By Tanya Plibersek

27 August 2020



SUBJECT: JobReady legislation; aged care crisis; economic recovery.

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let's go live now to the Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek. We'll talk a bit about the Labor issues in a moment Tanya Plibersek, but first up, the Government has given a guarantee to the unions essentially that their funding is secure at their current levels. Do you, are you relieved by that? Do you accept that guarantee?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: To the universities Kieran. I think you said the unions. Maybe I misheard you.
GILBERT: Sorry, universities, the universities, yeah.
PLIBERSEK: Yes, look, the Government's latest university package is very little different to what they proposed some weeks ago, and essentially what it does is make it harder to get to university and more expensive if you do. They're making it harder and more expensive to get a university education at a time when young Australians are joining the dole queue in record numbers. I just don't get, at a time like this, why you would make it harder and more expensive for people to study when the alternative is to be unemployed. So both universities and TAFE are suffering from this neglect and even hostility at a time when we really should be encouraging people to get their education or their training or their skills up to date so that as our economy begins to recover will have the trained workforce necessary for that recovery. And the Government has - 
GILBERT: Some of the concerns though that you raised were in relation to social work, psychology subjects, that they were going to be have their fees increased dramatically. That's now not going to happen, is it?
PLIBERSEK: Well, they are still increasing those fees, but they're only increasing them by $1100 a year. I mean, this is just awful. What we've got is thousands of students whose university fees will increase by $14,500 a year and the Government, the Liberals and the Nationals are saying, "Isn't it great? Social work, child protection workers and so on, their fees will now only increase by $1100 a year”. I still think an $1100 a year increase for people that we want to go on to be child protection workers or geriatric social workers working in our nursing homes to support our older Australians -  why would we be putting up the cost of a university education to do this absolutely critical frontline work, particularly at a time when we know that the alternative for many young people is to to join the dole queue? We've actually seen applications to go to university double -
GILBERT: But do you accept that 60 per cent of students won't pay any more. 60 per cent won't pay any more or will in fact pay less?
PLIBERSEK: Some people will pay less, and 40 per cent of people will pay thousands of dollars more. And what's really distressing about this is they're not necessarily the jobs that will go out and earn a motza afterwards either. So we're asking young people to choose between joining the dole queue or getting a student debt that might be $30,000 or $40,000 or even more, at a time when they're not certain of getting a job if they finish university. So the Liberals and the Nationals are making a big deal of the fact that they've made a few changes. But in fact the cost of these degrees will still go up and on average students will be paying 7 per cent more across the board, and on average the Government will be paying less. In fact, I reckon this whole big shemozzle is cover for the fact that they're cutting almost a billion dollars from universities. This is a distraction from the centre of this story, which is a big cut to university education at the same time as universities have lost revenue from international students, and coming only very shortly after the Government capped student numbers meaning that universities have been struggling now for years. And don't forget, universities were also denied access to JobKeeper. The Government changed the legislation three times specifically to make sure that the people who are doing research in our laboratories right now trying to find a cure or treatment for COVID-19 are locked out of JobKeeper. How does that make sense at a time like this?
GILBERT: On to COVID-19 and the aged care crisis, Labor's saying there's been $1.2 billion cut out of it. The Prime Minister makes the point that essentially the rate was growing anyway, in terms of the funding, that it was coming from a higher base. 
PLIBERSEK: Well, you know Scott Morrison would say anything wouldn't he? The proof is there in black and white. Andrew showed you the Budget papers and the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook papers that show the cuts. I think the Prime Minister, he's always there for the photo opportunity. He's always there to take credit when things are going well, but the minute things are going badly, the minute there's any pressure, he runs a mile. He was the Treasurer that cut this funding and he's the Prime Minister now. Aged care is completely, fully, unequivocally a Commonwealth responsibility and he keeps saying "Oh it's fine, you know, we're doing better than other countries". We've got hundreds of people who have lost their lives, hundreds of families who have lost loved ones during this crisis. There is still, I think 1,100 active cases in our nursing homes. I don't know how anybody could say that we've done a good enough job in looking after our oldest Australians.
GILBERT: No, it has been a tragedy and in some cases an absolute debacle. It's, to turn our attention from that matter of grave importance though I have to ask you about the politics of the day, in the last week or so. Just when you have the Government on the back foot on some issue, as it turns out it's this issue we're talking about, but your colleague Joel Fitzgibbon has raised some internal matters. Were you frustrated by that?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I said at the time that what Australians expect us to do is focus on this once-in-a-century pandemic and to deal right now with the health and economic consequences of this once-in-a-century problem. And then to think about what comes next and what we have to do to make sure that we have strong jobs growth as our economy begins to recover. We need to make sure that, to support our economy in recovery, we are building things, we're investing in infrastructure, we're making things. We pursue cheaper, more affordable, cleaner renewable energy so that we can have a domestic manufacturing base and not be so reliant on our international supply chains that you saw quite disrupted during this period. We need to be caring for people - like the fact that we've got so many people unemployed and yet we've got a 100,000 older Australians waiting for Home Care just makes no sense. Of course we should be supporting employment in those critical frontline areas caring for our oldest Australians, for young Australians. And we need to make sure that the jobs that we see coming out of this crisis are well paid, secure jobs. We've seen what insecurity in our economy does. We've seen people turning up to work when they're sick because they can't afford not to. We need to make sure that we’re investing in an economy, building an economy that gives people certainty and a decent income so that they can spend and create jobs for others.
GILBERT: We're out of time. I'll talk to you soon Tanya Plibersek. Thanks very much for that.