THURSDAY 13 NOVEMBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s $100,000 uni degrees; Australia going backwards on climate change; Russia; Tony Abbott’s unfair GP Tax, Gail Kelly.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s great to be here at Brigidine College in Randwick with hard-working local member Matt Thistlethwaite. I just had one of the nice duties you get when you’re the Leader of the Opposition, to talk to some of Australia's brightest young people about their views of the future and it’s a chance to hear and answer questions. It was a great discussion before, so I'm very grateful to the staff and students.
Two of the big issues which emerged though in the discussions of course, are young people working out what does the future hold for them? In particular, what are some of their opportunities in higher education? Yet again you see the concern across hard-working young people - will they be able to afford to go to university, what extra sacrifices will their parents have to make and why on earth is the Abbott Government increasing the HECS interest rates, cutting funds to university and creating a set of circumstances where young people have to pay double or triple the cost of their university degrees?
Also we had a great discussion - and clearly on the minds of our future leaders - is climate change. What is the Government doing, what does Labor think about tackling renewable energy, what should we be doing and acting in terms of climate change? These young students were aware that yesterday the Presidents of China and the United States, the two largest economies in the world, the largest emitters of carbon, taking decisive unprecedented action together. And I thought perhaps amongst all of the great questions, the single, strongest question was what will happen at the G20? So we had an opportunity to talk to young people who know that climate change is a real issue and should be dealt with now rather than to be deferred to be a harder, tougher, more expensive issue in the future because we didn't deal with it now.
So Tony Abbott, I believe the message coming from our young people and indeed all Australians is we are showcasing Australia to the world. We have the 20 largest economic actors, the 20 largest players in the world covering the vast bulk of the population in the world and economic activity. Tony Abbott has resisted and fought tooth and nail to have climate change on the agenda. I believe the remarkable developments, the nine months of secret talks, the remarkable announcement yesterday mean the Abbott Government has to make sure that climate change is discussed in a fair dinkum manner at G20. The world will not judge Australia well if we do not deal with the issues that the world think are important.
Also it becomes very important to make sure that we don't create uncertainty with the Renewable Energy Target in Australia. Australians, young and old, understand the importance of having renewable energy as part of our mix. Australians do not understand why Tony Abbott's going back on policies and pre-election promises, creating uncertainty, seeking to change the will of the Parliament and undermine billions of dollars of investment, thousands of jobs and downward pressure on electricity prices.
I might ask Matt to say a few words as well about today's discussion with Australia's future leaders.
MATT THISTLETHWAITE, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thank you, Bill. Bill and I have just had a marvellous discussion with some great leaders in our community, students who have dreams and ambitions, who are very intelligent and who dream of going to university and are working now hard on their plans for the future.
We are very fortunate in our community, we have one of Australia's leading universities, the University of New South Wales, it's just down the road. And some of the courses at that university are in very high demand. Medicine, commerce, engineering and science degrees are all in very high demand at the University of New South Wales. If the Abbott Government's changes to university fees, the deregulation of universities are brought in, that particularly university will be able to increase the fees for those courses. They will be able to charge what they want for those courses that are in high demand.
Many of the students that we spoke to this morning talked about - they are working hard at the moment and their ambitions to get a university education. I was the first person in my family to have the opportunity at a university education. I was fortunate to be able to attend the University of New South Wales. I want the same ambitions and opportunities and chances for the student leaders that we just spoke to this morning but there is a tipping point. This morning in the Australian Financial Review, the Australian Medical Association study indicated that the cost of a medical degree in Australia will go to $250,000 or in the vicinity if these changes are introduced. That may put the opportunity at a medical degree for some of the students that we spoke to this morning out of their reach.
I want to ensure and Labor wants to ensure that kids in our community have the same opportunities that I had, that a degree should be based on how hard you work at high school and merit, not on the size of your parents' bank balance. A degree should not mean a debt sentence. That's why the Abbott Government must abandon these awful changes to higher education. That's why I'm really pleased that Bill has come here this morning and that we have been able to hear from the leaders of this school, the leaders of our community and our nation in the future and hopefully that their ambitions won't be stifled by this Abbott Government.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Matt. Just one thing before we go to questions. There is some news this morning that the Abbott Government is up to its sneaky old tricks about bypassing the Parliament to put new taxes on ordinary Australians. We all know that the petrol tax which the Abbott Government said they would never increase, they have increased not through the Parliament but through regulation. They are hoping to force the Labor Party to agree to these unfair changes because if we don't vote for these unfair changes in the next 12 months, the Abbott Government is collecting tax from Australians and passing it on to petrol companies. Now we’re not going to vote for those changes, they should be taken to the people.
Today we find out that Joe Hockey is up to his sneakiness again by proposing, or there is discussion, not ruling out, they wouldn't do through administrative regulation a GP tax because they haven't been able to convince Australians or the Parliament. We just say to Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott, stick to your election promises, stop breaking your promises, stop trying to put through an unfair Budget which is a train wreck for Australians and for goodness sake please don't do anything underhanded to put a tax on sick Australians. Labor will fight this by all of our energy and effort because we believe in Australia that people should have access to universal healthcare regardless of how much money they have. Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: Given the deterioration of the Budget, doesn't Joe Hockey have to put in even more budget cuts no matter which way he does it?
SHORTEN: Perhaps they could drop their paid parental leave scheme which everyone knows is a turkey except for the Prime Minister of Australia. Perhaps instead of winding back measures to catch multinational companies who avoid tax in Australia, rather than tax the poorest and sickest and most vulnerable Australians, why not get some of the largest corporations in Australia to pay their fair share of taxation? It's somewhat remarkable that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are grandstanding on the international stage about multinational tax evasion but what we also see is that their only strategies in Australia are to tax the sick and poor. There’s no doubt that Joe Hockey needs to bring in a mini Budget because his existing Budget is sunk without trace.
REPORTER: There will be no more negotiations on the current proposal?
SHORTEN: This is a Government who doesn't negotiate. They just know how to try and cajole and bully. We say to the Government, stick to what you said at the election. If you want to introduce taxes and changes and unfairness, take it to the people of Australia. They’ll then vote on it. Don't do it through sneaky backdoor tricky manoeuvres.
REPORTER: You say the China-US agreement has put the Government in a pickle. What emissions policies is the Opposition looking to keep in place, or put in place?
SHORTEN: We support an emissions trading system. We don't support the Government's approach which is to give polluters billions of dollars which, by the way, respected economists say won't even achieve the emissions reductions target which they say they signed up to. This is a Government who said they believe in the market. But when it comes to climate change, they want to splash cash to large polluters. So we think Labor's policy is in the right direction. Everyone knows that Tony Abbott is a climate change sceptic. You know that – you can see his finger nails on the concrete of the G20 as he’s dragged to talk about issues the world is already acting on.
REPORTER: Do you accept Joe Hockey's pledge that the 2030 emissions target will at least be in place by the Paris conference?
SHORTEN: Joe Hockey and the whole of the Government do not fundamentally believe in acting sincerely on climate change. I don't believe anything they say on climate change. If they were fair dinkum they would have stuck to the emissions trading system and scheme which we had in place and which we had previously agreed with previous Liberal leadership in the past. The Liberals have taken climate change from being a matter of bipartisan economic and national security and environmental stability, they’ve turned it into a political football. Now they have got egg on their face because the rest of the world is dealing with an issue that Tony Abbott doesn't want to talk about.
REPORTER: Do you have any concerns about the arrival of four Russian ships in international waters off Queensland?
SHORTEN: I’ve said previously that I don’t believe that Putin’s dealing with the issues to do with MH17 in a fair dinkum manner. I think this is a stunt. I don’t think we should play the Putin game of engaging in his stunts. Ships sail around in international waters all the time. As far as I’m concerned this is a distraction from families getting closure by finding out why was that plane shot down, who knows what, and who was involved in that terrible atrocity.
REPORTER: Would you have thought that the Prime Minister’s shirt-front comments might have had any impact on the decision to send the ships?
SHORTEN: I believe that the Prime Minister – I understand to be fair the emotional response under which the Prime Minister was acting. He’s frustrated that the Russians aren’t being as forthcoming as he believes they should. So I’ve some sympathy for Tony Abbott on that, but I do believe that he made a diplomatic faux-pas with his brain snap where he said he would shirt-front Putin. What he did is he let Putin out of the corner that he was in in world opinion and instead that issue has become how do we clean up Tony Abbott’s diplomatic brain snap, and somehow along the line Putin has gained some sort of moral ascendancy in this discussion. When all we want from the President of the Russian Federation is to be straight with the Australian people and the people of the world, and he is in the best place to tell us why that terrible disaster happened.
REPORTER: You were talking about the role of women in leadership and equality of women in Australia to the students before. Do you have a comment on the fact that Gail Kelly, one of the most senior women in finance, has announced her retirement today?
SHORTEN: Gail Kelly is a remarkable and distinguished Australian. I think that the glass ceilings which she’s broken through, and her banking career, are remarkable. She’s a warm person, I also think that in her position as leader of the bank, she has also put a whole lot of justice and equity issues on the table. So I think she’s a very special person and I just only wish her well, and she’s been a real leader in the financial services sector on issues which until she got there just weren’t getting that attention, so I can only wish her well.
REPORTER: Just finally, on your straw-polling of the attitudes of Australian young people to voting under 16, what are your results so far?
SHORTEN: I think 16 and 17-year-olds in Australia are principally concerned about doing well in Year 12. I’ve got no doubt that those student leaders who I met have got the right attitudes, they’re heads are in the right space. They’re excited about the future. I believe that this group, like other groups I’ve met all around Australia, from Queensland, to Victoria, to the West, to Tassie, to South Australia, to the Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, what they all have is a degree of bravery and optimism about the future. What it reminds me when I talk to these girls and I talk to young people generally, is they would like their adults and their politicians to be as brave and optimistic about the future as they are. I think that’s what I took away from this group today. Thanks everyone.
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