By Tanya Plibersek

16 December 2020




SUBJECTS: Universities; Jobs; COVID-19; Aged care; China; Energy policy.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Thank you for coming to Blacktown this morning. I’m Michelle Rowland. I’m the Federal Member for Greenway. I am delighted to invite to Blacktown today my very good friend, Tanya Plibersek who is our spokesperson for education. It is a fantastic partnership that Blacktown has forged with ACU and here in this magnificent new facility, and also looking at the new facilities we’ve got being built in the Blacktown CBD, we can see that this project is really going to transform Blacktown and its surrounds.
The statistics are stark: around 40 per cent of Greater Sydney university places are actually taken up people from Western Sydney, but only 20 per cent of those places are located in Western Sydney. So, it is a major thing for ACU to have chosen Blacktown for its new campus. It is going to make such a difference to this growing population and starting next year when courses get underway, we are going to see people choosing to live, work and study in their local area, which will make a huge difference. As Tanya will know, it is an incredible difference for people who come from diverse backgrounds. The great social contract in Australia is that you work hard, you study hard, you pay your taxes and the opportunity is there for you and your kids to have a better life than you have, or your parents had. That’s what an education is all about. As someone who was a commuting student from Blacktown to Sydney, I know how difficult it came be and how you can feel really discriminated against on the basis of your postcode. So, I’m delighted that Tanya’s come here today to have a look at these new facilities and to have a discussion about what the future holds, how it can be made better and I’m delighted you’re here, Tanya. You’re no stranger to this area and I really welcome you being here today.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Thanks Michelle. It’s so fantastic to be here with Michelle Rowland who is such a terrific and active local member. She knows her community so well and she’s such a great supporter of better educational opportunities for students in this area and for rebuilding the Blacktown CBD as well – making sure that a big tenant like the Australian Catholic University, with the jobs that it brings and the opportunities that it brings really improves the life of this Blacktown community.
Young people who grow up on the North Shore of Sydney are more than twice as likely to go to university as young people in Western Sydney. It’s not because people from Western Sydney aren’t as clever, it’s because they don’t have as many opportunities. Having this campus located here in Blacktown will increase that opportunity.
Sadly, the Government is trying to do the exact opposite. The Morrison Government is making it harder and more expensive for people to get the opportunity of pursuing the education that will land them their dream job. Thousands of university students next year will pay more than twice what they would have under the old funding system. Scott Morrison is more than doubling the cost of a university degree for thousands of young Australians at the very time that unemployment is going through the roof, when kids who are finishing their HSC this year have had the year from hell. It’s just not fair.
Scott Morrison’s recipe for economic success is to make it harder and more expensive to go to university, but easier to sack people and cut their pay. Scott Morrison isn’t about lifting up the next generation of young Australians – he’s loading them up with a lifetime of debt.
Labor believes that people who aspire to a university education shouldn’t be locked out of it because of the cost of that education. We don’t want to see young people with a lifetime of debt hanging around their necks. We don’t want to see young people with US-sized university debts when they graduate from university. We’re now talking about, say a four-year arts degree, costing $58,000. When young people graduate at the same time as they’re trying to save a deposit for a home of their own or start a family, they start with $58,000 of debt hanging around their necks. It’s just not fair, it’s just not right. And it’s particularly bad at a time of recession when there are so many people out of work or needing more hours of work. Surely, if Australians aren’t earning, they should be given the opportunity of learning. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: A campus in a place like Blacktown, what does it mean for someone in Western Sydney who might be weighing up whether or not they’re going to university?
PLIBERSEK: I’ll ask Michelle to add, but what we know for sure is that there are parts of Australia where university enrolments are much higher, and in an area like Western Sydney where enrolments are lower, we know it’s not because kids don’t have the capacity, we know it’s not because they’re not prepared to work hard. It’s because they don’t have the same opportunities. So putting a campus like this in Blacktown will increase the opportunity for kids, not just in Blacktown, but across Western Sydney.
