By Tanya Plibersek

25 May 2020


MONDAY, 25 MAY 2020

SUBJECTS: $60 billion JobKeeper blunder; universities excluded from JobKeeper.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Well, thank you very much for coming out this morning. What we heard at the end of last week is the Government has made a $60 billion dollar stuff-up when it comes to JobKeeper. Because of this stuff-up, there is now absolutely no excuse to exclude workers at Australian universities from getting access to JobKeeper payments. Today, I've been joined by Laura and she'll speak to you in a few minutes about her experience. Laura is a mum of two kids, she's got a mortgage to pay, she's got all of the same costs and responsibilities as many, many other works who have access to JobKeeper. The difference is, she won't get access to JobKeeper. Australian universities are facing loosing 21,000 staff over the coming months. Their estimates are that they will have to sack 21,000 staff and people like Laura are absolutely, justly concerned that they won't have a job in months to come. With a mortgage to pay, with kids to support - this has been an incredibly stressful time and Laura, would you like to say a few words?

LAURA: Thank you. I'd just like to say that it's such an anxiety provoking time for us, not knowing if we have job security. We've got bills to pay, children are anxious about going back to school, and all these things combined means it is really difficult to carry on with our work at the moment, feeling that perhaps we are unsupported. We're really worried about the longer-term future and it's just a really anxiety provoking time for us.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks so much Laura. So, you think about what the universities are facing at the moment - 21,000 job losses. That includes workers in city areas, like this, but also in country towns and regional centres. We've already seen job losses in Rockhampton and Geelong, we have seen campus closures in Biloela in Queensland and in Yeppoon. The impact on regional jobs will be very substantial indeed if this Government doesn’t allow universities to access JobKeeper payments for their staff. And when you think about it, it makes absolutely no sense that the students that Laura is helping, who might be working a shift a week in a cafe or a bakery, earning $150 bucks a week - they get access to the full $1,500 of JobKeeper a fortnight, but Laura doesn't get access to JobKeeper. We are going to hear from Michael Thomson now, from the National Tertiary Education Union, to talk about how this is affecting their members.

MICHAEL THOMSON, SECRETARY, NTEU NSW DIVISION: Thanks Tanya, and thanks. 21,000 full-time equivalent jobs are on the line at universities across Australia - that's 30,000 people. Universities today are built on a model which values, unfortunately, insecure work. University managements refuse to plan properly so we get a whole heap of casuals, and a whole heap of people on fixed term contracts. Today, the Union is saying that we want these jobs. We want these people to have secure employment. We are saying this and we are calling on Vice-Chancellors to commit to their staff, to commit to their staffing commitments themselves, to the university and the projects of the university - research and education. We are also calling on the Federal Government and Minister Tehan to commit to people who do the work to actually make the universities function well, to provide education for our kids, to provide research for our society. We want them to actually have public commitment to people whose jobs are on the line today. Thank you.

PLIBERSEK: The National Tertiary Education Union is so committed to saving jobs that they have recommended to their members that their members take a temporary pay-cut. The Union is committed to saving jobs, but the Government is not committed to saving jobs. At the same time as we are saying thank goodness for our brilliant university researchers and the role they are playing in developing a vaccine for COVID-19, we're saying to those same researchers that we are not prepared to protect their jobs and back their jobs with JobKeeper. The Government can act now to save thousands of jobs. It must act now to save thousands of jobs. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Did you address the issue of the Government changing the rules so that private universities can get JobKeeper?

PLIBERSEK: Well it is extraordinary isn't it, that this Government has changed the rules to allow private universities to access JobKeeper but it is determined to exclude publicly funded universities from accessing JobKeeper. Labor doesn't begrudge any university having access to JobKeeper. What is completely unfair is the Government has now changed the rules three times to exclude public universities from JobKeeper and changed the rules one time to make sure private universities have access. It's just not fair. We need to fund all universities on an equal basis.

JOURNALIST: Could I also please ask about Anthony Albanese’s direction to Shadow Cabinet asking that as review your election promises you have to keep your eye on Australia’s fiscal situation *inaudible*. Do you have views on what that fiscal constraint that will be on your portfolio in terms of *inaudible*?

PLIBERSEK: We're going through all of our usual policy development processes at the moment and when I've got an announcement to make about education policy, I'll let you know. Thanks everyone.