SUBJECTS: The Liberals’ cuts to universities; Medicare data leaks; Outside of school hours care.

PROFESSOR JIM MCCLUSKEY, DEPUTY VICE-CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE: It is my great pleasure to welcome the Honourable Tanya Plibersek, the Acting Leader of the Opposition, who is visiting the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you so much, and it's such a pleasure to be here at this institution that's doing such terrific work on infection and immunity. It is a real treat to see what happens when hospitals, universities, researchers, clinicians combine their efforts to make sure that Australian patients and people globally get the best possible diagnosis and care for some really very complex diseases. So, wonderful to see the work that's happening here. 

I'm in Melbourne today visiting universities and meeting with university Vice-Chancellors, and staff and students to talk about the $3.8 billion in cuts that this Government is making to the higher education sector. Labor is absolutely committed to standing with university students, with staff, to make sure these cuts do not proceed. It's incredible really, that we would consider cutting university funding at a time when we know Australia is competing for the jobs of the future with countries around the world that are increasing their investment in education. 

What we've seen from this government are attacks on education funding from childcare, through school funding, TAFE funding and universities. And this is so very short-sighted, particularly because we know that these $3.8 billion of cuts are to pay for $65 billion of big business tax cuts. It is short-sighted in the extreme to cut university funding, to make students replay higher debts sooner, all to give a $65 billion big business tax cut. 

Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you about another matter – Medicare. How concerned are you by reports that Medicare numbers are being sold on the internet?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I'm extremely concerned that peoples' personal data would be breached in this way, and I'm sure every Australian who has heard this story today would be very concerned that their own personal information might be sold for as little as $30 on the dark web.

It is absolutely critical that the Government explain today, immediately, how many records have been breached? When did the Government find out that this security risk was occurring? What have they done to notify people whose records might have been sold?

It is absolutely critical that the Government answer these questions today. We've seen some very weak statements from the Government that don't go to any of these key issues about how many records, how long they've been available, when the Government knew and what have they done.

I'd also say that this has become a repeat nightmare. We've got the Government that brought you the Census debacle, that brought you the failed NAPLAN online efforts, that's bringing you a second rate NBN, presiding over another internet catastrophe with leaked Medicare records now available to the highest bidder. 

JOURNALIST: So what needs to be done to ensure sensitive information like this doesn't end up in the wrong hands?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's first of all for the Government to answer on these specific Medicare records - how many have been released? How many have been sold? How have people whose records may be in the wrong hands, how they have they been notified and what action has been taken to protect the personal information of anybody who has been a victim of this? And then the Government really needs to investigate how this breach occurred and what can be done to prevent similar breaches in the future. This is a very, very serious privacy breach.

JOURNALIST: Just on the out-of-school care, why shouldn't Camp Australia merge with the Junior Adventures Group?

PLIBERSEK: Well we are very concerned that these quite large providers of out of school hours care together, if they merge, would be responsible for a very large share of the childcare sector, the out-of-school-hours childcare sector. We don't believe that the profits of an overseas hedge fund are more important than the care that children get in out-of-school-hours care. We think that there is a grave danger you would see another ABC childcare type of catastrophe with this sort of market share in the hands of one provider. And the general experience we've seen is when you see these sorts of large completely profit-driven owners of childcare, what we are likely to see is poorer quality child care that is more expensive for parents.

JOURNALIST: So JAG is owned by an Australian private equity firm, so why is an Australian private equality firm better than an American one?

PLIBERSEK: Well you are talking about two large providers merging to see an unprecedented share of the out-of-school of hours care being provided by one provider. One provider whose only interest in acquiring these companies is to increase their profits overseas. I don't think that is recipe for good-quality child care and I don't think it is a recipe for affordability for parents.

JOURNALIST: Given out-of-school contracts are done by tender, why would these firms increase prices or reduce their standard of care?

PLIBERSEK: Well we can only judge on the experience that we have seen in the past. We have seen companies that have prioritised profit in childcare generally associated with lower quality of care and higher prices for parents. We can only judge on experience, but experience would cause you to be very wary of one operator having such a large share of the market. Thanks everyone.