DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
FRIDAY 30 NOVEMBER 2018
SUBJECTS: Taskforce to address sexual assault on Campuses; Carmichael mine.
MICHAEL ROWLAND, PRESENTER: Now, Labor says it will withhold funding from universities have failed to take serious action against sexual harassment and abuse if it wins Government next year. For more on this we're joined from Sydney by Labor's Deputy Leader and the Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek. A very good morning to you.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning.
ROWLAND: Are you unhappy with the way universities are dealing with sexual assault at the moment?
PLIBERSEK: Well no, we think it's very important that the good words that universities are speaking about reducing sexual harassment and sexual assaults on campus are backed up by this independent body that will monitor the implementation of recommendations made by the Australian Human Rights Commission and so on, and actually see a reduction in the rates of assault and harassment on campus. And one of the reports that we saw a few years ago from the Australian Human Rights Commission said that just over half of all university students had experienced sexual harassment in the course of a year. So, there's about a million students at our universities - that's about 500,000 people - who had experienced harassment. And about seven per cent had experienced sexual assault - that's 70,000 had experienced sexual assault. These numbers are enormous. I guess I'm really troubled by the fact that we were talking about this 30 years ago, when I was at university, and my daughter starts university next year, and we're still talking about it. We still see, I think, a lot of good statements made by these institutions, but unacceptably high rates of assault on campus.
ROWLAND: OK. And threatening to withhold funding is a pretty drastic step, but I guess it underscores the seriousness of the situation, as you see it?
PLIBERSEK: And that's a last resort. I mean, we're establishing a three year task force. The main job of the task force is to bring some transparency to what's going on in our universities, to make sure that when universities sign up to recommendations to change culture on campus and to change the way they respond to allegations of assault on campus, that the pressure is constant, it's not just in the glare of the moment when a new report has been released, but that these efforts continue for the many years it will take to see real change on our university campuses. This task force can recommend financial penalties to either the university standards body, that's called TEQSA, or to the Government, if we're elected. And as a final result, or as a last recourse, we could withhold funding. It's not my intention to do that easily or lightly, but that is a last resort.
ROWLAND: OK. And who would sit in this task force? Who would lead it?
PLIBERSEK: We'll make sure that we choose an appropriately qualified, eminent person to do that. What's important is that the task force will be time-limited for three years, but if there is a requirement to continue such a body into the future, we're open to that. We know also that one of the areas of greatest concern at universities are university colleges. They have been traditionally harder for the Commonwealth Government to influence. Some of them are established under separate state Acts. So we need to also work with state governments. If we don't see a substantial improvement in safety in colleges, we might need to work with state governments to change laws around the administration of colleges. We saw another report, just a few years ago, where just under 600 official complaints were made to universities. 145 of those complaints were rape, and of that 600 complaints, 145 rapes, six students were expelled. Six perpetrators of those crimes were expelled. We do need to do better to provide a safe learning environment for our students. It is the responsibility of universities to do that. And if we are elected, we'll make sure they do.
ROWLAND: OK, to other issues. Does Labor support the slimmed-down Adani coal mine project?
PLIBERSEK: We said all along that the jobs projections that Adani were claiming were unrealistic, and certainly yesterday's announcement shows that. We are still very sceptical. I mean, we've heard again and again from this company that they are on the verge of starting work, and they haven't proceeded. I think it's very telling that no bank wants to invest in this, no business wants to invest in this. Most of them understand that we have gone beyond peak demand for coal globally. I am sceptical that this, despite yesterday's announcement, that this project will continue. We do understand that there is a very strong need for jobs in central and northern Queensland, and that's why we've made many announcements that actually support transport, infrastructure, agriculture and tourism in central and north Queensland, like the Gladstone Port Access Road, 0water projects for Townsville, previously the Townsville Stadium, the Townsville Port channel widening. I mean, these are projects that are delivering real jobs. With this mine, we know that there are still some outstanding issues, and, you know, I'm just not gonna hold my breath.
ROWLAND: OK, but if all those issues were dealt with, in principle, would you allow the Adani coalmine to go ahead? Are you opposed to it full stop, is the answer I'm trying to get?
PLIBERSEK: We're certainly sceptical about the jobs claims, and we've said all along-
ROWLAND: But are you opposed to the concept of the Adani coalmine?
PLIBERSEK: We've said all along that it has to stack up environmentally and economically. And I don't believe that it does. We have to be very careful, if you're asking us, do we tear up contracts that are signed and stop work that's started, that's a very difficult thing to do. But there's a very good reason that banks and businesses are not interested in investing in this project. And we have seen, from the company, some very troubling behaviour. Like the behaviour around water samples and so on. So, we're watching but we're not holding our breath.
ROWLAND: OK, we'll leave it there. Tanya Plibersek in Sydney, thank you so much for joining us this morning.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you.