By Tanya Plibersek

27 August 2020



SUBJECTS: University funding package; Foreign interference; JobKeeper.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, let's return to Canberra now and joining us is the Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek. Tanya, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us. So this week we've had Andrew Gee on, we've had Dan Tehan. So we're getting your response now to these changes this week for the Government's university reform. What are your thoughts on those changes? 
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Well, in a nutshell this legislation still makes it harder and more expensive for students to go to university. It'll mean that students are paying thousands of dollars more for a university degree and universities will be receiving billions of dollars less funding. This legislation cuts funding to universities and it makes it more expensive for students to get a degree at a time when thousands are joining the unemployment queue and I just don't know why you would do that. I mean you think about these poor kids this year, the ones that have been struggling through year 12, remote learning, no graduation ceremonies, all of the pressure of their final exams, and now they're being told that they'll be lucky if they get a place. It's going to be more competitive to get into university and if they do get a place they'll be paying thousands of dollars more.
STEFANOVIC: But it's not all students right? It's sixty per cent of students are actually having their fees decreased?
PLIBERSEK: Well, 40 per cent of students are going to see big increases in the cost and some of those courses will more than double in cost, more than double in cost. So kids will be paying $14,500 a year for an education. I'm not going to congratulate the Government for leaving some costs untouched. I am very pleased that some courses are dropping in cost and in fact, it'd be terrific if they just stuck with those, the cuts to the cost of courses, without putting up the cost for other students. On average students will pay more. So the students who are paying more are subsidising the students who are paying less, and the Government is paying less overall. The Government is paying billions of dollars less and this comes on top of the loss of revenue from international students and also very importantly previous cuts this Government has made. So we've taken billions of dollars out of the university sector. Universities have been denied JobKeeper. So they've already seen thousands of people lose their jobs. Of course that affects the quality of education that students get. All of these things are happening at a time when thousands are joining the dole queue, like doesn't it make more sense if you can't get a job to be getting an education that will help you get a job as the economy recovers? It doesn't make sense to lock people out of university and TAFE at a time when we want them to be studying so that they're job ready as the economy recovers. 
STEFANOVIC: Do you think Confucius Institutes at our universities pose a threat to National Security and if so, should they be reviewed? 
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it's very important that universities are alert to the potential for foreign interference on university campuses, and in my discussions with universities, they are alert to that potential. I've asked for a further briefing from our security agencies about their current thinking on foreign interference on our university campuses, but we need to be a little bit sensible about this because international cooperation and collaboration between researchers can be very beneficial for Australia. It does mean that we often get super bright people from overseas who come and work here and contribute to discovering things and inventing things that go on to create jobs for Australians. So we just need to take a sensible and balanced approach. No one believes that it is acceptable to see foreign interference, foreign governments trying to determine what's taught or the discussions that are had at Australian universities, but we also need to recognise that international collaboration is an important part of academic work.
STEFANOVIC: Just a few quick ones before we go. There is the Prime Minister's announcement today that he'll be vetoing powers on foreign investment. Is that something that Labor will be supporting in your opinion? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, first thing to say is it's a bit late for the sale of the Port of Darwin isn't it? And we'll have a look at the details here. The most important responsibility of any Commonwealth government is to keep our country safe and to keep it free of foreign interference, and Labor has always been supportive of measures that prevent foreign interference in our domestic political system and so on. We'll have a look at the details of this legislation. But like I say, bit late for the Port of Darwin.
STEFANOVIC: And also the JobKeeper extension passed the lower house last night, but do you still have any concerns about it? 
PLIBERSEK: Look, we do still have some concerns. Millions of people still miss out - in the university sector we've seen thousands of job losses already and another 21,000 job losses predicted because universities have been explicitly excluded from JobKeeper. And there's many, many workers in the same position. The old Qantas catering workers - they're the ones that really, really break my heart. People who are working for 10 or 20 years for Qantas catering, their company got sold to an overseas company so they miss out. You know, they've been paying taxes in Australia for all their working lives some of them, and it still makes no sense to me why they wouldn't get some support from the Government that they've paid taxes to. There are some concerns about this being a disincentive - as companies begin to recover, the workers being worse off under the arrangements as they stand at the moment. But we do support an extension of JobKeeper more generally because we know that the economy is not strong enough at the moment. If we cut this support, we'd see thousands more unemployed.
STEFANOVIC: Tanya Plibersek, appreciate your time as always. Thanks for joining us this morning. 
​PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure.