SUBJECTS: Coalition in-fighting and chaos; coronavirus and its impact on higher education; Grattan Institute report into teaching profession.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Labor played a key role in these chaotic scenes that saw National Party defector, Llew O'Brien, elected to the position of Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives this afternoon. Regardless of whether the nomination was a stunt, it's a reality now thanks to Labor's movements; and Llew O'Brien's new reality sees him pocket an extra $20,000 a year. So, all in all, not a bad outcome for him today. The distractions came as Australia's tertiary education sector struggles to come to terms with the prospect of a $3.1 billion hit from coronavirus. Tanya Plibersek is the Shadow Minister for Education and Training and former Deputy Leader of the Labor Party. She joins us this afternoon, Tanya, welcome. 
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Hi Patricia, I'm still daydreaming about Sicily after listening to Mark. 
KARVELAS: I know right, one year old house. It seems, well, yeah, there's a few more complicating factors there, that's for sure. You got to do a few things, a few jobs there. Why did Labor nominate Llew O'Brien for Deputy Speaker for the House of Representatives? Why did you do this? Was this just a stunt to embarrass the Government? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, Patricia, the numbers in the House, as you know, are very finely balanced so we think it's only fair that we have someone as independent as possible in that Deputy Speaker's position. Llew O'Brien was the person who's the closest to an independent that we could get across the line; but, you're talking about chaos. It's not Labor creating chaos. It's the chaos of the Government's own making. Last week, when we should have been talking about bushfires, we were talking about National Party leadership. We've been seeing all the fights about who's going to be on the Nationals frontbench team. We've got Barnaby Joyce spitting the dummy because he didn't win. We've got coal fights and sports rorts and all manner of chaos when, in fact, we should be talking about bushfires, drought, floods, jobs, health, education. In my portfolio, obviously, we are very worried about the university sector and the appalling job the Government's doing on vocational education and training. So, yes, we've got plenty of things we should be focusing on. It's the Government that's dragging us into these chaotic scenes. 
KARVELAS: Sure, the Government says it's fairly irrelevant who becomes the Speaker because he says he's going to be loyal to the Government. And in fact, the Prime Minister says there were two nominees that were both on the Government's side. So, does it make a difference? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, that's 'ad man' Scott Morrison trying to spin his way out of an embarrassing afternoon's work for him. But, the point surely is that you've got a Coalition that's at war with itself - Nationals can't stand each other, Nationals can't stand the Liberals. We should be focused on governing in the interests of all Australians and instead you've got two political parties making up the Government that, you know, are more focused on themselves and their jobs and their futures than they are on the needs of the Australian public. 
KARVELAS: The coronavirus looks poised to deliver at least a $3 billion hit to Australian universities. What is that going to look like in real terms for the sector? 
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it's really yet to be seen, Patricia, what the final outcome of this health emergency will be for higher education. We are hoping, of course, as everyone is that the health issues are sorted out quickly. We see some very promising science, including the science that's being done here in Australia - and we should be very proud of our researchers for their role in identifying the virus and looking at, you know, treatments and so on. So, we hope the health emergency is over quickly. We hope we can welcome Chinese students back to Australia quickly. They do play a very important role - not just financially for our universities - but beyond universities, they're renting apartments, they're eating out, they're bringing a lot of money into our economy; and they're bringing important relationships to Australia as well. People who have studied in Australia go home with good impressions of Australia. It's very important for our relationships with our neighbours. What it does show, of course, is that these overseas, full-fee paying students are now making up a very large part of universities' revenue; and we've said for some time that we need to be careful - first of all of the cuts that the Government has imposed on universities across the board; and secondly, to make sure that we have students from around the world coming to Australia, that we're not too reliant on any one country for students. 
KARVELAS: The Education Minister, Dan Tehan, says the next two or three weeks are really critical in terms of finding a breakthrough. What kind of support will the sector need if the worst case scenario is realised? 
PLIBERSEK: Look, I really think we need to wait until we've seen the outcome of this to see whether students will be able to start university this semester, even if it is a few weeks late. Universities are going to some length to try and work with Chinese authorities to allow students to start their studies remotely in China, to be able to start later, to start mid-year. Whether the impact is at the lower end of what's projected or at the higher end of what's projected will really depend on whether we can welcome those students who've been delayed sooner rather than later. 
KARVELAS: A report out today from the Grattan Institute has backed the idea of paying high-performing teachers more and having them train their more junior colleagues. Are you a fan of that kind of approach? 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, look, I think the Grattan Report makes a really good contribution to the debate because, what we know for sure is that the biggest impact on how a child does at school is their family background, the educational resources that they have in their family home, their parents' income and education and so on. But the second most important thing is the teacher at the front of the classroom. We've got some fantastic teachers in our system. But we're not using them well enough to train their colleagues - particularly teachers that are just starting in their careers; and we're losing a lot of those really experienced teachers. They look around them, you know, the friends they went to uni with are continuing to increase their earnings and they're stuck at the top of the teaching profession wage; and unless they decide to go into education bureaucracy, they very quickly hit the peak of their earnings. So I think examples like this report really provide a great discussion point. We have to be looking at attracting the best and brightest into teaching; and we have to look at retaining them once they're there and this report gives us ways of doing both of those. 
KARVELAS: And the Grattan Institute has also suggested using Gonski money to lift teacher standards. That's supposed to be money for students. What do you think of that idea? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think improving teaching quality is directly linked to student outcomes. In fact, what we see in this report is that if we could seriously reform teaching quality, making sure that we're lifting the standards of all of our classrooms, we could see students learning really supercharged. We're talking about students' learning improved by the equivalent of a year and a half of learning by the age of 15. That is a big difference if we get these reforms right. So, absolutely, investing in teaching is one of the smartest things we can do for our students. We're at a time now, Patricia, where our kids' results are the worst they've been since international testing began. We are actually at a crisis time. We've got a lot of great teachers. We've got a lot of great stuff happening in classrooms across Australia but it's not system wide. What reports like this do - is give us the way we can make the real pockets of excellence widespread. 
KARVELAS: Just finally, as a former foreign spokesperson for the Labor party, the Indonesian President, Joko Widodo is visiting Australia to deepen ties. He's promised to have the free trade deal finalised within 100 days. What will that mean for our economy? 
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the economic partnership that's been proposed with Indonesia is a terrific opportunity for Australia. We know the Indonesian economy is one of the fastest growing in our region. The population is huge. It's right on our doorstep and our economic relationship with Indonesia is absolutely underdeveloped. One example we were talking earlier about - overseas students and the contribution they make to the Australian economy. One example, today, is an Australian university being able to open a campus in Indonesia. That's great for that individual university but it's also great for our relationship with Indonesia as we get to know each other better. That gives us more opportunities in other areas of trade as well. So, I certainly welcome the visit today of the Indonesian President. I welcome the comments he made in his speech. It was a fine speech. If people have the opportunity of reading a transcript of it, they should take that opportunity and I welcome a closer economic partnership. We always want to make sure we have export markets for our goods. We want to make sure that we are supporting Australian jobs by looking for those new export markets. 
KARVELAS: Tanya Plibersek, pleasure to speak to you. 
PLIBERSEK: Always a pleasure to talk to you, too, Patricia. Thank you.
KARVELAS: That's the Shadow Minister for Education and Training, Tanya Plibersek and this is RN Drive.