By Tanya Plibersek

06 December 2021



SUBJECTS: Labor’s plans for universities and TAFE; Labor’s climate change policy.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let's bring in Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek, who joins us this afternoon. Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much for your time. We'll get to the climate, I do want to ask you about that in a moment, but your unis and skills plan announced at the weekend. For viewers tuning in today, can you give our viewers a sense of what it's all about and what's the focus in it?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: It’s about giving Australians the chance of an education that helps them get the job of their dreams. We know that too many young Australians are being turned away from university, it's the highest number of kids turned away from university that we've seen in many years, and we know that Scott Morrison has more than doubled the cost of the university degree for thousands of Australians. Now this is happening at the same time as young people have had a couple of very difficult years of schooling, disrupted school, disrupted exams. It's also happening at a time when we've got one in four employers saying they can't find the skilled staff they need. So we're saying we want to see 20,000 extra students starting university over the next couple of years, and we're offering almost half a million free TAFE places as well. So whether it's a university degree or a TAFE qualification you want, Labor's there to back you to get that qualification that helps you get the job of your dreams and we're, of course, helping employers find the skilled staff they need to grow their businesses.

GILBERT: The government says it's got $2 billion being spent on its JobTrainer program which includes registered training organisations outside of the TAFE structure. Will you be planning to utilise those registered training organisations as well as TAFE? It doesn't seem like they're part of the mix here?

PLIBERSEK: Well we think that publicly-funded TAFE should be the bedrock of our skills offering. We know that TAFE is the system that supports the students who have had a tough time getting qualifications in the past. It's the system that works with the majority of employers. But we've also worked over the years with registered training organisations and other private providers as well. What we want to see is TAFE as the sort of anchor institution of our training environment.

GILBERT: Now the money that's going into the universities - $481 million as you alluded to earlier. What do you say to those in the higher education sector who might be saying, ‘we need a lot more than that’? It is this just a down payment?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I've got a lot of sympathy for our university sector, and this is - universities are the only employers that got denied JobKeeper by this government. This government actually changed the rules for JobKeeper three times to make sure universities couldn't benefit. Billions of dollars were lost from the university sector because international students couldn't come, so we're looking at close to $4 billion over the last two years alone. That's meant 40,000 job losses, almost one in five jobs in higher education have been lost, including 7,000 researchers. So you ask where are the jobs of the future coming from - the inventions, the discoveries that would normally see Australian businesses growing and selling products to the world - all of that has been compromised by the Liberals because of their hostility to universities. Like I said, we've got thousands of students who've seen their university course fees more than double in some cases. We've got a growing number of people who want a university education and we've got a growing number of people who are being denied that by the Morrison government. So I agree- 

GILBERT: So is this just a down payment?

PLIBERSEK: -in research and the offering to students. Well, we'll see. We've got more education policies that we will be talking about in coming weeks and months. What I would say is that it's always Labor that makes it easier for ambitious, Australians to get the education that helps them get the job of their dreams and it's always Labor that responds to the needs of employers. Like how is it possible that we've got more than two million Australians who are unemployed or underemployed, and yet we still have one in four employers saying they can't find the skilled staff they need. We know we've got shortages of teachers and IT specialists and engineers and sonographers. Why aren't we training more? Because this government has seen billions of dollars cut from university budgets.

GILBERT: Do you see an opportunity in the care sector specifically where we've seen various inquiries - Royal Commissions in fact, whether it be aged care, we know in the disabilities space as well. Huge shortages and yet in the same areas where there are these shortages we have a lot of younger unemployed. Is that a space you would like to focus on specifically if you are lucky enough to become the next Minister?

PLIBERSEK: 100 per cent, you're absolutely right. So we've got shortages in lots of parts of the economy, but one of the main shortages we see are in the caring professions. So early childhood education and care, aged care and disability care. Now there's a couple things we need to do. We need to make sure that TAFE and university are training people for those jobs, but we also need to make sure that those jobs are properly paid and have decent career paths. So if you look at the finding of the Aged Care Royal Commission, they have already identified that we will need more skilled staff. We'll need many more skilled staff over coming years and decades, of course our TAFE and university system need to be set up to train those people and we need to make sure that there is a, there's a career path for people, that they can start as care assistants and they can work their way up through organisations into management roles because we need to both attract and keep people in those sectors. 

GILBERT: It looks like it's going to be a close election. Today Chris Bowen says that 43 per cent target is non-negotiable in terms of emissions reduction. But if you have to work with the Greens, if you fall just short of a majority, you're not going to stay in Opposition are you? You'll work with the Greens?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we've got one energy policy. We've taken our time to think about it, to get the modelling, to do all the research and underpinning work we need to present one energy and climate policy to the Australian people. In contrast, the Liberals have had 22 - at least 22 different energy policies - and they haven't landed one. So we've got a policy that will reduce the cost of electricity, that will grow jobs, that will make sure that we reduce carbon pollution, and we've got one target. We're going to stick to that target.

GILBERT: But the fact is if Labor falls short and you need the Greens for supply, confidence. You'll take it, won't you?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I can tell you the Greens will have a choice between backing an Albanese Labor government or backing a Scott Morrison Liberal government, and given their complete inaction on climate change, given their failure on the economic elements of this and the environmental elements of this, I think Greens voters would be very disappointed if the Greens were looking to cosy up with Scott Morrison on climate change.

GILBERT: Finally, Gladys Berejiklian. Should she be welcomed in the Federal Parliament by the Prime Minister?

PLIBERSEK: You know what? The voters of Indi, the voters of Wentworth, the voters of Warringah have chosen independents in recent years, not because they don't like the personalities of the Liberals that were running. It's because they don't like the policies of Scott Morrison and his government. They don't like his inaction on climate change. They don't like his failure to have a Federal Anti-Corruption Commission despite promising it three years ago. I don't think it matters who the candidate is. It'll be Scott Morrison's toxic policies that they'll be voting on.

GILBERT: Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek. Thanks. Talk to you soon.

PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure.