Bill's Transcripts

Doorstop: Melbourne - Labor’s plan for more university graduates; Coalition reshuffle

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

MELBOURNE
MONDAY, 21 SEPTEMBER 2015


 

SUBJECT/S: Labor’s plan for more university graduates; Coalition reshuffle

 

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone and welcome to Monash University. Today I, along with Senator Kim Carr and Amanda Rishworth, our higher education team, have announced one of the key policies for Labor in the lead up to the next election – I’m talking about higher education. Higher education is a life changing experience for many young Australians, and we want as many young Australians and mature-age Australians to get the chance to go to university. What Labor has announced today is a complete repudiation of the Liberals

$100,000 degrees. We do not believe that a university degree should be a debt sentence. Instead what we’re saying is we will put a floor underneath the funding of universities, which is much better than the Liberals are proposing, because we want to keep downward price pressure on the cost of going to university. But what we’ve also said to universities is it’s not a blank cheque. We want to see improvements in the quality of education that our young people are receiving at university and we most definitely want to see an improvement in the graduation rates and completion rates. It’s unacceptable at the moment that 15 per cent of our young people when they start at university just don’t complete. So it is important, when we’re providing taxpayer funds to universities that we not only see access and equity – we also want to make sure that our universities are turning out job ready graduates, people that can compete for the jobs in the new economy, and we want to see a greater emphasis on quality. But Labor has made it very clear that one of the big differences between Labor and Liberal is our commitment to higher education. We’ve made the simple priority that higher education will be a source of growth and it will provide a much better quality of life for all of those Australians currently  at university and who hope to complete. I’d like to ask Senator Carr to say a few more words about Labor’s policy today.

 

KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, RESEARCH, INNOVATION AND INDUSTRY: Thank you Bill. It was said that there had to be deregulation because there wasn’t the political commitment to  fund universities properly. Today, what Bill Shorten has announced is that that is completely wrong. Under a Labor Government we will be able to provide predictable, secure and a funding guarantee for universities in legislation. Now that means under a Labor Government there will be on average 30 per cent more money per student being provided by the Commonwealth to ensure that we can maintain the quality of our higher education system, to ensure that we can have a university system that is more responsive to our economic and social pressures. An economic system that can provide the high quality jobs for the future. So under Labor, what you’ll see is a funding gap emerge between the Labor party and the Liberal party, which of course under this graph demonstrates a 30 per cent gap from 2019, going out to 45 per cent by 2026. Under Labor, you can have the security of funding, and you can have a commitment to a quality system that guarantees the government will stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Australia, with the students of Australia, and their families. Under the Liberals, you know you’re on your own.

 

SHORTEN: Thanks Kim. Are there any questions?

 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] and if so, how do you then stop universities just passing students to get that extra money?

 

SHORTEN: Well first of all I’ll just go to the funding issues, then I’ll ask Senator Carr to supplement my answer. Political parties make choices about what they prioritise. We’ve made the choice that we would rather tax multinationals, and that we would clamp down on some of the excessively generous superannuation concessions and some of the lower priority government measures currently proposed, we would rather tackle those measures and pay for a better base for  a future for our university funding, so that our young people get the best start in life at university. This is the choice we make, we understand that the future is really important in terms of policies and what government does. So what we’ve said is that we will take the best paths for a better future for Australia, for more economic growth, for better quality growth, for better futures for our young people, for better incomes for our young people – is not to force them out of the university sector by charging them too much, we think that would be a mistake. What I will do now though is ask Senator Carr to talk further about our formulas.

 

CARR: Under a Labor government we will be expanding the amount of money that is available per student quite dramatically. But we are saying to the universities we want to work with you to improve the quality, to improve the standards of our universities that operate in Australia. We can do that by ensuring that we establish a new higher education commission, and we can have compact arrangements or charters in place to have a funding agreement which means that universities can improve the quality of their teaching. Under the Labor plan there’s a two billion dollar equity fund available to support the quality of teaching. Under Labor there will be funding arrangements put in place to reduce the number of people that drop out. Now at the moment, we have something like one in four of our students are dropping out, and are not completing after eight years. Now it will be said that  people move between universities and courses and the like but the official statistics are very clear on this – one in four people after eight years are not completing. And students with very low entrance standards to university, it’s one in two.  For indigenous students, it’s almost one in two. So we know we have a serious problem, we know however that the answer is not the tick and flick approach of passing everyone. We have to maintain standards and we have to ensure that we have quality graduates who are fit to be able to join the workforce and are job ready.

