TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, University of Adelaide, Thursday 9 October 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Budget cuts;  Abbott Government’s unfair Higher Education legislation; Surrogacy; ABS; Iraq.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning. Thanks for coming out this morning. It’s a great pleasure to be here with my fellow colleague Kate Ellis at the University of Adelaide Medical School talking to some noisy medical students. You need to settle down, fellas.

It’s a great pleasure to be here talking with medical students about their concerns about the Government’s plans for deregulating fees for universities and the cuts that are being made to university funding in Australia. Here in South Australia, you’re looking at over $300 million cuts to the university sector and indeed $114.3 million cut from Adelaide University alone. That means substantial fee increases and a reduction in quality research. The fee increases will be particularly hard on university students including university students who’ve already been begun their courses. There’s an estimate that the cost of a medical degree from a university like Adelaide will go from around $60,000 to as much as $180,000. Of course that will discourage many students from taking on a medical degree. It’ll also mean huge future debts including for existing students, if the Government has its way. The proposal to apply a commercial rate of interest will affect students like these who’ve already made a decision to take on a medical degree. Students take on a career in medicine because they are dedicated to assisting their fellow Australians. People choose to follow a profession in medicine because they are full hearted people who see the benefit for the whole community in the work that they’re doing. The very last thing we want to do is discourage people who are passionate about a potential career in medicine from taking on valuable work. But increasing the cost of a medical degree from $60,000 to $180,000 will surely discourage many young Australians from taking on a career in medicine. The particularly unfair thing about these cuts is that they also affect existing students.

These young people have taken on a medical degree in the expectation of course that they’ll work hard for many years, that they’ll graduate with something to repay. But what they’re expected to do now is see their fees increase. They don’t know by how much and also a commercial rate of interest applied to any debt they have. They’ve also expressed concerns about how that will affect their career decisions, that the pressure on them to take on careers in areas that are higher paid but not necessarily the areas of greatest need, and it will certainly put extra pressure on young women on how they will balance their career in medicine with raising a family. The idea that they’re able to take a few years out of their career to raise a family when their interest is accumulating all the time on their HECS debt is of course a great worry to people who took on a career in medicine in good faith. The good news is that these higher education changes haven’t passed through the Senate yet and with only three Senate sitting weeks, the pressure has to stay on the Government to keep fighting these unfair changes. We had a victory last week with fighting off the unfair changes to the pension, it looks like another victory today with the unfair changes to unemployment benefits. We need to have a third victory to protect these idealistic, young students who only want to serve their community with a career in medicine. Any questions- oh Kate, do you want to make some comments about university funding?

KATE ELLIS: Well, thank you very much, Tanya Plibersek, for joining me here today and for the students from the University of Adelaide Medical School. We are here very clearly today to say that the Abbott Government’s attacks on young South Australians’ prospects need to end. In South Australia we have seen employment prospects hit by the loss of Holden and we have now seen job losses as a result of the broken promise to build submarines in South Australia. We are now hearing from a new report that South Australia will be disproportionately hit as a result of the cuts to school funding. And we know that our universities are also in the firing line for big cuts as a result of the Abbott Government.

Now today we’ve heard first hand from local medical students, some who have said if fees had been deregulated, they would not have commenced medical studies at the university, not willing to take on such a great debt. Others who have said that they are worried about the prospect of their debt accumulating quicker as a result of Christopher Pyne’s changes, not knowing what level that debt will reach and also knowing that any time that they take out of the workforce will mean that their debt continues to rise - disproportionately hitting women who leave the workforce who have children. We have heard all of this first hand. We know that this is very real and it is facing South Australians right now. What we also know is that we vow to stand up and to put the prospects of young South Australians first, to do everything we can to stop these changes in the Australian Parliament so that they never see the light of day, but also to continue to campaign for this Government to give young Australians the opportunities they need.

We know that many of the students here in South Australia are particularly concerned by cuts to health which have placed in jeopardy their opportunity to get an internship. This is an ongoing issue. It is one that we will continue to take up with the Federal Government as we point out the impacts of $80 billion in cuts to health and to schools as well as proposed cuts to higher education and the impacts that they will have.

PLIBERSEK: Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Just on another topic. Would you support an inquiry into overseas surrogacy?

