Subjects: Liberals’ cuts to universities and higher university fees; Liberals’ division and dysfunction; North Korea; Border force.

MICHAEL SPENCE, VICE-CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY: I’d like to welcome the Acting Leader of the Opposition here to the University of Sydney. Ms Plibersek has been a great friend of the university as our local member, but also a terrific champion for heath, in which the university is very active, and also for education over the course of her political career. So it is terrific to have her here today.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much to Michael Spence, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, and it's great to be here today at a university that I have visited many times. The reason that I am here today is to talk about the Government's $3.8 billion of cuts to university funding over coming years. The Government's proposal sees university students paying back higher debts, and paying them back sooner - as soon as they're earning $42 000 a year - at the same time as they're trying to start a family, buy a house, pay the rent, they'll be paying these higher debts back. We also see cuts to the operating grants of universities that seriously compromise the ability of universities to do what they want to do, provide a world-class education to students. Labor will be standing will university students, with university staff, with universities, to oppose these changes. 

And particularly because these $3.8 billion of cuts to universities come, at least in part, to pay for the $65 billion of big business tax cuts that this government insists on providing to businesses, and mostly going to overseas shareholders. Who would cut $3.8 billion from universities in order to give big business and millionaires a tax cut? Only a government that is extremely short-sighted. Only a government that is at war with itself. 

What we've seen in recent weeks is an extraordinary display from the former Prime Minister, launching a manifesto for government against a government that he is part of. We've seen ministers inviting Peta Credlin and Cory Bernadi to Liberal Party fundraisers to criticise Malcolm Turnbull and his government. We've seen leaked tapes, first of all from Christopher Pyne and then from Tony Abbott - Tony Abbott very critical of the most recent government budget. And this really is a government that continues to be at war with itself. The reason that it makes bad decisions like cutting school funding and cutting university funding in order to give big business tax cuts and millionaires tax cuts, is because it's so out of touch, so out of touch, because it's at war with itself. 

JOURNALIST: On North Korea, should the Australian Government support US trade sanctions against China if that happens, and in particular do you note the comments of the Acting Prime Minister this morning on that [inaudible] issue?

PLIBERSEK: The most recent missile testing from North Korea is of grave concern to the whole international community. These tests are absolutely unacceptable and it is critical that the international community work together to try and promote peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. We know, of course, that China has played a very significant role, through diplomatic and economic means, in putting pressure on the North Korean regime to fall into line with international criticism of the missile testing regime. I think it is vital that Australia continues to work with China, the country most likely to have an effect in reducing North Korean belligerence, that we work with China to that aim.

JOURNALIST: But if China's not doing anything, if their trade has increased 40 per cent with North Korea as Donald Trump said, how can you work with China trying to work in the other way [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: I noticed that the Deputy Prime Minister, who's the Acting Prime Minister at the moment, is all gung-ho on getting into a trade embargo with China on the basis of the activities in North Korea. I think a sober reflection would say that China has played an important role, both through diplomatic and economic means of putting pressure on North Korea not to engage in missile testing.

JOURNALIST: The US hasn't ruled out using military force, what is your thought on that?

PLIBERSEK: Well we are at a very critical time right now, with missiles that obviously can reach targets, including potentially Darwin. We are very concerned that- further tests should not happen. What's important is that the international community work together for that outcome. The United States and China both need to work together to ensure that there are no further military tests, nuclear tests, and missile tests from North Korea. And the most likely potential for success we have, is if China and the United States work together towards a common goal.

JOURNALIST: Josh Fryendberg said this morning that Mr Abbott's comments could potentially help Bill Shorten become the next leader. What are your thoughts on that?

PLIBERSEK: Well it's not just Tony Abbott. I mean, I saw the Prime Minister couldn't bring himself to say Tony Abbott's name today, so the Lord Voldemort of the Liberal Party is not the only problem that the Prime Minister has. Of course, he's got Tony Abbott out there providing an alternate program for government, he's got Tony Abbott touring the country speaking at Liberal Party meetings and fundraisers, against the Prime Ministership of Malcolm Turnbull. But it's not just him. You've got backbenchers and even ministers inviting people like Peta Credlin, like Cory Bernadi, who are critics of Malcolm Turnbull, to present to Liberal Party branches and to attend Liberal Party fundraisers to whip up the troops against Malcolm Turnbull. This is not just a Tony Abbott problem - although if I were Malcolm Turnbull I would be asking myself how do you solve a problem like Tony Abbott - it's a problem that goes much broader than Tony Abbott. There is a deep split in the Liberal Party between the so-called right and left wings of the Liberal Party. And the whole focus of this government is on that split.

JOURNALIST: What would be the dangers of another Prime Minister being rolled - what would that mean for Australia's reputation?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the danger is not to Australia's reputation in the future, the danger is to the lives of ordinary Australians right now, because they're dealing with a government that is not focused on the everyday issues that matter to Australians. Australians want a government that is delivering a world-class education system. They want a government that is protecting and strengthening Medicare. They want a government that is focused on jobs. And at the moment, we have historic high levels of debt and deficit. We've got historic low wages growth. We've got historic high levels of underemployment. We got unemployment at Global Financial Crisis levels. This is a government presiding over an economy that is going backwards as the global economy improves. We've got a government that is presiding over lower wages and higher taxes for ordinary Australians. That's the risk, and it's happening now. It's not a risk in the future.

JOURNALIST: How can you say that the economy is going backwards when GDP is going up? I mean, what credibility does that statement have?

PLIBERSEK: We've got very low rates of confidence in the economy, we've got continued very high rates of underemployment and unemployment, we've got historic low wages growth, and in fact the wages share of economic wealth in this country is at the lowest since records were kept.

JOURNALIST: You said the economy is going backwards? You know, you didn't say, you know- how is it going backwards when GDP is going up?

PLIBERSEK: It's going backwards for ordinary Australians who are seeing higher taxes and lower wages, and less confidence because they've got less money in their pockets to spend, and they don't have the confidence to spend it, because they know that this government is about increasing taxes on them, cutting their wages, cutting their penalty rates, and about $16 400 a year tax cuts for people on a million bucks a year. 

JOURNALIST: How can the Labor Party be so hypocritical, I guess, with the Rudd and Gillard saga? Isn’t this the same as Turnbull and Abbott? 

PLIBERSEK: And we learnt our lesson. We lost government before we should've because we were focused on ourselves and we have learnt a very bitter lesson, because we've seen what this government has done to the country because we lost office before we should've. What you see in Labor at the moment is a united team, behind the Leader, Bill Shorten, working every day to explain our positive policies to the Australian people. What you see from the Liberal Party is constant chaos, bitter infighting, breaking out into public. And, just incidentally, you see that from the Greens as well. 

JOURNALIST: Would you do that to Shorten?

PLIBERSEK: No, absolutely not. You can see what we've been doing during our time in Opposition is working successfully to take to the last election the most detailed program for government that an Opposition has had, probably since the Whitlam years. And since that time, we've added further detail to our program for government. Our whole focus in on jobs, making sure that we've got decent, well-paid jobs in Australia, making sure that we've got a strong health system, a strong education system, making sure that we tackle the serious threat of climate change, continuing to have a strong economy and a fair society. That's our whole focus.

JOURNALIST: On the issue facing border force, are you concerned about possible cultural problems given that two senior people are now on leave?

PLIBERSEK: Look I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment. I know that from media reports that some issues are being investigated, and I think it's proper to allow those investigations to take their proper course. Thanks everyone.