By Tanya Plibersek

27 August 2020


SUBJECT: University funding; foreign interference bill.
MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Let's take it back to Federal Parliament now, where the legislation to change the cost of university degrees is set to be introduced today.
MADELEINE MORRIS, HOST: The Government says it will help universities hit by the loss of international students, but Labor also argues that the plan does little to help young Australians. The Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek joins us now. Tanya Plibersek, good morning to you, now the headline of this when it first was brought in was that Arts degrees were going to cost $14,000, that's not changed, but there have been some changes. The Government is going to guarantee floor-funding for universities. Is that a welcome change?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Well just let me correct you it's $14,500 dollars each year, not for the whole degree. What this package does, even with the changes that the Government's made, is makes it harder and more expensive for people to go to university, and cuts billions of dollars from university funding. So I think this is still a package that is very troubling. I don't understand why at a time when thousands of people are joining the unemployment queues, we would be making it harder and more expensive to get an education. Surely, if people are not working they should be learning and upgrading their skills so that they can get a job as our economy recovers. Instead of doing this, this package still makes it much more expensive for people to go to university. On average students will pay more, and the Government will contribute less to the cost of educating students. 
MORRIS: Can I just talk to you about funding for universities? We do know that there are going to be major shortfalls - we expect for the next couple of years because of the loss of international students. What are your concerns around that and do you feel that this Bill is going to adequately make up for that?
PLIBERSEK: Well it won't make up for it - it'll make it worse. It'll do exactly the opposite. This Bill cuts billions of dollars from universities. On top of that of course universities have lost billions of dollars from international student revenue, and universities as a sector are one of the few sectors deliberately excluded from JobKeeper payments. The Government actually changed the law three times to make sure that that no university actually could access JobKeeper payments. So altogether this massive hit on university budgets has already caused the loss of thousands of jobs. Universities Australia estimate another 21,000 jobs will go. Obviously this compromises the quality of education for remaining students and on top of all those previous cuts, the cuts to International students mean that university research has taken a massive hit. I mean international student funds basically fund research in our universities, that's taken a massive hit. This new change coming on top of that - I don't know how much of our university sector will be left after after these changes. We've taken billions out of
MORRIS: Can I just ask you about the other major news out of Canberra which relates directly to your portfolio of Education in many ways, which is this new foreign interference bill, to give the Foreign Minister oversight over deals struck with State governments, Local governments, universities with foreign entities. Will Labor support that Bill?
PLIBERSEK:  Well, of course, we'll look at the details of it. It comes a little bit late for the Port of Darwin which of course, you know, the loss of the Port of Darwin took place under this government. The Australian Government is responsible for our relations as a nation with other nations. We will look at the content of this legislation. We have to be careful in the university sector to protect and make sure that we get the full value of research done in Australian universities. That we can commercialise that and create jobs for Australians. But we also need to, where it's beneficial, cooperate with other countries. Some of our greatest breakthroughs have been in cooperation with other nations. They've been beneficial for Australia, they've underpinned Australian jobs and they've been beneficial for humanity as a whole. So we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
MORRIS: Okay, but I mean if this goes through this is undoubtedly going to provoke, well most likely more pushback from China. I mean we've seen wine, we've seen barley, we've seen beef - students, as you've just said, are such a huge source of funding for universities. Would you be concerned about potential backlash and loss of Chinese students here?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think international education has been great for Australia, it's our fourth largest export earner. It was earning 39 billion dollars for Australia before COVID-19 hit and it is important, when it's safe, that we look for ways of reopening that relationship. It’s good for our diplomatic relations as well, people who come and study here have good impressions of Australia, they establish business connections and friendships that last a lifetime.
MORRIS: So isn't this bill going to risk that?
PLIBERSEK: No, I think we need to look at the details of the bill carefully. We've only just had this announced by the Government. We will examine it closely, but at the end of the day the first and most important responsibility of any government is to protect the safety and the sovereignty of our nation. So we'll look at the details that's all I can say.
MORRIS: Sure, but just on that, dozens of leading scientists at major universities across the country have been recruited to a Chinese government backed Thousand Talents Plan, something that the FBI has called economic espionage. Do you share concerns about that plan?
PLIBERSEK: Well, as I said, I think it is important that where it's beneficial for Australia we cooperate with other nations. We have some great discoveries that way, we get some really super smart people to come and work in Australia and pass on their knowledge to Australians that work with them. That sort of academic cooperation is something that we should value. We need to be careful that when it's happening, if there are things that are discovered or invented that for example have military application that that transfer of knowledge is handled very carefully or protected here within Australia. We need to be careful about intellectual property to make sure that patents lodged benefit Australia, that we capture the value of that discovery and of that inventiveness here in Australia. I don't think it's beyond us to manage this.
MORRIS: Can I just ask you briefly, Minister, some of your Federal Labor colleagues had expressed a little bit of concern, a little bit of a 'please explain' to Daniel Andrews about the plan to extend the emergency powers for 12 months. It looks now as though a compromise has been reached on that. Is that good in your view? Perhaps not a 12 month extension to those emergency powers?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think Dan Andrews himself said it would it would be terrible if he was still relying on these powers in 12 months time. We all hope that life in Victoria is back to normal much much faster than that, and I certainly hope that we can come to a sensible position based on the best medical advice. It's such a difficult time for everyone. We don't know what the future holds. I think all State governments are relying on the best medical advice - yes to minimise the impact on their citizens, but to keep those citizens safe from the spread of COVID-19.
MORRIS: Alright, Tanya Pllibersek, thank you for speaking to us this morning.
PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure.