TRANSCRIPT: DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, ADELAIDE, THURSDAY 19 APRIL 2018

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

NICK CHAMPION MP
MEMBER FOR WAKEFIELD


E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
ADELAIDE
THURSDAY 19 APRIL 2018

SUBJECTS: Malcolm Turnbull’s education cuts; live animal exports; industrial relations policy; sexual assault and harassment at universities; electoral redistribution in South Australia.

NICK CHAMPION MP, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WAKEFIELD:  Well good morning. It's great to be here at Adelaide University and great to have Tanya Plibersek here in South Australia today. Of course she's here talking about the very important issue of education funding, and in particular funding for universities. When Labor uncapped the places for universities, it was electorates like mine and the northern suburbs of Adelaide which benefited from most of that growth. We had 7 percent growth in the student numbers for studying in higher education, studying degrees from the northern suburbs, and that was a terribly important thing because it gives people a chance for higher incomes and higher expectations and higher ambitions, and that is one of the things that we want to do most is make sure students get good education, whether it be at university or whether it be in vocational education and training and the like, so they can get better incomes and better jobs and better life outcomes. So it's terrific to be here at Adelaide Uni to witness the great work they do, particularly the great work they do in conjunction with other national institutions like the defence science technology group and other defence department groups. We like to see this cooperative investment, this cooperation in higher education and the real economy, and it's so great to have Tanya here today to talk about these issues. Thanks.

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Nick for welcoming me to Adelaide today and for visiting the physics department at Adelaide University with me. It is really phenomenal seeing the work that the physicists and other scientists are doing here, work that will transform the effectiveness of some of our defence technologies and that will contribute in so many ways to the South Australian economy, the Australian economy and the knowledge-based industries that are the future of South Australia. Of course today we're here talking about education funding, and it is really quite a tragedy that just before Christmas the Australian Government cut $2.2 billion from higher education. What that means here at Adelaide University is a loss of around $50 million in coming years. For the whole of South Australia it's a loss of about $160 million. Now what that does in effect is cap the number of students who will be able to benefit from a university education. And of course it puts pressure on things like the terrific research that's being done at this institution. Nick's pointed out how important an uncapped higher education field is for young Australians getting a chance of a university education. How unfair is it that kids who would have qualified for a university education last year won't get a university education this year because the Government has effectively capped the number of students that can go to university. It's not just unfair for those individual students, it's incredibly short sighted for the Australian economy. You look at the sort of industries being developed through partnerships with the research being done at this university and you see the enormous contribution we can make to the state and to the national economy through this investment. So it's individuals’ life chances that are affected, but it's also the future prosperity of this state and of this nation. 

Now of course these cuts have hit every part of the education budget. We've seen massive cuts in vocational education, more than $600 million cut in the last budget, we've seen about a halving of the number of apprentices and trainees in the state of South Australia, a loss of about 17,000 apprentices and trainees in South Australia. And when it comes to school funding you see a cut of $210 million over the next two years alone, obviously putting pressure on the school system down here. About $160 million of that cut comes from public schools, and God knows that our kids could do with every extra dollar of that investment. You know, parents are out there fundraising, doing sausage sizzles and cake stalls. It's pretty hard to replace $160 million cut from our public schools with cake stalls and sausage sizzles. So what I'm saying to the Federal Government today is the Budget is coming up - this is a make or break Budget for Malcolm Turnbull. It's a make or break Budget for this Government. Barnaby Joyce has already put the Prime Minister on notice, saying if the Government's fortunes don't turn around by Christmas time then he's in trouble. Well the Government should use this Budget as an opportunity to restore the money that's been cut from education, the $2.2 billion cut from higher education, the $2.75 billion cut over successive years from vocational education and training, the $17 billion cut from our schools over the next decade. Use this Budget as an opportunity to invest in education. At the moment we see a very stark contrast. We see a Government that is cutting investment in education, it's cutting health, cutting pensions, cutting family tax benefit, cutting all of the supports that ordinary people rely on, but increasing taxes on ordinary working Australians. On the other hand, they're offering $65 billion worth of unfunded big business tax cuts - about 60 percent of the benefits of which flow overseas to overseas shareholders. 

So my message is a very clear one today. With this make or break Budget coming up, the Government should change its priorities. It should restore funding to education, it should get rid of the unfunded $65 billion big business tax cut and get its priorities right for the future of Australia. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: You mention a $50 million cut for Adelaide Uni. Over how many years are you talking?

PLIBERSEK: That's over the next 4 years.

JOURNALIST: And how many students do you think that means won't be able to study here?

PLIBERSEK: Well that's a question really for the university because different universities are managing these cuts in different ways, but I've spoken to universities right across Australia, and their consensus is that there will be fewer students this year, but that the real cuts will be next year and in subsequent years as the inflationary costs of education keep going up, and the funding for the institutions is frozen. They just won't be able to take more students. They'll be taking fewer students year after year. The estimate across all universities in Australia for this year is about 10,000 fewer students.

JOURNALIST: How would Labor propose to reverse the cuts?

PLIBERSEK: We've got well over $100 billion of improvements to the Budget bottom line that we can offer up now. We've said the Government shouldn't proceed with $65 billion worth of big business tax cuts. They should do something sensible on negative gearing and capital gains tax - there's another $37 billion. $19 billion if they don't go ahead with the tax cut for people earning more than $180,000 a year. Now don't forget, you've got people on $1 million a year who get a $16,400 tax cut from this Government, and your ordinary working person on $60,000 gets a $300 tax increase under this Government. How is that fair? They've got the wrong priorities all the way through. What we say is instead of blowing the Budget on the big end of town, let's invest in our people.

