Aug 14, 2020







SUBJECTS: Government’s cuts to universities; importance of humanities degrees; Government’s cuts to education; the future of work; South Sydney Rabbitohs vs North Queensland Cowboys.


MURRAY JONES, HOST: The Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, joins me this morning. Firstly, welcome along this morning, Anthony. Thank you so much for your time.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. It is good to talk to Cairns. It is a pity I am not in Cairns.


JONES: Yes. Certainly, with some of the restrictions, we probably won’t see you for a while. But we are keen to talk to you about the impact, particularly on the humanities, and our campuses here in Cairns, because we have a focus on those humanities, and we are likely to be in a situation where a lot of our students simply cannot afford to go to university.


ALBANESE: Look, this is a devastating blow for young people in particular, but for others as well. People go back these days and they retrain, they don’t have just one career through their lives. And it is a blow to the universities as well, of course, who are suffering from the lower number of international students who simply can’t get to campuses like the ones there in Cairns, the Central Queensland University and James Cook. What this means for individuals is that someone studying social work, now we know that social workers don’t get paid a hell of a lot when they graduate, it is not like there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They currently are paying about $6,600 dollars for a social work degree at JCU. That will more than double to well over $13,000. Now, this will make it such a disincentive for people to study in an area where we need more child protection workers, where domestic violence is such an issue, where we need people in social work to be able to get that expertise and to study in that area. And to punish people like this would be a massive disincentive which will result in less people going and therefore less income for the universities itself. Part of this program is less money to universities. And on National TAFE Day, which today is, it is also worth saying that some 2,300 less apprentices and trainees are there in Far North Queensland as part of the 140,000 less apprentices and trainees across Australia.


JONES: Is this likely to also lead to more people in the tropical north, and also in regional areas in general, going more to the capital cities to look at other options with respect to training, education, employment, especially if they choose to do a humanities degree in their own home town?


ALBANESE: Well, it is. And humanities are an important part of the universities in Far North Queensland and indeed Central Queensland up, regional universities have tended to concentrate on humanities subjects. And it’s also a part of this idea that somehow, it’s bad if people are studying history or studying social work. The truth is that all the figures show that indeed an arts degree or a humanities degree across the board, people are more likely to get employment than many of the other more trade, I guess if you like, type degrees. And I think that education benefits the entire society as well as the individual. But here, by punishing the individual what they’ll do is punish the society. Because there will be less people studying in these areas. And these universities that are already struggling because of what’s happening with international students will really be hit hard.


JONES: And I accept what you say with respect. There’s certainly quite a few of those social work jobs. They probably have a continuum of employment whereas there’s quite a few other areas, mining, trades, construction that possibly have a little bit more of an up and down. And certainly, for the future, that consistency of employment is so important. Let’s talk a little bit more about some of the bigger picture issues as well. General under-funding of universities, the CSIRO, the arts in an attempt to cultivate what ScoMo calls, ‘Quiet Australians’, rather than to encourage robust, analytical critical Australians. And especially at a time when we’re going through so many changes, we have to face a lot of changes to continue to live in this world. It seems like a situation where some of the bases where we can actually make these informed decisions are being taken away with us if we continue down this track.


ALBANESE: Well, that’s right. It really is crazy that here we are relying upon the CSIRO as an institution to lead the research on looking for a vaccine here in Australia along with Queensland universities. Most of the work has been done in Queensland. And we’ve cut funding for the CSIRO. I mean, it makes no sense. We should be investing more in science, making sure that we commercialise the opportunities that come from innovation in science. Common sense tells you that. But the Government has cut funding for the CSIRO, they’ve cut funding for university, they’ve cut funding for TAFE, and it makes no sense at all. We need to compete with those nations to our north that are growing substantially. Not with lower wages, we need to compete on the basis of how smart we are, how innovative we are, how we create high-value jobs of the future. That’s the future for Australia, investing in people and, of course, investing in physical infrastructure as well.


JONES: I want to talk a little bit more about your specific position. Obviously, you’re vying for the next Prime Minister position here in Australia. Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, very progressive in a lot of ways. And I guess they managed to achieve a lot by really changing the face of Australia and the way that we do things. We have a similar call here at the moment, Mr Albanese. Are you up to the call of actually making some of these really serious changes that we need to make to our community and our economy in the next five to ten years?


ALBANESE: I certainly am. And I’ve been rolling out a series of vision statements that look at issues like science and the need to invest in science and new technology like the future of work, identifying what work will look like in the future, how we get more secure work for people, how we make sure that we train Australians and provide them with skills for the future. I want to create a body called Jobs and Skills Australia that will be made up of government and private sector representatives having a look at, ‘Okay, what is work going to look like in 10 years’ time? How do we make sure that we train people so that we can take up those opportunities rather than just importing casual labour on an irregular basis?’ Just like when I was the Minister for Infrastructure, I created Infrastructure Australia to provide those recommendations to the Government about the best productivity enhancing infrastructure investments that made a big difference like investment in the Bruce Highway, and other projects around Far North Queensland.


JONES: Look, certainly some systemic changes are certainly called for. And it seems like we are at a crossroads with what’s happened in the last 12 months, certainly with COVID-19. That some really, really serious decisions need to be made. And I guess focus on the fact that communities, people, and our friends and family are the most important thing, not just the economy. We can’t just be totally obsessed with the economy. Well, as we wrap up this morning, I do want to test your diplomacy skills, especially if you’re vying for the big job, the next big one here in Australia. I do note that on Saturday night here in Townsville, in tropical North Queensland, and I do remind you are on radio and tropical North Queensland, we’re big fans of the Cowboys. I do note that your team, the Rabbitohs, will be playing the Cowboys on Saturday night. Carefully, what is your call for the game, Mr Albanese?


ALBANESE: Well, of course, I will be going for South Sydney. Because you can’t have two teams.


JONES: Take him off. Get rid of him!.


ALBANESE: But can I say this; South Sydney, of course, made Cairns its home base for one game a year. Something that was very popular. We have a big supportive base there up in the tropical north. And can I say this too? I had the great privilege of seeing that magnificent Johnathan Thurston field goal, to see the Cowboys win their first Premiership. And I think the Cowboys are a team that people who don’t follow them in the south really have a great deal of sympathy with. And I just hope that Taumalolo is gentle on us on Saturday. So, if he is listening out there, mate, don’t go too hard.


JONES: Well, I think the Rabbits, actually, between you and me, are actually going to be in a fairly solid position. Great to talk to you this morning. And I enjoyed your diplomatic answer to my loaded question there this morning. Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, thank you so much for your time.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Murray. Always happy to have a chat.