SUBJECTS: Universities report; the Liberals’ cuts to education; National Energy Guarantee.

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well this morning we've seen a very important report from the major research universities, the Group of Eight, showing that while universities cost $12 billion in 2016, they returned $66 billion to the Australian economy. We know that investment in universities is really important for individual students, giving them the knowledge and the skills to go on to do the jobs of the future. But investment in universities is really important for the Australian economy as well. We can't be a wealthy nation, a clever country, without investing in our universities. That's why it's so very disappointing that the Education Minister continues to cut university funding, including most recently by $2.2 billion. It's really unsurprising that Australians are losing faith in this Education Minister. An Education Minister that's cut funding for preschools, to childcare, for schools, for TAFE and universities. An Education Minister that has presided over the debacle of the new childcare enrolment system and the disaster of NAPLAN Online. It's no wonder that Australians are losing faith in this Education Minister because while he's called the Minister for Education, most Australians see him as the Minister against Education. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: Just briefly on NAPLAN Online, I mean, obviously you'd have to agree that it has to go online eventually, that's the natural way of things, so, you know, what's wrong with a few bumps in the road as we try to reach that point?
PLIBERSEK: I think that having a testing environment that is online, that is more graduated for students, that gives results more quickly to teachers and schools and parents, is something that we should aspire to, but this project has been mismanaged by this Government. These children don't get the chance again. If they are falling behind now, if they are missing out on a program at school that would help them catch up, this time doesn't come back to them. The Government should have been certain that the results were comparable and would meet parents and teachers' requirements, in the way that they should, to help every child.
JOURNALIST: Just on university funding, we’ve seen unis like the ANU say that they don't want to take more students, [inaudible] opportunity is there they’ve reached a natural cap [inaudible] would the extra funding not see them grow at an [inaudible] unsustainable rate?
PLIBERSEK: No. I think it's up to individual universities to make decisions about the size of the university. I think ANU is perfectly right to make the decision that suits the university, the students at ANU best.
JOURNALIST: Why is it that universities ought to be dependent on government funding? Shouldn't they be looking to [inaudible]?
PLIBERSEK: Well it depends really, doesn't it, whether you think government has a responsibility to educate the next generation of Australian workers. I see an investment in higher education as absolutely critical to the life chances of Australians. We know that the jobs of the future are going to require either a TAFE or university education after high school, very few jobs will be available to people who haven't got a post-secondary school qualification, and I believe that a critical role for government is to make sure that that education is great quality, and affordable, so that people aren't locked out of higher education and the jobs that it brings because of where they grew up and what their parents' bank balance is.
JOURNALIST: On the NEG, would you be prepared to support it if you saw modelling that showed it will in fact reduce power prices?
PLIBERSEK: We want to see an energy policy that brings down prices and brings down pollution, that sees growth in jobs and growth in renewables. We've been prepared to work with the Government when they came up with the Emissions Intensity Scheme we said, fine, let's work with you on that. They couldn't get it through their party room. They came up with the Clean Energy Target, again we said we're prepared to work with you. We're prepared to work with the Government on a National Energy Guarantee. If it brings down prices and brings down pollution, and sees investment in renewables, and drives new jobs growth as well. We are very concerned that the National Energy Guarantee, as it stands as the moment, its profound lack of ambition when it comes to reducing pollution, and the fact that it's unlikely to lead to any new investment in renewables. Now the Government's most recent claim that Rod Sims has called for new investment in coal fired power stations has been comprehensively dismissed by Rod Sims and also by other commentators – and Kerry Schott, the head of the Energy Security Board, saying that it is unlikely that we will see new investment in coal. If the Prime Minister has to deliver that in his party room today as some price for getting the National Energy Guarantee through, well that would be deeply concerning - we certainly wouldn't want to see taxpayers money spent on investment in new coal. But as I say, we are prepared to work with the Government. The problem for the Government is that they're not prepared to work with each other. We've got a Prime Minister and a former Prime Minister calling each other idiots in public instead of actually getting on and solving the conundrum of bringing down pollution, bringing down prices, driving jobs growth and driving investment in renewables.
JOURNALIST:  You spoke [inaudible] concerns for new coal investment. Part of the thinking that makes it [inaudible] if we don't, you know, at least invest in coal during the transition out [inaudible] we might end up with a gap, a shortfall during the period of time before getting to operate on renewables. What do you make of that argument? Is that not an reasonable argument that we should support investment in coal until the point we can transition out?
PLIBERSEK: Coal will be a part of our energy mix for the immediate future, for decades to come - and that's something that we have to manage to make sure that we do have the baseload power production. But the idea that we would start building new coal fired power stations that would take years to come online, to solve a problem that we have today, that doesn't make sense to anyone. Thanks everyone.