 

JOURNALIST: When you talk about maintaining standards and having quality students, does that mean pushing universities to report some of the disruptive educational technologies, the ways that the world is moving in terms of education?

 

CARR: Yes we are very keen to ensure that we support the new technologies that are available, and under our plan there is ample provision for that to occur. But we want to improve the quality of teaching, that’s the primary focus here. The face to face teaching remains the essential way in which our education system is maintained. We are not turning our back on the new technologies, on the disrupting technologies, but we are saying we could improve the standards of teaching within our universities, and that’s what the equity funding is about, and that’s why we have in place arrangements to ensure that universities don’t just enrol people – we want to support universities so that there are more successful students at university.

 

JOURNALIST: How do you measure that quality?

 

CARR: Well you can measure it by a range of measures. I’m a school teacher by trade, so I can assure you that there are good teachers and there are bad teachers. There are of course in universities good teachers and bad teachers. There are good practices and bad practices. We want to encourage the very best in our university teaching. We want to work with staff, we wat to work with the management of universities so that we get more students who enjoy their education, who are able to be more successful at understanding the issues that they’re dealing with and are able to be more effective when they join the workforce

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten you’re guaranteeing funding increases per student per university, of course in the last previous Labor government they began cutting funding to universities [inaudible] the deficit, and the universities have always complained that that’s a problem, and that’s why the partly endorsed this Government’s deregulation agenda. Why should they believe you now that future Labor government will abide by that guarantee when it hasn’t happened in the past?

 

SHORTEN: Just to correct your version of history slightly, you’re right in 2013 there were changes which universities didn’t like. But it is only ever under Labor governments that the number of students going to university increases. I don’t think you’ll mind if I just rather than use a short-term analysis, use slightly longer than the last couple of years. Under Labor, 190,000 extra students got to go to university. It is what Labor does. Every time Labor is in. Didn’t matter if it was Whitlam’s time, or Hawke’s time or the most recent Labor government or under a future Labor government that I lead, we are determined to see more people from all walks of life get access to university. But you’re quiet right about certainty of funding and that has been a real bugbear for universities. The argument goes that universities say we have to look at this deregulation and upping our prices and perhaps, having fewer people come to university because he have got uncertainty about funding. Labor has made a deliberate policy choice here about the future of higher education in Australia. We want mums and dads who are watching this debate about higher education to say ‘oh I understand what Labor is saying.’ What Labor will do is put a guaranteed amount of funding into the system. And we do this on the expectation that universities won’t then price gouge or force the prices up as would happen under the Tony Abbott-Christopher Pyne-Malcolm Turnbull system of higher education.

 

There is two choices available in Australia; you can deregulate, cut and put up the prices and make it harder to go to universities – that’s the Liberal path; increase the price. Or the Labor path is we will just decide through hard decisions we make, through savings we make and through other policies we adopt, to find the money to prioritise a minimum amount which is much more generous as we saw from Senator Carr’s graph than the Liberals. What we will ask for the universities when they get that taxpayer funded money, is we want to see a greater focus on completion, on quality, on teaching so there is no blank cheque here. But Labor is proposing real reform. We want more productivity within our universities, we want greater collaboration between our universities and industry, we want a greater focus on making sure that the students, when they go to university, have that quality experience but also, and it’s a really important point I want to end on, we believe in equity. We believe that it should be a child or a person’s merit which gets them to university and not whether or not their parent has a lot of money. That’s really important and the universities I know, because we have been speaking to a lot of them, are very satisfied with our prioritising and it takes a lot of the pressure off to look at some of these more hair-brain schemes that Christopher Pyne has been unsuccessful pushing for the last two years.

 

JOURNALIST: What do you make of suggestions that Joe Hockey could go and represent us in Washington?