ROWLAND: You’re absolutely right Tanya, and of course, Western Sydney is a big place. But here in Blacktown, which is one of the largest local government areas in all of Australia, it does do two really important things. First, when you can see a university in your local area, it gives you something to aspire to. That’s not to say that we have not been inspired, of course, to pursue university education in the past – but having it in front of you, having it so accessible and having the outreach that the ACU has demonstrated, makes an incredible difference. The second point of course is that it transforms the civic society as well. The jobs that it brings, the career pathways; all of these things really are a promotion of everything that is so important about education as being the great transformational force in our society. I think that this will make an outstanding contribution to Blacktown, not only in terms of the aesthetics, but also in terms of the pathways to see other people going to university, to have this sort of discussion while you’re still at school, and I think it can only be a positive and I welcome it 100 per cent.
JOURNALIST: There was one new case of community transmission here in NSW. What do you make of that?
PLIBERSEK: I don’t have all of the details of the case and the information about how it was acquired. But in every instance, we should be following the health advice. I have been told the case relates to someone who has transporting people into hotel quarantine. If that’s the case, we need to ensure we are protecting the workforce that is doing such a good job in helping keep all of us safe by facilitating quarantine for returning travellers.
JOURNALIST: What would you think if state leaders rushed to slam shut their borders again?
PLIBERSEK: I think the first thing we need to do, what we should always be doing in a time like this, is follow the health advice. I would be surprised if, after one case, that would happen – but I’m not going to comment any further because I just don’t have the details of the case.
JOURNALIST: On aged care, the Government has announced funding for an extra 10,000 in-home care packages for elderly Australians. Is that enough?
PLIBERSEK: The Government may have announced funding for 10,000 extra packages, but we know that there’s more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for aged care at home. These are people who have been not only assessed as eligible, but as needing care to keep them safely at home and support them in living independently. Sadly, we know that more than 30,000 people have died waiting for this type of care. It makes absolutely no sense to me that we’ve got more than 100,000 people on a waiting list for home care at the same time as we’ve got 2.5 million Australians who don’t have a job or who don’t have enough hours of work. This is sadly just a drop in the bucket of what’s needed.
JOURNALIST: On China and coal, China has accused Australia of playing the victim. Do you believe the Australian Government is in any way to blame for the deteriorating relationship?
PLIBERSEK: It’s always important for Australia to stand up for our values, for our democratic values. But it’s also important that instead of hearing from backbenchers with anything that pops into their head about the China relationship, we see more leadership from the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Trade Minister.
We know that thousands of jobs depend on getting our trading relationship with China back on track. And we should at the same time be looking to diversify our markets to make sure that Australian products are sold into as many markets as possible.
JOURNALIST: Do you think those Ministers and the Prime Minister, and his Government are in any way to blame for that deteriorating relationship though?
PLIBERSEK: Well, just as I say that it’s important for people not just to say anything that pops into their head about the China relationship, I would say that it is important to hear from the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Trade Minister on these issues rather than just anyone.
JOURNALIST: Your colleague Mike Freelander has today said the Australian Government was wrong to start an argument with China. He says Australia insulted the Chinese by questioning their COVID response. Do you agree?
PLIBERSEK: I think it’s very important that we are able, as a nation, to speak up about our values and our beliefs. There’s no problem with that. But it’s important that we are disciplined and diplomatic about trying to get this relationship back on track.
JOURNALIST: So was the way they went about it insulting?
PLIBERSEK: I’m not going to speak about it anymore, because I keep saying that it’s important to be disciplined and diplomatic.
JOURNALIST: On climate, Joel Fitzgibbon has continued to undermine your colleague, Mark Butler, on climate policy. Is his commentary from the backbench helpful?
PLIBERSEK: Of course, Joel as a backbencher has every right to make comment about the issues that he is passionate about. That’s up to him. My real focus, if we’re talking about climate and energy policy, is to point out that the Government has now had 22 separate energy policies and still haven’t landed on one that will bring down energy prices and bring down pollution.
What we should be focused on is settling energy policy so that we can make use of cheaper, cleaner energy to power Australian jobs. Until we settle on an energy policy that will bring down pollution and bring down prices, we are undermining our capacity as a manufacturing nation and we’re landing households with higher energy bills.