By Tanya Plibersek

22 June 2020


MONDAY, 22 JUNE 2020

SUBJECT: Liberals’ university announcement; Superannuation Guarantee; Coronavirus.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Well, federal Labor is ramping up its attacks on the federal Government's plan for cheaper degrees to create so-called more job ready graduates, arguing it does little to help the ongoing issue of youth unemployment. The Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek joins us now. Good morning to you Tanya Plibersek.


ROWLAND: How in your view doesn't this scheme announced by the government help youth unemployment?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it makes it harder and more expensive to go to university. What we see is, on average, students will be paying more. So, there are some areas where students will pay less - we welcome that. But in other areas students will pay more than a hundred per cent more for a degree and on average, students will pay more. The Government talks about extra places, but they say they'll be extra places with no extra Government funding. That means one lot of students are paying for another lot of students to get a university degree. We also note that this doesn't go near replacing the places that have been lost under this Government. When the Government capped university places in 2017, the Mitchell Institute estimated that we'd lose about two hundred thousand places over the decade. The Government's claiming a hundred thousand extra places over the decade with no extra funding. It's also interesting to note that although they've claimed that they want students to be studying more maths degrees, science degrees and so on - maths and engineering will actually receive less funding overall. So, it's going to be very hard for universities to offer those extra places. We simply think that at a time when young people have been so hard hit by the recession, it would be a much better idea to make it easier to study rather than harder to study. And, you know those young people should be - they'd be better off in university than joining the dole queue, which is the alternative that's available to them at the moment. We've seen twice as many students from New South Wales say that they want to go to university next year, as we usually see, but there won't be places for them.

ROWLAND: Okay. Well, so what alternative fee structure would you propose to help universities who are facing this financial crush at the moment?

PLIBERSEK: Well, universities you're quite right, have lost billions of dollars of revenue from overseas students that they normally use to cross subsidise Australian students and the research that they undertake at university. So, that's one problem. The Government has been very clear that they're not going to help universities with JobKeeper or any other subsidies like that. But when it comes to redesigning the university system, I think the two things we need to make sure of is that it's affordable for every student; that if you are prepared to work hard and study hard, they'll be a place for you. We were already seeing university places under pressure because of what's called the "Costello baby bump" - all those all those extra kids that Peter Costello urged mums, when he had urged one for Mum, one for Dad, one for the country. They're getting ready to go to university now. So university places needed to expand anyway. You add to that the impact of the recession and the highest number of young unemployed people in over two decades and you see that it makes more sense to make sure that university is both affordable and that there are places there for people who are prepared to study hard and who get the marks.

ROWLAND: Okay, before we move on to other issues. Do you believe that you're pushing it uphill to try to stop these changes in the Senate? It appears at this stage, the Government has the numbers on the cross-bench to get these fee changes through.

PLIBERSEK: Well, look, I'll be talking to the cross-bench of course. But I think that the problem with this Government is there's always a - there's a fine headline one day and when people start examining the details the next day they find that it is not quite all it was made out to be. So, the Government's headline was extra university places with an emphasis on areas like maths and science, teaching and nursing. That's not really what's happened here. What you see is extra places paid for by increasing student contributions on average and you see that in fact courses like maths and engineering receive less funding overall. So it's going to be harder for universities to offer more places in those subjects.

ROWLAND: Okay to another subject. The Nine newspapers this morning are reporting Coalition MPs are pressuring the Government to put off these scheduled increase to the superannuation guarantee from nine and a half to twelve per cent. What do you make of that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, the Coalition MPs have always been about smashing superannuation and this is just one more example. The fact that this Government allowed early access to superannuation in the way that it did, was very harmful to many people's retirement incomes. We saw people taking out thousands of dollars for discretionary spending, not emergency spending but discretionary spending, and the cost of you know, taking out twenty thousand dollars now could be a hundred and twenty thousand dollars in retirement. On top of that, you now have them Coalition MPs arguing for, you know, reduced superannuation guarantee. It's just one more way of ensuring people retire in poverty. We already know that women retire with about half the superannuation of men at the moment. This is, and we know, that women over the age of fifty-five are the fastest growing group of people moving into homelessness. This is one more contribution to making sure those people retire in poverty and I should also note that the early release of superannuation that this Government has presided over during the recession has seen people essentially being robbed by criminals of their superannuation in some cases. This Government does not know how to look after people's retirement savings and it's a recipe for disaster for many, many Australians.

ROWLAND: Okay. Finally, the situation on Coronavirus is as you know, getting all of a sudden the whole lot worse in Victoria. As a New South Wales resident, a Sydney resident, would you support any moves to close the border between New South Wales and Victoria?

PLIBERSEK: Look, it's not about opinions at a time like this. It's about what our health experts advise us and so I'd certainly advise the Victorian Government and the New South Wales Government and the federal Government to work cooperatively based on the best medical advice. I think the one thing that we can say for certain is that people can't relax. They can't believe for a moment that this health crisis is over and all of that early advice about washing your hands, staying home if you've got any symptoms, going to get tested if you've got symptoms - I mean staying home from work, going to get tested you've got symptoms, all of that is just as important now as it was a few months ago. We cannot relax our vigilance because the cost of a second wave would be catastrophic.

ROWLAND: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for your time this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.