By Tanya Plibersek

14 August 2020




SUBJECT: COVID-19; Uni fee hikes.

ALAN JONES, HOST: Well, we're joined by Amanda Stoker - an outstanding thinker, who actually believes in Liberal principles, and Tanya Plibersek - a formidable figure with real ability on the Labor side. I know I promised last week to Tanya that we would come to this employment issue and I will. But, to both of you, I just want to get one thought from you. I am swamped with emails about political leaders and their dictatorial stances. I don't know when either of you last had a party room meeting, but one lady has written to Daniel Andrews and copied the email to me. And she said quote "This punitive martial law style imprisonment of the citizens of Victoria. As I sit here drafting this email, I can hear the police choppers circling overhead searching for a guilty infringer of your dictatorial mandates and directives, much like the young woman filmed yesterday being choked by the police after being found to be without a mask. As you and I both know”, she writes Daniel Andrews, “these directives are just that - they're not laws written up on a court document.” She said "I implore you Premier Andrews, humble yourself, admit your errors, remove your boot from our necks, police the quarantined and sick, protect the vulnerable and the elderly and free your people". Tanya, what do you say to that?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Alan, I completely disagree with the editorial you've just been through. I think this is a time when we have to look after each other and -

JONES: We are. We are Tanya.

PLIBERSEK: You look at the United States where people have had this sort of attitude and said "oh it's my right to go out there without a mask, do whatever I want". They’ve had a hundred and sixty five thousand deaths, their unemployment rate is as high as it's been - higher than it's been for 70 years -

JONES: Tanya, Tanya.

PLIBERSEK: No, listen Alan. 41,000 deaths in the UK and a 20 per cent contraction in their economy. So, some people are trying to say we have to choose whether we look after peoples’ health or we choose the economy.

JONES: And why has that happened Tanya? Why is that happened? It's happened because of lockdowns.

PLIBERSEK: Because this a -

JONES: It's happened because of lockdowns.

PLIBERSEK: Alan, Alan. It has happened because this is a very easily transmissible illness. And you see this thing with the school just now.

JONES: Tanya, it is not even in the top 20 things to kill people. Not even in the top 20 in the world.

PLIBERSEK: Because we've managed to contain it. Do we really want to see how bad it can get and say "oh, that was a mistake, we shouldn't have let that go through our communities".

JONES: Are you kidding me? Okay, Tanya. You've got your full salary, when are we going to stop crushing the economy? I've got the figures here Tanya - the World Health Organisation. This year, eight million have died from communicable diseases. Eight million. Three million have died from cancer. I mean, we're talking about 751,000 deaths.

PLIBERSEK: Alan, this gets into our community in the way that it has in New York and places like that, where we've got morgues in our public parks because we can't fit the dead bodies in the hospital, and then what? Then it will be too late Alan.

JONES: Oh, Tanya. Come on. Tanya, come on. There are more people who have died in America in the last six months, more people from drug overdoses and suicide than have died from Coronavirus. Amanda, what's your take on this?

AMANDA STOKER, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Alan, I published a piece on LinkedIn and my website this week on this very issue. And it's to say this - we don't measure the costs of the path we're taken down. There is a human cost to these draconian measures, but it's not being measured by the states. We’re measuring the consequences of the health response, whether or not we're saving human lives because of the health consequences of COVID but we're not measuring the harm on the other side. The difference though, is that the PM and the Morrison Government have always said this is a war on two fronts. We need to understand there are health challenges that are enormous, but so too are the economic and social challenges. And if we don't balance the two properly we aren't really delivering as well as we should for Australians. And so it's incumbent upon the states to start measuring the full breadth of consequences of these actions.

JONES: Absolutely. Well, let me just repeat - and Tanya, I don't want to go onto this because I want to get to your unemployment thing - but I repeat: apart from Victoria, there are 15 people across Australia in hospital and there are eight people in intensive care, and we're smashing the economy. Tanya, back to you because it's your portfolio - you’re the Shadow Minister. Is this the time to be increasing the cost of some degrees? Fee hikes of up to a hundred and thirteen per cent for some humanities degrees and some students paying up to $14,500 a year. What do you make of that?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's the very worst time to be making it harder to get an education. Today we heard that, for the first time ever in Australian history, we've got more than a million people unemployed. And we should be making it easier for people to go to TAFE or go to university, get any sort of education, skills or training that will help them pick up the jobs that we hope will be there as the economy recovers.

JONES: Absolutely.

PLIBERSEK: Before COVID-19, we had skills shortages. We had three quarters of employers saying they couldn't find the skilled staff they needed. We had a mass of people on temporary visas filling those roles. We need to be training Australians to do those jobs now. And you mentioned the degrees that are going up in cost. Well, psychology, social work, the things we are going to need -

JONES: Mental health! Ridiculous. Amanda -

PLIBERSEK: Mental health! Help me, Alan. You would get letters from people in country areas who need those supports. Why would we make it more expensive and harder to get those qualifications?

JONES: Amanda, just a quick one from you, because the National Party expressed the views that Tanya has just expressed and had concerns about this, and the party room voted for it. But when the regional whole program came before the Cabinet, or at least has been presented in the Cabinet, or the documents been presented, none of the National Party, none of those views Tanya has expressed, were incorporated. What do you make of this - quick one?

STOKER: Let me first take issue with some of the things that Tanya has said. While she has been right to say there are some degrees that go up in price, the ones that are core to mental health all go down. Clinical psychology, nursing, medicine -

PLIBERSEK: No, that's not true. That's not true -

STOKER: All the ones that are core to the mental health response that's important for our regions all go down.

JONES: No, I do not think that's true Amanda. Well Amanda -

STOKER: I checked it with the Education Minister just this afternoon. They go down. In addition to that -

PLIBERSEK: Psychology will be almost $30,000 dollars more expensive.

JONES: Well, I'll tell you what -

STOKER: There is a difference though Alan between clinical psychology, the kind that is based in science and the kind that is a sort of softer, social science. The stuff that is in the social work category does go up but the clinical medical stuff, it all goes down.

PLIBERSEK: So, we don't need child protection workers? Child protection workers in every state and territory are needed and you are making it harder and more expensive to get that qualification.

JONES: Tanya, we will leave it here and we will resume next week on this subject. I think it is a very critical issue. Unemployment related to university charges.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Alan.

JONES: Amanda, thank you for your time. Tanya, thank you for yours as well.