SUBJECTS: Hanoi Summit, New ABC Chair, Rural and regional post-secondary education; University cuts; Freedom of speech at universities; George Pell.

PARTICIA KARVELAS:  Now I was joined earlier by Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek and I asked her about all of these things but we started off of course talking about this summit in Hanoi.
Tanya Plibersek welcome.
KARVELAS: Later today we'll know the outcome of the second summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un, foreign affairs used to be your patch. What would make this summit a success?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think the whole world is hoping that we could get an agreement that sees North Korea agree to reduce its nuclear arsenal. I think that's probably out of the reach of this summit but obviously any agreement for further work would be something that's welcome by the world. I mean the North Korean leader is a particularly brutal dictator who is quite happy to let his own people starve or jail them when they disagree with him politically, so I think we need to be careful to continue to push very hard for de-nuclearisation but also to push very hard on human rights in North Korea. I would be delighted if we had some strong statement on a pathway towards both of those things as an outcome of this summit.
KARVELAS: On another issue, Ita Buttrose has been appointed the Chair of the ABC, do you support her appointment?
PLIBERSEK: I think she's a very distinguished Australian, she's obviously someone who is very capable and certainly up to the job. What I'm disappointed about is the process that the Government has used in making this appointment. They've spent $168,000 of tax payer's money on a headhunting process and then they've ignored all of the results. They've completely abandoned the convention of consulting with the Opposition on an appointment like this, when we were last in government we tried to take the politics out of ABC appointments, Scott Morrison of course has completely ignored that convention. This is no criticism at all of Ita Buttrose, but it's certainly a criticism of a government that continues to make very chaotic decisions.
KARVELAS: But the panel didn't recommend a woman, given they didn't recommend a woman, isn't it fair enough that Scott Morrison intervened to ensure that he got a candidate that was appropriate?
PLIBERSEK: If you're spending $168,000 on a head hunting exercise perhaps you should say at the beginning of the exercise you'd like to see some women's names on the shortlist.
KARVELAS: Okay, well...
PLIBERSEK: It's not hard to do.
KARVELAS: I put that to Mitch Fifield, the Communications Minister, he says they're acting within the rules. Would Labor change the rules and ask for that process to consider gender in the process from the beginning?
PLIBERSEK: Well we did change the rules to try and make it bipartisan and a-political and the Government has obviously ignored that.
KARVELAS: But it doesn't require that they have to put forward women's names.
PLIBERSEK: No, we do have a policy that half of government board appointments should be female and we, when we set targets when we were last in government we achieved them early so I'm certainly prepared to back our ability to get prominent, great female candidates for these very high profile positions. We're not talking about a general thing here today though, we're talking about this specific appointment at the ABC, if the government was serious about wanting to consider women for the position, they should have asked for a shortlist that was half male half female. Instead they spent $168,000 of tax payer's money and then ignored the results.
KARVELAS: So would Labor ask a future panel for 50 per cent women, 50 per cent men recommended?
PLIBERSEK: Well I can tell you how I operated when I was a minister, I always expected female and male names on shortlists and because we had a target of getting to 50/50 on our government board appointments we got our target, now it's 50/50, we got to our target when we were last in government several years ahead of schedule and I think that's something to be proud of. It does require you as a minster to say to your department 'don't keep sending up shortlists with all male names on them' and I think the Government could equally have said that to their headhunters in this instance, instead of going through a process and then ignoring the outcome of the process.
KARVELAS: I've found out and just shared on national television that actually nine women did apply, one woman was interviewed but the final list didn't include a female name. What do you make of that, the fact that just nine women out of 31 overall applied and at the end none of them were worthy to be on the list?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's really up to the Government to answer questions about how this process was conducted. All we know is what's on the public record  which is that $168,000 of tax payer's money was spent and then the result was ignored. I think if the Government had said to the headhunters ahead of the process 'we want some female names on the shortlist' perhaps you would have seen a different outcome.
KARVELAS: You've given a big speech today and announced that students in rural and regional areas would receive mentoring to encourage them into tertiary education under I think what is a $3.2 million plan. What would that mentorship look like?
