01 August 2019




SUBJECTS: Protecting hospital staff; TAFE and universities; Newstart; Raheem Kassam.

LAURA JAYES, PRESENTER: The Shadow Minister for Education and Training, Tanya Plibersek, joins me live. I will get to your portfolio in a moment.Can I first ask you about this HSU stop work action today - do you think this concern is just confined to NSW?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Laura, I'm sure that this is the case also right around Australia. Those figures from NSW with one hospital worker being assaulted every day in NSW hospitals are a real concern. Many of these workers are vulnerable. They're working long hours - right through the night - 24 hours a day, seven days a week we're staffing our hospitals. And cleaners, security staff are really bearing the brunt of bad behaviour from patients and from members of the public. They shouldn't be exposed this sought of danger and violence in their workplace.

JAYES: Is this firmly in the remit of the State Government or is there a role the Federal Government should play here when it comes to safety of workers such as these?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think this really is an issue for the NSW State Government and for state governments around the country, to make sure that their staff in hospitals are properly protected. I would say when it comes to our hospitals, we've got extraordinarily long waiting times now in emergency and very long waiting times for elective surgery. I imagine that some of the frustrations that you see are caused by those very long waiting times, by the crowding you see in emergency, by issues like ramping, where patients are kept in ambulances because there is no bed for them in the hospital. So the Federal Government has a role in properly funding our hospitals, to reduce some of these pressures in our hospitals, but the day to day issues around protecting staff are firmly in the State Government's area of responsibility.

JAYES: Okay, I'm going to do something radical here and ask you about your own portfolio area.


JAYES: I was looking at some data from Universities Australia that show that young people are still more likely to go to uni if they live in more wealthy suburbs in the cities rather than some other areas of the country. The Productivity Commission also showed that Labor's policy, essentially, of uncapping university places has had mixed results and its not done much to get people from regional areas into universities. Why the huge focus on uni? What's wrong with TAFE?

PLIBERSEK: Both are great. We need to have a strong and excellent university system, and a strong and excellent TAFE system. We need both, side by side. But sadly this Government has cut both universities and TAFE. What we know, for sure, is that work is becoming increasingly complex. Nine out of 10 jobs that will be created in coming years will need a TAFE or a university qualification, not just a high school qualification - and so we need to make sure that Australians have the opportunity of that education because if we are locking them out of education, we are locking them out of jobs.

We saw very substantial increases in the number of students from regional and rural communities when we uncapped access to universities. We saw students from all sorts of disadvantaged backgrounds - economically disadvantaged, Indigenous, rural and remote, students with a disability - all of those categories increased when we uncapped access to university and all of those categories will suffer when we restrict access to university education.

It's just nuts isn't it, that if you're a young person on the North Shore of Sydney, you are three times more likely to go to university than someone even on the Central Coast. If you are growing up in Brisbane you are four times more likely to go to university than someone who is growing up in Caboolture or Deception Bay. It's not right. These kids in rural and regional communities are every bit as smart, they are every bit as ambitious, what they are missing out on is the opportunity of a university education. And so we need to make sure they have that opportunity for university or TAFE, as you point out.

JAYES: But universities are profitable businesses. Is part of the problem here is that not reinvesting that profit into students and spending too much money on things like marketing?

PLIBERSEK: I think the marketing issue is a little bit of a furphy. It's important that universities are able to communicate about their courses with potential students, both in Australia and overseas. I think the bigger issue is that government has, for years now, been restricting funding to universities, for students, for research. There is an education infrastructure fund, none of that money is being spent on new buildings or resources and there's a really great disparity between the big city universities and the regional universities - they are really struggling, in recent years, to offer the quality of education that they want for their students.

JAYES: Labor is going to review all of its policies. Does your portfolio and the promises you made at the election remain front and centre? $17 billion increase for schools, increased funding for universities and you are reviewing the policies that perhaps would have paid for some of that, franking credits and negative gearing. Are these unfunded promises at the moment?

PLIBERSEK: Look, you are quite right we have said very clearly that we are reviewing all of our policies. We're not just going to roll over what we have committed to in the past. But I can tell you that education will always be front and centre for Labor, because it is the best opportunity of giving an individual every chance in life to get a great job and live a good quality of life, but it is also vitally important for our economy. By investing in our education, we invest in the future prosperity of our nation. So you know that we will always back strong investment in early childhood education, in schools, in TAFE and in universities, so that people have lifelong opportunity.

JAYES: Newstart is another one of those things, an increase, that Labor is pushing for. Before the election you said that there would be a review, now you want the Government to lift it. By how much and is this unfunded empathy as the Prime Minister put it?

PLIBERSEK: I think it was a really unfortunate expression that the Prime Minister has used. Labor is not the only organisation calling for an increase in Newstart. We're not the only people calling for an increase in Newstart. Even notable radicals like the Business Council of Australia and former Prime Minister John Howard are calling for an increase in Newstart. I don't know many people who think they could live on $14,500 dollars a year. Newstart is just a bit less than that. It is now at a stage where people can't afford to look for work. They're just surviving on Newstart. They can't afford the transport to get to work, they can't afford a clean shirt for the job interview. We are trapping people in poverty by the very low rate and we haven't just plucked a figure out of the air. Our policy before the election was to have a thorough review

JAYES: What is the figure?

PLIBERSEK: This exactly the point, we're not just going to make a figure up - our policy before the election was to have a thorough review of the adequacy of Newstart, where we would take a scientific approach to the quantum of increase that is necessary for people to live adequately on Newstart while they are searching for work. We think it is important that the Government lift the rate of Newstart, and we would be very happy to participate, with them, in an analysis of what a reasonable rate would be.

JAYES: Just finally, can I ask you about Raheem Kassam. He is coming out to speak at a conservative conference, he is the editor of Breitbart. Some of your colleagues have called him a "career bigot". Why should he be banned?

PLIBERSEK: We are all for freedom of speech. We think that there is robust contest of ideas that is perfectly appropriate for Australia. What we don't like are people who are vilifying groups in our community and encouraging the exclusion and vilification of those groups. And I think this fellow, if you look at his past comments, falls well within that latter category.

JAYES: He has apologised for some of those comments.

PLIBERSEK: Look,I don't think it is worth going through everything he's said in history, but he has got racist, sexist, anti-Muslim record of vilifying groups in our community that I don't think is particularly productive to be winding that stuff up here in Australia.

JAYES:So you are obviously not at all swayed by Donald Trump Jnr's tweeting about this individual overnight?

PLIBERSEK: Well,there is a great example of everybody having a right to their opinion. He's got a right to his opinion.

JAYES: We will leave it there. Tanya Plibersek, appreciate your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Laura.