TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
THE FINE PRINT DOESN’T MATCH THE GOVERNMENT’S SALES PITCH
Ever since the Coronavirus hit our country, Australians have looked to government for help.
That’s why Labor supported the wage subsidy legislation in Parliament. Not because it was perfect, but because we knew how urgently assistance is needed.
We knew that, without help, millions of Australians would face severe hardship – with jobs lost, businesses dying, and communities pushed into despair.
Announcements don’t matter. Headlines don’t matter. What matters is actual help; the jobs saved, the mortgages salvaged, the institutions spared from collapse.
It is by these standards that governments will ultimately be judged.
Unfortunately, when it comes to a number of recent federal government policies on education, there is a concerning gap between appearance and reality.
Across the board, people are examining the detail of Government announcements, and they’re finding something different to what they were promised. The fine print doesn’t match the sales pitch.
This certainly is the case across the education system – from early learning, to schools, to higher education.
Universities have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. With enrolments falling and income plummeting, universities are facing a financial crisis.
Education, including universities, is Australia’s third biggest export industry. Universities and the industries that surround them are the source of 260,000 full time jobs. Universities have said that, without emergency assistance, over 21,000 jobs will be lost over the next six months. This would be a catastrophe for these people – and it would be a catastrophe for our country. We need those jobs, and we need the research our universities are doing, and the nurses and doctors and teachers and scientists they are training.
While the Government has announced a package for universities, it falls woefully short of the challenges confronting the sector. It does nothing to address the gaping hole left by falling international student numbers. Universities continue to be locked out of not-for-profit arrangements for the JobKeeper program. The most serious financial problems remain.
And this is before you get to the Minister’s announcement of short courses for retraining. The Minister has said these short courses will provide a revenue stream for universities to assist their financial stability, but in reality, there’s no additional funding and universities are expected to deliver the courses at a cut price. It is also concerning that these new online courses may not give people a recognised qualification; the government needs to explain how these courses will help people get jobs.
When you get into the detail, the wage subsidy program has the same kind of issues. As currently designed, most casual workers in our schools, TAFEs and universities are not eligible for the JobKeeper payment – just as casual shifts in these places have dried up.
These are the same people who kept teaching our kids; who stood in crowded classrooms as the Coronavirus spread through our community. They deserve more than ongoing uncertainty, with minimal government help.
Even the Prime Minister’s promise of free childcare is struggling to stand up to scrutiny.
In reality, the new funding system has cut so much revenue from early learning providers that, in order to stay open, many are reducing their enrolment numbers. We’ve been hearing reports from around the country of families being turned away from their usual providers. Instead of costing the Government extra, the new arrangements actually see the Government spend $400 million less this quarter than they expected to before the coronavirus hit.
It’s not ‘free childcare’ if people can’t access a spot in the first place.
This is why it’s important for Parliament to keep sitting. It’s clear that, while helpful in places, the current Government’s economic packages still leave millions of Australians hanging – and some our most important institutions in doubt over their future.
Parliament should sit so we can make sure the fine print matches the promise.
This article was first published in The Daily Telegraph
FRIDAY, 24 APRIL 2020