PLIBERSEK: Well let me talk about regional and rural students more generally. If you live on the North Shore of Sydney you are four or five times more likely to have a degree than if you live in say outback Northern Territory, so we know that that's not because people who are growing up in the outback aren't as clever or as capable, it means that they've got less opportunity. So there's a few things we need to do. The first is to return to an uncapped system of university places, when Labor was last in government we uncapped access to university and we saw big growths in the number of students from regional and rural communities but we've also committed to 22 regional study hubs where universities and TAFEs can work together in rural and remote locations to offer places where people who are say studying online can come in and do face to face tutorials, get help with their studies, a place where they can sit exams. And our announcement today was that $3.2 million would be available in these communities for outreach - high schools, TAFEs, community organisations - to work with local schools to build aspiration for university education amongst students. This is of course (comes with) the $174 million that we have committed to equity programs. These have been fantastically successful. A lot of universities are working with local schools or indeed with adults who are thinking about retraining or getting more qualifications later in life. We really do need to build aspiration to get a post-secondary education in Australia because we know that 90 per cent of the jobs that are being created over coming years will require a university or a TAFE education after school.
KARVELAS: And what would a new Commissioner to boost regional participation in tertiary education actually do? Like what does a Commissioner do that you want to establish?
PLIBERSEK: We've already committed to having an inquiry into post-secondary school education, into all of TAFE and all of university. We recognise that for people living in rural and remote communities there are particular barriers to accessing TAFE and university so we've said today that we will appoint a rural commissioner who is expert in recognising and coming up with solutions to those barriers to study that people are experiencing when they live in the country. We know that people are either not taking up the opportunity of a TAFE or university education, they're dropping out in bigger numbers, they're not completing or they're taking much longer to complete their studies. I'm sure there are solutions to these barriers that they're facing and having someone who is expert in delivering education in rural and remote settings, that person can give us great advice about how we can deal with those barriers.
KARVELAS: Education Minister Dan Tehan and free speech advocates, also the Institute of Public Affairs, have expressed fears that left-wing protesters and censorship and I suppose what they describe as 'political correctness' are stopping free debate in universities. Is that worth inquiring into?
PLIBERSEK: I think these kind of desperate, sad culture wars things are what you do when you've run out of ideas. When you've got only cuts to higher education to talk about, well start a culture war, it's a good distraction. I think it's just nonsense. I don't see any systemic evidence of undermining of academic freedom. The only thing that I've seen that really undermines academic freedom in recent times are Ministers who override Australian Research Council grants because they don't like the title of the research project that's been awarded a grant. That's the only censorship that I've seen recently.
KARVELAS: Would you shut down any inquiries into this?
PLIBERSEK: Oh look I don't think these inquiries will take long to conclude. I just think you've got a government that’s desperate for a conversation changer. All people are talking about in higher education at the moment are the billions of dollars of cuts, the uncertainty, the number of students that are missing out on a place at university, despite studying hard, despite being able to show how they would benefit if they got tertiary education. They're missing out because this government has capped funding to universities. I think the Government is just looking for anything to change the conversation.
KARVELAS: And I'm going to change the conversation just before I let you go. Cardinal George Pell is now behind bars as we know. He is of course appealing. Now former Prime Minister John Howard has been critiqued for providing a character reference. Tony Abbott also revealed that he did call Cardinal Pell after the conviction. Ray Hadley is a very well-known radio host and commentator, he's gone pretty hard in his criticism today about both of those former Prime Ministers providing what he says is essentially support for Cardinal Pell. Do you think they've shown a lack of judgement?
PLIBERSEK: Look I think it's up to them to explain why they've done what they've done but I make this general comment - the reason that child sexual abuse has been so wide-spread, so pervasive, so difficult to prosecute, is because as a society we have believed powerful perpetrators of abuse above vulnerable children. I think it is very important, when there is a finding like you've seen against Cardinal Pell that we have faith in our legal systems - he's got a right to appeal, of course he does - but I think it's important to show that no-one is above the law in Australia and that we trust our legal system to determine the outcomes in these cases rather than second guessing them.
KARVELAS: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining me.
PLIBERSEK: Thanks Patricia.