PLIBERSEK: Well there have been in the last few days, once again, very concerning reports of babies left behind by parents who have made international surrogacy arrangements. Of course, any situation which disadvantages a baby and certainly disadvantages a birth mother in this way is a great concern. It is important that we have better, more nationally consistent rules relating to commercial surrogacy. Of course commercial surrogacy is banned in Australia. But we know that state to state there are different applications of these laws as they relate to commercial surrogacy overseas. Clarity and national consistency would obviously be beneficial. When Nicola Roxon was the Attorney-General she commissioned a report that showed there was inconsistency from state to state. Unfortunately the Federal Government sat on that report for about 8 months after they received it. It is very important that we hear now from the Federal Government what their plans are to encourage consistency in the application of state laws and to clarify the situation as it relates to commercial surrogacy arrangements overseas.

JOURNALIST: Would you be concerned that if any Labor MP or minister advocated for this [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: Well I certainly don’t know any details relating to that. I’ve seen the reports in the paper today. We don’t know what representations were made and what information those representations were based on. So I don’t propose to comment further.

JOURNALIST: How concerning is it that the ABS has admitted problems with its latest jobs figures?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it’s very concerning that we saw that the jobs figures, the most recent job figures, was not a credible set of figures. Of course businesses make investment decisions based on jobs figures, the economy is affected by the release of jobs figures so we need to be very confident that the figures that we’re relying on are credible figures. I think it’s terrific that the ABS is reexamining the figures and credit to them for taking their responsibilities so seriously. It’s a shame that Joe Hockey cut funding to the ABS in the last budget.

JOURNALIST: So given that Labor introduced an efficiency dividend on the ABS, how much should the Opposition take responsibility?

PLIBERSEK: Well this Government’s been in government for over a year now and it’s about time they took responsibility for the decisions that they’ve made. They’ve had more than a year to implement any of the decisions they believe need to happen in Australia and it’s a bit rich - I don’t know how long Joe Hockey is going to keep blaming the rest of the world for the things that he’s responsible for.

JOURNALIST: There’s been more backbench grumblings about the paid parental leave scheme, is it time for the government to drop it in light of the increasing budget deficit?

PLIBERSEK: The time for the Government to drop the paid parental leave scheme was more than a year ago. And this was a misconceived scheme from the very beginning. Tony Abbott thought he had a problem with women voters and he grabbed the first thing he saw sitting on the shelf, and he didn’t think through what it would mean to design a scheme that paid the greatest benefits to the wealthiest people. It is an absurd suggestion that the government [inaudible] about on what they consider to be problems in the Budget, that is $5.5 billion a year scheme because Tony Abbott is too proud to admit that he made a mistake. The scheme was wrongly designed in the first place. It is completely inconsistent to give the greatest benefit to people who already have the most. He should’ve abandoned it a year ago, if he’s got any credibility as a leader he’ll now admit that he made a mistake and he’ll abandon this misconceived scheme.

JOURNALIST: And just on the budget, Joe Hockey has commented that the Labor Party should help pass the budget because of the cost of the Iraq War. What’s your thoughts?

PLIBERSEK: Well of course we are in a very serious time in Iraq at the moment. Australian Defence Force personnel have been flying missions in very dangerous circumstances. Their families here in Australia would be worried about those defence force personnel. I think it is extremely poor judgment for the Treasurer to be trying to link this to his domestic concerns about getting his poorly designed, terribly sold budget through. Labor has been perfectly clear in the positions that we’ve taken in Iraq. Our positions have been based on a set of principles that involve support to the Iraqi government in respect of their request to Australia and other nations to help fight off IS as IS attacks the civilian population of Iraq. We’re responding to the request of the Iraqi Government to protect its civilians in a bipartisan way. I think it’s in very poor taste that Joe Hockey would try to politicise this.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it will be possible to flush them out without ground troops?

PLIBERSEK: I think that IS is a dangerous organisation that is adapting its fighting techniques in response to the international coalition of dozens of nations that have set out to fight IS in Iraq but I am convinced that with dozens of nations involved in supporting the government of Iraq, that the government of Iraq and its neighbouring countries can take the lead in any ground war. Labor has said from the beginning that we don’t support Australian troops being involved in ground war.


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