Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Burnie - Abbott Government’s cuts to universities and $100,000 degrees; Pre-selections;


SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s cuts to universities and $100,000 degrees; Pre-selections; Australian Defence Force; Iraq; ISIL; Indigenous Affairs; John Howard’s comments on Royal Commission.

It’s great to be in Burnie at the University of Tasmania Campus here with my colleague Senator Anne Urquhart. There is real fear on the university campuses of Australia amongst students, teaching staff and their parents that in fact the dream of going to university will become harder for many ordinary Australians in the future. I've just had the opportunity to talk with the senior leadership of this campus and the university and also to talk to students studying here. Put simply, students here are worried that by doubling the interest rates that students have to pay on their HECS loans that a whole lot of Australians are going to be put into a lot more debt because of the Abbott Government. People are worried about mature-aged students who are changing careers, who are going to be put off by paying much higher university fees.

There are lot of people at this campus who are the first in their family to go to university so what we see here is people from poorer backgrounds who are worried about being discouraged, will they ever be able to afford to go to university? It is wrong that Australians face the university courses, the fees to go to university doubling and tripling. It will be a great disincentive for regional campuses in particular around Australia who mightn't have the financial resources of the very big city universities and lot of ordinary people won't get the chance to study. And finally, talking to women students, they know that they'll have periods of broken service where they won't be able to earn because they're raising a family and all the time their university debts just keep ticking up and up and up.

Tony Abbott needs to drop his university changes because they're anti-education, they're anti-the regions of Australia, they're anti-mature-aged students and they’re certainly pro-putting a lot of ordinary families into much greater debt. Australians shouldn't have to face the choice between having a family and going to university, between getting a mortgage and going to university and Labor will fight these changes. Happy to take any questions.


JOURNALIST: Do you have specific concerns about this campus here in Burnie and what are they based on?


SHORTEN: Well I had the opportunity to talk to the leadership of UTAS and this campus, I also had the opportunity to talk to some of the student leaders. There's 1,000 students here and they're doing all sorts of courses from education right through to science and the arts and engineering. There are 1,000 people here, though, many of whom are mature age, who will have to have second thoughts about can they continue their studies because of debt. It's deeply ingrained in the psyche of a whole lot of people in regional Australia that they're not going to take on any debt they don't have to. Now there is the very real prospect that because of the Abbott Government's changes people are going to have to look at $100,000 degrees, people are going to have to look at the doubling and tripling of the cost of going to university, people will make a decision that they won't be able to afford going to university at all so this is a real problem for Burnie which has had plenty of economic ups and downs in recent years.


JOURNALIST: For an area we heard earlier has some of the highest suicide rates in the country, how much further do these cuts stem into social effects on the community?


SHORTEN: I might answer that to begin with but I'll ask my colleague Anne Urquhart whose worked and lived up here for a long time to add to this. There's no doubt in my mind that education is one of the great enabling parts of the Australian story. A good education gives people hope for a better life. It is a real problem that this Government is going to take 20 per cent of the funding away from universities. In the case of University of Tasmania that's about $113 million. Can you imagine taking $1 in every 5 away from the Burnie campus? It just means that some people won't bother coming to university because they think they can't afford it. Others will see their research cut, others who are mature age will say ‘well maybe I can't reskill and retrain because I simply can't afford to do that and pay my mortgage.’ So this is absolutely bad news for north-western Tasmania. I might ask Anne to say a bit too.


SENATOR ANNE URQUHART: Thanks, Bill. Look, just in relation to the north-west, I mean one of the things that we have up here is a very dispersed population. We have, you know, from the West Coast right up through to Devonport, Latrobe and people access this university campus from all those areas. One of the last things that we need is for people not to have the opportunity to do a university degree right on their doorstep where they don't have to worry about leaving their families. A lot of people are part of their family culture up here through farming and a whole range of other things that their families do, so they actually need to be close by and we need to be able to encourage the youth to get involved in university and have the opportunities that maybe their parents didn't have.

But the problem with the deregulation, the funding, all that insecurity at the moment, is that we don't know where that’s going to end up if it gets through and at the end of the day that will stop young people from even thinking about a university education. So one of the things we need to do is to stop and make sure that this doesn't get through so that our young people here on the coast have every opportunity, so that first of all they've got that opportunity but second we can encourage them to have that opportunity to go to university and get an education if they so choose to. So that's really what we need to do.


SHORTEN: Thanks Anne.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, when do you want to have a candidate in place for Braddon?


SHORTEN: We'll have candidates in place well before the next election. Obviously getting on with it as soon as possible is very important because Tony Abbott clearly doesn't like Tasmania. Where he says that the best thing that perhaps people can do is leave Tasmania, he just doesn't get how ordinary people in Tasmania live their lives. I think it's remarkable that when you've got such high rates of unemployment in parts of Tasmania, Tony Abbott just sort of blithely says, ‘oh well, for hundreds of years people have been moving so people can move again.’