 

SHORTEN: I think this would be Malcolm Turnbull’s first big mistake. Mr Hockey has been an unsuccessful Treasurer. I mean, what does Mr Turnbull really expect Australians to think? If Mr Turnbull doesn’t want Mr Hockey on his own front bench as Treasurer, why on earth would we treat the Americans as second class and send a failed treasurer over there to do that. No, this is a mistake. We shouldn’t be doing this. You can’t buy the peace within your divided party by treating the post to Washington, one of our key foreign policy relationships as some sort of consolation prize for a Treasurer who has taken Australia nowhere for two years.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just on the higher education policy – to pay for it, you are going to scrap the Government’s idea of uncapping the supply of sub-degree place; diplomas, associate degrees to the sector;  The university sector says that these are exactly the places that will better prepare students and therefore get them through university and so reduce the dropout rate, which you are concerned about. How does that then tally with what you are trying to do?

 

SHORTEN: Again, what you are hearing back isn’t exactly what we are saying. I am not convinced that the Liberals’ fetish for providing a whole lot of extra money to private providers in the sub-bachelor places is going to lead to the improvement of standards. I think there is a grave concern in our community that we have seen an explosion in private providers and of course the debts that go with it, underwritten by the taxpayer and what we see actually isn’t the quality that people want to see in their educational system. I do agree with part of your question in that, the sub-bachelor pathway is important, but what I don’t agree with is the Liberal’s rampant deregulation – just hand it all to the private sector in terms of some of the private education providers. The very best private education providers are very good. But I think you and I, and millions of Australians have seen those exposés on commercial television on some of the private providers and they are just shonky. They are just ripping off people and they are just not providing the proper value for taxpayer money. I might just ask Senator Carr to further expand.

 

CARR: We will have more to say on this issue of pathways. This is the first tranche in a major series of announcements that we are making about the future innovation policies. Bill Shorten has made it very clear about the importance of this area of policy for us in regard to the future election. We are very pleased to be able to fight on this ground. So this will be the first of a series of announcements that go to the broader questions. So we aren’t done yet on that matter. I think I’ll just reinforce what Bill said. We’ve seen what has happened within the vocational education system. We don’t want to see that repeated in the university system. We want to provide a funding guarantee in legislation that protects the quality and the standards of our universities so that we know that people who graduate are suitable to be able to take their places within society.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, are you going to make any adjustments or anything to your shadow cabinet given there has been a bit of readjustment on the other side?

 

SHORTEN: A bit of readjustment? it’s been a massacre of the Abbott supporters I’d say –

 

JOURNALIST: In terms of your frontbench?

 

SHORTEN: Yeah, I get your question. Well, you would have been aware at the last caucus meeting, two of our long serving shadow ministers announced their intention to step down. Jan McLucas and Bernie Ripoll, and they have been outstanding servants to the party and the Australian people. We’ve already got a process in place. Our caucus elects our ministry. They are not captain’s picks. I will ask my colleagues to provide new names and then I will allocate portfolio responsibilities accordingly.

 

JOURNALIST: Given that you could call this the new government that’s been brought in, how much does that concern you about convincing people to vote for Labor at the next election?

 

SHORTEN: Well Helen, new sales people don’t make new product. I have already been disturbed, as well as many Australians, that Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t seem to be pursuing the views that he had when he wasn’t leader of the Liberals in terms of climate change. He seems to have walked away from his view of a conscience vote in the life of this Parliament on marriage equality. And today, higher education. Labor isn’t waiting for the allocation of the new Liberal line up to start getting on with the important debates about the future. I am pleased that after  long last, there are some more women coming to the front of the Liberal line up – I am really pleased about that. But I am incredibly disappointed that disabilities has dropped off the names of any of the ministries. Now, some people say why would you talk about disabilities; why does it need to be in the title of a minister – it does. See, the whole basis of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is about bringing in people with disabilities and carers from the second class life they have been living in Australia.  Just when they think they are getting the attention they deserve, you see a political decision to say we aren’t going to have a minister for disabilities. I acknowledge the new line up and I think in terms of improving the treatment of women, it’s long overdue and I really welcome that. I also welcome the focus on the future. But it is one thing to talk about the future; it’s another to have policies for the future. Today, we have raised the stakes of higher education. We are proposing no to $100,000 university degrees. No to the Abbott-Pyne policies of deregulation of universities. We are saying yes to providing more resources in return for greater quality, better completion and making sure all Australians get the chance to pursue their studies based upon merit of their marks, not the wealth of their parents.

 

Thanks everyone, see you later.

 

ENDS

 

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