JOURNALIST: Just on another matter, Sussan Ley, the Government backbencher, has said that she is planning to introduce a Private Members Bill to demand an end to live exports, to the live export industry, what's your take on that? Do you think it's a good idea?

PLIBERSEK: The first thing to say is that of course Sussan Ley was part of the Government that got rid of the inspector general of animal welfare which we introduced when we were in Government. I was very pleased to see farming groups in the last few days suggesting that Labor's policy for the Inspector General on Animal Welfare should be re-instituted and we certainly urge the Government to do that as an immediate priority. On the broader issue of live exports, I haven't seen the bill so I can't comment on the contents in detail but I would say this, as I've said many times, I would certainly like to see over time a greater emphasis on the export of chilled and frozen meat. If we add value in the supply chain here in Australia by sending the animals to abattoirs here in Australia, that's good for Australian jobs and I think it's certainly better for animal welfare as well.

JOURNALIST: So you don't support completely banning live exports?

PLIBERSEK: Well I haven't seen the bill yet but I...

JOURNALIST: But just as a matter of principle?

PLIBERSEK: I'd certainly like to see them be phased out over time.

JOURNALIST: On another matter the CFMEU has called on Bill Shorten to increase workers' rights to strike. Is this something the Labor Party will consider?

PLIBERSEK: We'll have a very comprehensive industrial relations policy to take to the next election but one thing is certainly true - wages in Australia have flat-lined, they're stagnant, they're not moving, and this is a problem for our economy. It’s not just unions saying this, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia commented that low wages growth is a threat to the Australian economy. If people don't have a dollar in their pocket, they're not confident to spend. We know that our economy depends on confidence and demand to keep ticking over so having flat-lining wages isn't just a problem for the individual family budget, it's a problem for our national economy with low demand and low confidence. So we certainly support measures that see increases in take-home pay, we absolutely say that the cuts to penalty rates should be restored, that we need a better system of bargaining that makes sure that when workforce productivity increases, when companies are becoming more profitable because their workforces are working harder and smarter, that ordinary employees should see some benefit of that. In recent years we've seen many companies refusing to come to the bargaining table as enterprise agreements expire and that's a problem as well that we need to look at as a nation. Overall we do need to make sure that we have an industrial relations system that sees fair increases to take home pay over time. That's important for the family budget and it's important for the national economy.

JOURNALIST: Just on workers' rights, the boss of the CFMEU has told Sky News that the Gillard Government industrial relations changes were dudding workers. Will a Shorten Labor Government look at giving more rights to workers who do choose to strike?

PLIBERSEK: I haven't seen the comments or the interview so I don't want to make specific comments in response. I've said very clearly that we will have a comprehensive industrial relations policy to take to the next election but we do support mechanisms that see increases in wages over time. It is simply not right that in recent years we've seen very strong profitability from Australian companies, we've seen very strong growth in productivity of Australian workforces, we haven't seen any increases in wages. That's a problem.

JOURNALIST: In the case highlighted here today, should universities have any role in investigating sexual assaults or other criminal matters between students?

PLIBERSEK: It's absolutely impossible for me to comment on individual cases, so let me just preface my comments by saying I won't make any comment about an individual case that's in the media today. What I would say generally is that if someone is the victim of a sexual assault they absolutely should go to the police. It should be reported. Secondly, I'd say that universities need to take, right across Australia, universities need to take strong measures to deal with both sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus. That includes supporting people to make complaints to police but also means having processes in place at a university level that support complaints, that deal with issues like sexual harassment that aren't necessarily criminal matters but are certainly issues of concern where conduct needs to change. It is the responsibility of universities to provide a safe environment for students and we've seen in recent years particular reporting about, in some universities, cultures in residential colleges that are very unsafe for some of the students, so without, as I say commenting on the individual case, I think universities having both strong support for people making external complaints to police or the Australian Human Rights Commission and strong internal processes to reduce the incidents, reduce the likelihood, and supports complainants where there have been instances of sexual assault or sexual harassment are both very important.

JOURNALIST: But if there are allegations that amount to criminality should they do anything beyond encouraging them to go to the police? Do they have a role in investigating themselves?

PLIBERSEK: You're now asking me to comment on an individual case at an individual university and I'm not going to do that. I think it's important to have strong support for people making external complaints where that's appropriate, including to the police and the Human Rights Commission, and also strong internal procedures because there will be instances where a person's not confident, or comfortable going to the police or where something is not criminal behaviour but it's certainly problematic behaviour, there is a role for universities and universities need to provide a safe environment. You remember that parents are sending their kids to university when they're 17, 18, 19 years old, they want to be certain that the university has a strong culture of ensuring their safety.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you, the federal boundary redistribution - has the party had any conversations about what will happen to Mark Butler at this point?

CHAMPION: Well no, not formal conversations, but of course we are currently digesting the Boundaries Commission Report. The state secretary, in due course with the redistribution committee which is an internal party committee that's made up of people from all stripes of the party, we'll make a submission to the process. These are draft boundaries, they're not final boundaries, we'll have to wait and see what the final boundaries are and we'll do our preselections from there. But the South Australian branch has always had a long history of dealing with these sorts of matters maturely and constructively and in a co-operative fashion so you'll just have to wait and see us do that.

JOURNALIST: Do you think he should stay in Parliament?

CHAMPION: Mark is a great MP, he's been a parliamentary neighbour of mine, he holds a neighbouring seat and he has been a great contributor to the Labor movement. So has Steve Georganas, and I'm sure we'll, in due course, come up with a solution that meets everybody's needs.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you everyone.

ENDS