Aug 14, 2020







SUBJECTS: Uni fee hikes; threat to regional universities; COVID-19.


DOMINIC INGERSOLE, HOST: In late June, the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan announced a number of changes to universities including an overhaul of university fees that would see some courses such as teaching, nursing and maths dropping price, but others such as humanities courses more than double in cost. To share his thoughts on the proposed changes we are joined on the program now with the Leader of the Opposition, the Honourable Anthony Albanese. Good morning.




INGERSOLE: Thanks for coming on the program this morning. Now, Mr Albanese what are Labor’s views on the university reforms?


ALBANESE: We’re greatly concerned. Firstly, it’s important to note that beneath these reforms are lower costs. This is about less money for university education overall. And then there is the impact on specific individuals. So, for example, social workers. We know, and your listeners will know, that social workers don’t earn a whole lot of money, but they perform valuable jobs. Now the idea that they are going to have their course fees increased by more than 110 per cent is, quite frankly, just absurd. These are jobs that will be needed in the services sector. They’re important jobs. And this will be a massive disincentive.


And it’s also the case that regional universities rely upon humanities student. And all of the figures show that if you study an arts degree you are more employable, you do make a contribution, not just to yourself but to the society and to our economy. And this is in part about the commodification of education and just not valuing it at a time where we really should be recognising that we need to be smarter as a nation, and we need to value education.


INGERSOLE: We also see in the figures that people who study at regional universities are far more likely to then work in regional areas or come back later in life to work in regional areas. Do you fear that some of these changes could drive students away from regional universities?


ALBANESE: They undermine those regional universities. They are already suffering, of course, from the lower number of international students who are coming. But we know that regional universities like Charles Sturt and University of New England and other campuses are so important for those regional communities. They bring people into the communities from outside, many of whom do stay, because of the lifestyle and the communities which are terrific. I’ve been to the campus there at Bathurst, it’s a great campus, and it is vital that our regional universities don’t get left behind. The fact that you have Andrew Gee, a junior minister in the portfolio, attacking his own Government’s policies, just shows how badly thought out this is.


INGERSOLE: On those objections coming from the Nationals and Andrew Gee about the Liberal Party’s plan, is this a chance for a bipartisan approach for you? For Labor to work with the Nationals to address some of your concerns, which sound like there is a shared concern with Andrew Gee at the moment?


ALBANESE: We’re happy to work with anyone of goodwill to make a positive difference in the community. What we see though, it is the Liberal Party ignoring, frankly, and treating with contempt, the National Party which they do so often, and this will be a real test of whether the National Party can have an impact.


But the truth is that the Nationals plus Labor equals the majority on the floor of the House of Representatives. So if they want to actually make a difference, then we are happy to sit down with them, examine the flaws that are there in the legislation, which are there for all to see. You have unity of purpose here. You have local community leaders, you have the universities themselves, you have students all saying these changes are unfair.


INGERSOLE: And as you said, universities as a whole right across the country are struggling at the moment largely due to the economic hit from COVID-19 and international students. What should we be doing for our universities at the moment?


ALBANESE: Well, what we should be doing is planning for the economic recovery after the pandemic in a way that builds a stronger Australia and that means building a smarter Australia. That means valuing universities. This is the last time that we should be looking at cuts to university funding.


We know also that university staff have missed out on support like JobKeeper and we think that that was an error, something that we’ve raised in the Parliament through Tanya Plibersek, our Shadow Minister. It seems that there’s almost a reverse cultural cringe that defending universities is somehow defending elites. Well, it’s just absurd. We need strong universities, we need strong TAFEs, we need strong education sector and training opportunities. That is how people aspire, through that ongoing education in whatever form it comes, with vocational education and training or areas like the humanities. They’re all important, and they all valued.


INGERSOLE: Should we be focusing with our TAFEs and universities at the moment to fill things that have been sent offshore? We’ve seen a massive decline in manufacturing in recent years here in Australia. Should we be looking at things that we say no, Australia needs to be able to stand on its own. COVID has shown that we need to be able to manufacture and produce and take care of Australia first?


ALBANESE: Absolutely. One of the things that characterises our great nation is innovation. We’re very good at coming up with ideas from WiFi to various breakthroughs in renewable energy to medical breakthroughs. Historically, Australia has been very good. Even simple manufacturing like the old cask for wine is is an Australian invention.


Now what we need to do though is to make sure that we commercialise those opportunities. That’s what we haven’t always been good at. And the danger here with the anti-university stance of this government is we we have a brain drain, is that some of our brightest and best go overseas. There’s already too many Australians feel like they’ve got to go to the United States or to Europe in order to pursue their careers. And we need to make sure that we are able to, not just keep people here who have the potential to make a real difference to the national economy, but also bring people back.


INGERSOLE: Well said Anthony, anything else that you want to add this morning?


ALBANESE: Terrific mate. So best wishes to everyone there struggling through. This is a difficult time, I think, for all of us wherever we live at the moment. And we will get through this, but we need to make sure that as we emerge from this pandemic, we emerge stronger. And that means taking the opportunity that we have to reset, and to come out of this even stronger.

Anthony, thank you very much for your time on the show this morning.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much. Great to talk with you.