SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; International Education; Massive decline in Government funded TAFE course completion rates.

LAURA JAYES, HOST: Let's go live now back to Canberra, the Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek joins me now. Thanks so much for your time. The Government is looking at now new quarantine centres on the mainland. Is that the right course of action?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Look, I think the right course of action is to take the advice of our Chief Medical Officer and the medical professionals who are handling this, and if that's what the Government has been advised to do, of course, Labor will work with the Government to manage this health episode as efficiently as possible.
JAYES: The Treasurer just told us that it's too early to count the cost. Some estimates are that it’s costing the economy a billion dollars a month. Is that about right? Do you have any advice on that?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I agree that it’s too early to tell what the cost is but I believe the value of Chinese tourism is about that each month, so that will be a significant hit on the domestic economy. I think we need to be careful though, I was listening to Josh Frydenberg and he was trying to put down all of the poor growth figures in the economy down to the Coronavirus and the bushfires. And he’s looking around for excuses for the fact that even before Christmas, before the bushfires, before the Coronavirus, we've got very low rates of growth, we've got phenomenally, historic low wages growth. We've got unemployment and underemployment and close to 2 million, we've got very low business investment, business and consumer confidence were very low before any of this. The problem with the Treasurer using the Coronavirus and the bushfires to explain the poor numbers that we’re looking at economically, is that it means that he is not dealing with the fundamental flaws in the economy. We had the Reserve Bank Governor advising the Government, for example, to invest more in measures that would improve productivity. Well, I mean education, particularly vocational education is a really obvious example of that and we have seen numbers of students in vocational education plummeting under this Government.
JAYES: It does sound like that you are going to let the Government get away in May, with delivering a balanced budget or a smaller surplus or even if they dip into the black by blaming the bushfires and the Coronavirus. Is that right? You are not going to give them any leeway here whatsoever, even after the summer we have just seen?
PLIBERSEK: Look, the bushfires and Coronavirus are very significant issues and we want to work very cooperatively with the Government on bushfires and on Coronavirus. But, they are not excuses for an economy that was tanking before either of those things were even on the horizon. We've had 6 years of economic mismanagement from the Government. We’ve seen our debt doubled… I mean the plunge in business investment is particularly concerning. We can't be a strong and productive economy while we have got businesses too scared to invest in the future. Household debt is now at historic highs again. These fundamentals existed before either of these very serious problems emerged.
JAYES: Well, the education sector is, I think, are still second or third biggest export. Are you worried with the Coronavirus in particular, are there any universities that are overexposed here? Have you had any anecdotal evidence at how this might be affecting the sector?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I have spoken, obviously, to universities. I have spoken to the Education Minister, Dan Tehan about this issue. I'm very much looking forward to welcoming Chinese students back to Australia when this health emergency is over. It is, as you say Laura, a huge economic earner for us. We are talking about $33 billion dollars a year, about 130,000 people employed in the international education sector so it’s a big earner for us. But, it is also so important for our place in the world. We really hope that when people come and study here, they develop a good relationship with the country, they take home with them good impressions of Australia. Many of the regional leaders I've met over the years have studied in Australia for a time. And one of the reasons they like us is because they know our way of life. So it is important to have a strong international education sector for both of those reasons. I think it’s important to make sure we diversify that as much as possible. We very much looking forward to welcoming back those Chinese students after the health emergency, but we should be looking to other markets in addition.
JAYES: OK, so we should have a, perhaps a bit of a contingency plan here? Have you heard anything - do you think perhaps not so effecting now are students cancelling their courses? Are they asking for refunds from universities because they can't actually get here? Or is this something that might actually play out in 6-12 months’ time when Chinese students think about going elsewhere because of Australia's response?
PLIBERSEK: Look, actually I don't think the second thing's right Laura. I think there was obviously a group of students who were in the air when the Australian Government introduced the travel ban from China. You know, it would have been very distressing for those students - they'd done nothing wrong, you know… leaving home, leaving your family behind to study overseas is a pretty intimidating thing at the best of times so I think for those students it would have been very worrying. But overall I think many parents around the world who are thinking about where they might send their children for a university education, look to Australia as a safe country - including having a good health system and a good health response in a situation like this. So I think overall, that long term impact won't be there. In the shorter term, universities are doing their best to delay starts to semesters, to offer online course materials, they are taking a sort of university by university and case by case approach - so we won't know for some time really what the impact will be on the university sector. And what the students who were thinking of starting in a few weeks’ time will actually be facing. I mean look fingers crossed we solve this health crisis very quickly and we can get back to business as usual in tourism and in education, as quickly as possible.
JAYES: Yes, we've all got our fingers crossed for that. Now just quickly before I let you go - in your portfolio some interesting data this week and last week. Training courses in TAFE have dropped, that's at about 43 per cent and I also note the Productivity Commission has once again said the cost of childcare has risen across the country.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, look those figures on vocational education and TAFE study are just so disappointing. There's a 43 per cent drop in people finishing these government-funded TAFE courses, your standard sort of TAFE course, right. So that's a 110,000 fewer people last year than five years ago - that's devastating. We've got shortages right across the board - bricklayers, pastry chefs, hairdressers - we should be training young Australians for these jobs. Three quarters of businesses say they can't find the skilled staff they need. Why aren't we training them? And childcare, I know Laura you and I have talked about his before. You're talking about an average cost now of about $15,000, close to $15,000 a year for long day care. That's up almost $4,000 since the Liberals came to office. They had a big hullabaloo when they introduced their new system, this was going to fix price rises, in fact last year prices went up by 5 per cent and it was 3 per cent just last quarter. Which means the rate of price growth is speeding up, now this is a real concern for families who are struggling with the cost of childcare. The new system was very disruptive for many families, some have incurred debts by accident, not meaning to. Others have had payments cancelled, reinstated, cancelled - all sorts of back and forwards. This once in a lifetime childcare system change, as the Government said it was, has turned out to be really very disappointing, indeed, for families relying on childcare to be able to go to work.
JAYES: Tanya Plibersek, I don't think I need to declare my obvious bias on that childcare question at this point but perhaps for our viewers I will just in case. Appreciate your time, we'll see you soon.
PLIBERSEK: Thanks Laura.