And then you've got Eric Abetz who's the senior Tasmanian politician in the national parliament, he just says people can go and pick potatoes. Se we’ve got to, Labor has got an opportunity to campaign federally in Tasmania because they want to cut the universities, they want sick and vulnerable people to pay more to go to the doctor, they're cutting the rate of indexation of pensions and they have no jobs plan at all.

JOURNALIST: If we could just move to Iraq, do you think the Prime Minister's been clear about what the objective is in Iraq?


SHORTEN: Yes, I do. Let me just state at the outset, this is not an easy decision to commit Australian Defence Forces to pre-deploy in the Middle East. The decision I don't believe has been taken lightly. Certainly the Opposition support for the decision hasn't been made casually or lightly. When it comes to fighting terrorism we are, all of us, in this together. What I also do stress and will seek the Prime Minister to reassure me on is that our troops, when they go into this conflict, have all of the resources they need to do the job efficiently and return home safely.


JOURNALIST: How clear is the mission over there?


SHORTEN: Well, you've got this organisation, ISIL, who's emerged out of Syria. They've taken large parts of northern Iraq. They claim to be acting in the name of religion but this is no religion which any of us acknowledge. This is deliberate, ruthless violence and crime. There's an international Coalition led by America at the request of the Iraqi national Government, so I think the mission for humanitarian relief is clear, and certainly thus far there's just been a request and that our Australian soldiers will be pre-deploying. We still haven't seen the final stages of a decision to intervene in Iraq itself.


JOURNALIST: You mentioned you want some assurances from the Prime Minister, do you have any concerns whatsoever about the deployment?


SHORTEN: To the extent that Australian Defence Forces are going in harm's way, it is of course concerning. This is what our men and women have trained for. They're amongst the best in the world. The RAAF's already been doing humanitarian relief of refugees and innocent civilians in northern Iraq. I've got every confidence in the quality of our Australian Defence Forces and that for me underpins my confidence, but of course it is important that they have all the resources they need and to know they have the support - they and their families have the support of the mainstream Australian political parties, which they do.


JOURNALIST: John Kerry says that the effort against Islamic State is considered a war, would you agree?


SHORTEN: I'm not sure that the words greatly matter, mission or war. What I do know is that ISIL is a dangerous organisation, and it's dangerous not only to people in northern Iraq or in Syria but it presents a danger to Australians. There has been misguided Australian foreign fighters leaving Australia, going to fight in a war which is not appropriate at all for them to be there, and no doubt there’s some people who've been returning from that conflict to Australia learning all sorts of wrong and evil lessons. So the idea that we can simply ignore what happens in the other parts of the world and hope it passes us by is naive.


JOURNALIST: What about the prospect that Australian air strikes might kill Australians who are fighting alongside IS militants?


SHORTEN: I think if there's any Australians who are fighting as part of the ISIL organisation, they should stop, they should leave ISIL. They have no role there. What on earth are Australians getting engaged with that sort of violence and crime? I have no idea what would motivate people to do that.


JOURNALIST: What is the justification? Why should we be sending troops?


SHORTEN: First of all, it's an international Coalition. There are literally hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq who are being made homeless, who are refugees, thousands of whom have been killed. This is a terror organisation trying to cause mayhem not just in northern Iraq but if it had its way it would be causing harm in this country too. The commitment from Australia is relatively modest, but it is appropriate that we're part of an international Coalition acting at the request of the Iraqi national Government and so therefore I hope that the Australian forces – if they're engaged, are able to do so in the most timely manner possible and come home safely.


JOURNALIST: Senator Jacqui Lambie has been talking about having a set amount of Indigenous seats held by Indigenous people in Australia. What's your attitude on that?


SHORTEN: There's plenty of legal issues and constitutional issues around that issue. I think it has worked well in New Zealand, so I'm certainly open to considering the idea but- I'm not going to rule it out of hand but there's plenty of technical and practical barriers to it. There's no doubt we need more Indigenous Australians involved in Australian politics, and I take her suggestion as one idea to encourage Indigenous Australians to be involved in the politics of their nation, their home.


JOURNALIST: Senator Lambie has also made some comments that anyone wanting to impose Sharia law in Australia shouldn't be entitled to vote. What do you think about that?


SHORTEN: I don't think anyone's trying to impose Sharia law in Australia.


JOURNALIST: Do you think that's a fair comment that she's made?


SHORTEN: I don't think anyone is trying to impose Sharia law in Australia, so that sort of answers the rest of the question I think. If there’s one more question.


JOURNALIST: John Howard says he's not comfortable with the idea of a Royal Commission into union corruption or pink batts. What's your take on that?


SHORTEN: John Howard is speaking about a time when there was less politics from the Liberal Government. I think everyone knows that the Abbott Government has got a very strong political agenda. I think it's amazing former Prime Minister Howard has said this, and I think his current colleagues or the current Abbott Government should think very carefully about the sound advice that John Howard's given them. Thanks, everyone. Have a lovely day.