SUBJECTS: Liberals’ energy shambles; Higher education.

KIERAN GILBERT, PRESENTER: With me on the program now, the Deputy Labor Leader, Tanya Plibersek. The Government's urging the states and Federal Labor to listen to the experts. Is that a fair point?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well one of the experts today, Kerry Schott, said there's no guarantee prices will go down under this proposal. So we've got a very confusing message from the Government. They can't guarantee, they refuse to guarantee, that prices will actually fall, and the Prime Minister's been discovered overnight spruiking that his $2 a week cut in electricity prices might be as low as 50c a week, and that not for several years to come. We've got no detail to the states and territories or any sort of modelling of the effect that this will have on jobs. And the one thing that we do know is it seems to be putting an artificial cap on renewable energy generation in our electricity market. I mean, none of this makes any sense at all.

GILBERT: But in terms of the price reductions, this has come from the members of the Energy Security Board, which Mark Butler at the time welcomed the appointment of the people on that board and John Pierce, a very experienced individual around energy markets, it's not like he's plucked it out of the air. It's analysis that he's done on the basis of modelling over various proposals - 

PLIBERSEK: But not of this proposal. I mean, that is the extraordinary thing - 

GILBERT: They're taking it to COAG -

PLIBERSEK: They've announced a proposal that they've got no modelling for and no regulatory impact statement for and they're claiming savings that may or may not happen in 2020 or 2030. At the very same time, they've actually got legislation before the Parliament to cut $365 a year from the energy supplement paid to pensioners. So they're cutting $365 a year from pensioners and they're saying "in 2020, you might get 50c a week saving on your electricity bills."

GILBERT: Might be more.

PLIBERSEK: Might be more, might be nothing at all. And Kerry Schott - 

GILBERT: They're taking modelling to the states - 


GILBERT: Why not wait and have a look at that when it goes to COAG?

PLIBERSEK: Of course we will. We will have a look at the modelling. But what kind of government proposes something as big and serious as this without doing any modelling and without doing a regulatory impact statement? I think it's a shambles, and it's all driven by their internal problems. I think they wanted to announce this much later this year, but Tony Abbott's put pressure on them with his outbursts in public and so they've gone too soon, without any modelling or regulatory impact statement. 

GILBERT: But they argue that you remove subsidies, like there will be beyond 2020, that's phased out inevitably. Common sense would suggest that the prices will come down.

PLIBERSEK: Hang on a minute. There are different types of subsidies. If the Government is saying that the existing, old, coal-fired power stations that are reaching their use-by dates will have to be kept open longer, that is expensive. Someone is paying for that. If the electricity generator is spending $500 million, $900 million to keep a station, a generator, open longer than its use-by date - who pays for that? Consumers pay for that.

GILBERT: But Labor's also got its emissions reduction goal or target of 45 per cent - that's going to cost, isn't it?

PLIBERSEK: We absolutely stand by our emissions reduction and renewable energy targets, and it was Josh Frydenberg just this week pointing out that renewables are cheaper than coal now. So this government's mandating investment in coal and we're saying we want to meet our Clean Energy Target, our Renewable Energy Target, reduce emissions, with technologies that are becoming cheaper all the time, and are already cheaper than coal.

GILBERT: So why subsidise them then?

PLIBERSEK: It's not about subsidies, it's about certainty. The reason that we support a Clean Energy Target is because it provides an investment framework that gives certainty to investors. We're prepared to consider other frameworks, we think that the Emissions Instensity Scheme is actually the best way to bring down prices, to provide certainty and to bring down pollution. But we're prepared to - 

GILBERT: The industry's all welcomed this proposal and saying come on board, give us bipartisanship, give us certainty.

PLIBERSEK: It is impossible for anyone to expect anybody - any state, any Labor Party federally – to sign up to something where there's no modelling, no price guarantees, no renewable energy guarantees. There is so much uncertainty about this. And the problem is not that we don't know the answer - the problem is that the Government doesn't know the answers.

GILBERT: The higher education bill goes to the Parliament today. What's Labor's position? Any room for negotiation on this?

PLIBERSEK: We don't support higher fees for students and we don't support cuts to university operating grants. And I tell you one of the cruelest cuts here is for the first time, charging students on entry pathways into university - so kids who've struggled in high school or older people who want to change jobs and get a university education - for the first time this Government wants to charge people for these enabling pathways. 

GILBERT: But these are all paid back via the HECS scheme aren't they, it's not upfront charges, so it doesn't remove access to university?

PLIBERSERK: I've spoken to so many people who said if I had to take on a $3,500 debt and get no qualification at the end of it, just be testing out whether I'm suitable for university, I wouldn't have done it. And you know who those people are? One mum I spoke to in Western Australia last week - mum, three kids, wants to go into nursing. Would she take on a $3,000 debt when the choice is paying the mortgage or backing herself to see if she's suitable for university? I know what people put first.

GILBERT: Is there room for any negotiation here?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah. We've actually said that there are  -

GILBERT: It needs to be more sustainable, doesn't it, the funding?

PLIBERSEK: We've said that there are several measures in this package that we are prepared to support if the Government strips them out of the package generally. We've been very upfront about that. But what we won't support are higher debt levels for students. Now, the Government's talking about the big problem of student debt - the reason student debts are going up is because they're charging students more for their university education.

GILBERT: Tanya Plibersek as always, I appreciate your time, thanks.

PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure.