By Tanya Plibersek

14 May 2020



SUBJECTS: University staff excluded from JobKeeper; International students.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Right now before the Senate is a dis-allowance motion that gives the Government the opportunity to save thousands of jobs in Australian universities. In the last couple of weeks we've already seen hundreds of job loses because universities have been deliberately denied access to JobKeeper payments for their staff. We've already seen hundreds of jobs go in Geelong, Rockhampton, in the suburbs of Melbourne because of this Government's refusal to include university staff in JobKeeper arrangements. I cannot understand why the Government thinks it's fair that a uni student who is perhaps working one shift a week at a fast food restaurant or bakery earning 100 bucks a week is suddenly getting access to the full JobKeeper allowance of $1,500 a fortnight, $750 a week, but her tutor who's working full-time, who's got three kids at home, who's paying the mortgage, doesn't get the same support from the Government. This is so serious that university staff themselves, through their union, are proposing a pay cut for themselves up to 15 per cent. So the staff are prepared to do what they can to support each other. We're talking of course of academics and tutors but also admin staff, librarians, groundskeepers, security guards, people working in cafeterias. There’s a really broad range of jobs, especially in regional communities where those jobs are so desperately needed. The Government has a chance to change its position on universities to include university staff JobKeeper arrangements and so to protect thousands of jobs. Universities estimate they'll lose 21,000 jobs in coming months if this support isn't forthcoming. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: What is going to happen to the international reputation of Australia's education if the Government doesn't jump on this to help universities?

PLIBERSEK: Well I don't think Australia's reputation was particularly helped when the Prime Minister said to international students they should go home. We want a strong international education sector, it's our fourth largest export earner. It's critical to supporting thousands of jobs across the Australian economy, it earns close to $40 billion a year in export earnings for Australia. We need to work to restore our reputation as a safe place, with a high quality education system. We look forward to welcoming international students back when we can when we can accept the safe travel arrangements that will be needed.

JOURNALIST: There's some job figures coming out at 11.30 today, what do you think is going to be in them and perhaps this *INAUDIBLE*

PLIBERSEK: Look, I'll leave the forecasting to others but what I'll say is that every job lost is a tragedy. Every job lost is someone who’s struggling to pay the bills, who's family will be put under pressure, who risk losing their homes, certainly people lose confidence. We saw in the 1990s recession that some people who lost their jobs never worked again, we need to do absolutely everything we can as a nation to keep people working and get them back to work. And that's why measures like not supporting JobKeeper for universities are just so damaging. I'm talking about university workers today, but Dnata workers, people who have worked in Airline catering for 10 or 20 years in the same job denied JobKeeper because of the ownership structure of their company. We need to be supporting these people and keeping them connected to their employers, not leaving them on the scrap heap.

JOURNALIST: The Government has had a well-publicised brawl with some Vice Chancellors in the past, do you think there's a chance that part of this move is about revenge or getting back at that?

PLIBERSEK: I would really hope not. I can't understand why the Government is taking this position on universities. Actually it's beyond me. They’re so important to our economy today with international students, they’re so important to our economy tomorrow. You think about the invention, the new medicines discovered, the new devices, the new ways of working, that we will need to recover when our economy begins to grow again. So much of our economic growth is generated from the research work done in universities. How short sighted is it to leave those scientists on the scrap heap as this Government's doing by refusing to provide JobKeeper?

JOURNALIST: The Treasurer said yesterday that he put $18 billion into universities in his speech. Where's that money gone?

PLIBERSEK: Well, that's just not right. What the Government has done with universities is say that they're not going to cut the funding that they already had in the budget for Australian students. Well, Australian students have by and large kept going to university because universities had quickly moved their courses online. Where the big gap is, and we're talking about billions of dollars lost, is because we're not able to welcome international students at the moment. Those billions of dollars were going into research and teaching at universities. We can't afford to lose that money. If the universities were treated like any other charity they would be getting JobKeeper, and in fact if they were treated like most businesses they'd be getting JobKeeper. This government keeps moving the goal posts to explicitly exclude universities and by doing that they're letting down the admin staff, the librarians, the cafeteria workers, the security guards, all of those people who work on university campuses who would benefit.

JOURNALIST: Hasn't the university sector put all of their eggs in one basket of exports, education for export, and now they've been caught out because the Chinese students aren't coming?

PLIBERSEK: Universities were told that they should generate their own revenue by increasing our International student program, they were told to do that. They were encouraged to do that. And now we're in this unprecedented situation where global travel has been virtually completely shut down. Nobody predicted that. It's nobody's fault. We need to manage it in the best way we possibly can to keep as many Australian workers employed as possible. That's what this wages subsidy is for, it’s to keep people working so they don't lose their homes, so their families aren't scrabbling to make ends meet. The idea that a business would get this sort of support but a university wouldn't makes no sense. The idea that a uni student working for hundred bucks a week is going to get $1,500 a fortnight, but her tutor or the librarian, or the security guard at the university is not eligible, that just makes no sense. Thanks.