doing their jobs in the most difficult circumstances. I think what you see from Scott Morrison - when it comes to employment, don't forget Scott Morrison's own Finance Minister said that low wages are a deliberate design feature of their economic architecture. That's what Scott Morrison's Finance Minister said. We've got a government that is working to keep wages low. Right now, Scott Morrison is arguing against aged care workers getting a pay increase, and we know that one in four shifts in aged care is going, that they can't find the staff to do one in four shifts in aged care. We've seen aged care operators actually having to close their doors, sending residents home, because they can't get the staff they need, at the same time as the government is arguing against a pay increase for these workers who are earning 20, 22, 25 bucks an hour working in aged care. What you get from Scott Morrison is more of the same, which means frozen wages, no wage increases. It means in industries like mining, that Russell knows all about, you'll have two people working side-by-side, one of them getting paid thousands of dollars less a year because they're on a different type of employment contract, because they're casual labour or they're labour hire. That's what Scott Morrison wants in our workplaces across Australia. He wants wages - he's predicting wages will go backwards at the same time as the cost of healthcare is going up, the cost of childcare is going up, the cost of petrol is going up, rents are going up, house prices are going up. Everything's going up except wages. That's Scott Morrison's industrial relations plan.

JOURNALIST: Morrison has painted Albanese as weak on national security. He's now essentially saying unions will be running the country if Albanese is elected. I guess, these attacks leading up to the election - is this, is this scary? Is this worrying or?

PLIBERSEK: I think Australians see this for what it is. They see a Prime Minister who for eight years has presided over wages going backwards, while the cost of living goes up all the time, and he's now looking around for scare campaigns because ordinary people feel like life has got harder, not easier, under an LNP government. Stop anybody in the street and ask them "Do you feel better off now than you did a few years ago?" You will really struggle to find people who go "Yeah, I feel better off than I did", because wages are flatlining or going backwards, the cost of everything's going up, work has become less secure. Daily life has got harder. And instead of answering that question, instead of having a positive plan to answer those hardships, Scott Morrison's looking around for scare campaigns.

JOURNALIST: And finally, can you guarantee Labor will hold firm against demands from the unions if you win?

PLIBERSEK: I want to work with unions and with ordinary workers right across Australia to see pay rises. When people work hard, when a business becomes more productive, when it's exporting more goods, when it's producing more, then its workforce should benefit from that. I think working hand in hand with working people to see pay increases as their work becomes harder and more productive is a good thing. It's not a bad thing to see pay increases. Ordinary Australians, when they work hard want to see a pay increase. That's fair enough. It's actually fair enough. 

JOURNALIST: OK thank you.

JOURNALIST: Just adding on to that. So you mentioned the whole bunch of stuff there that the cost of living is too high. How can you bring it down?

PLIBERSEK: Oh, well we can bring it down. We've got a plan, for example, that will see 97 per cent of Australian families get cheaper childcare. We've got plans to make sure that, for example, you can buy a cheaper electric vehicle if you want to. Our plan for cheaper energy will mean that households and businesses pay less for their electricity. We've got plans to make sure that education and healthcare are properly funded so Australian families have to stick their hands in their pockets less often. And I've got to say, one of the most important areas here is making sure that when people work hard, they get a pay rise, they get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work instead of having a government that is against pay increases for ordinary Australians. Scott Morrison's on the record. His Finance Minister told the truth when he said that low wages are a design feature of Scott Morrison's economy. Lovely to talk to you all. Thanks very much.