ABC News 24, Breakfast


MICHAEL ROWLAND: Kim Carr is Labor’s higher education spokesman and joins us from Parliament House. Kim Carr, good morning to you.


ROWLAND: Firstly, I just want to get your reaction to the revelation we just heard from Kevin Andrews on “AM” that the Government has now formally ruled out drug testing welfare recipients. Was it a good idea in the first place?

CARR: No, it was a silly idea. We’ve seen these punitive measures being taken in a range of Government programs now. This is a Government that is quietly vicious in terms of the way it treats people, particularly our most vulnerable in the community. You only have to look at the Budget to see just how nasty they can be. We’ve seen them pursue political opponents, we’ve seen them seek to silence critics at every level and essentially this is a very authoritarian, very vicious regime.

ROWLAND: Let’s go to education. The Education Minister Christopher Pyne did tell Insiders yesterday that if for instance Melbourne University ratcheted up its fees under deregulation, it could be priced out of the markets with other universities like Monash, like La Trobe, attracting students as a result. Is that how it’s going to work in practice do you believe?

CARR: Oh, it’s nonsense. What we do know is that the university system is not a market. What people are seeking is not just an educational product; they are also seeking the benefits that come from being associated with prestige, so that what you’re buying often is a ticket rather than just an education course. The reputation of Melbourne University clearly puts them in a very strong position under these new arrangements, and you’ll find that universities in regional Australia, in rural Australia, will be substantially disadvantaged.

The Government talks about competition but the reality is that the people they are talking about are not in direct competition with the universities. The provision of additional support for diplomas and advanced diplomas is really aimed at competition with the TAFE system, the public TAFE system.

And we know that the Government is already introducing very substantial cuts to universities. Melbourne University, it will cost them $62 million; University of Queensland $60 million; Deakin, it will be $43 million. Under the Government’s policies, the universities are obliged to find that money from their students. That means that all the universities will be putting fees up just to accommodate the Government’s cuts and, if they want to try to find money for additional work, like in research, the fees will go up even higher. What we have seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg. And remember this is all done at compound interest rates.

ROWLAND: Speaking of interest rates, there appears to be some confusion as well this morning as to just which coterie of students will be subjected to the higher interest rate on Help loans. Christopher Pyne told “Insiders” yesterday anybody who was enrolled before the 14th May, which is Budget day, nothing will change in terms of their arrangements. What’s your view on that?

CARR: Well, what the Department of Education has been telling people and what their website says today is that these are measures that apply to all students that enrol after the 14th and they apply to existing students, those currently with HECS liabilities, and there’ll be an application of these measures to include a compound interest rate which means that the debt will continue to grow so long as you don’t pay off the capital. Albert Einstein made the observation that compound interest was the eighth wonder of the world. What that means is for many young Australians, they will be faced with crippling debts which will continue to grow while they are trying to form families, while they’re trying to secure mortgages for housing, trying basically to get on with the necessities of life. For parents that want to help their kids, which many parents do, it may well mean second mortgages for them just when they thought the worst was behind them in regard to financial obligations for their kids.

ROWLAND: Who do you believe has got it wrong on repayments? Has the Education Department got it wrong on the website, is it Christopher Pyne? What’s your take on it?

CARR: We’ve seen already there’ve been a number of examples where this Government has confused, has misunderstood or, I say, may well have deliberately sought to mislead the public about the consequences of this Budget. This is a Minister that doesn’t seem to understand the implications of his policy or has sought to mislead. We saw before the election the Government was quite capable, as it was then in the opposition, quite capable of saying things they don’t mean, quite capable of telling lies.

We saw yesterday the Minister for Education saying, well, he was a student, he was quite prepared to say things that he didn’t believe because he thought that’s what the audience wanted to hear and that’s why he was a successful politician. That’s a practice that seems to have continued into this Parliament where this Government appears to say one thing before the election because they think that’s what people want to hear and, then, after the election, do exactly the opposite. So students have got a right to feel angry, a right to feel confused and a right to feel betrayed by what this Government has done.

ROWLAND: What will Labor do in the Senate regarding these education reforms?

CARR: We’ll be doing all we can to stop them. We think this is incredibly important for the future of Australia that we have an education system that is fair, that pursues excellence, that is able to secure the future of the nation by ensuring that we have as many people as possible secure a higher education. We had targets; we said we wanted to see 40 per cent of Australians under the age of 34 to secure that higher education degree. We said we wanted to see 20 per cent of Australians from lower socio-economic backgrounds securing an education, and we are well on track to securing those objectives. This Government has abandoned those targets, has cut funding for equity, has cut the arrangements to universities in such a way as to make it incredibly difficult for people from lower and middle incomes to secure a higher education in Australia.

ROWLAND: What will Labor do to ensure the universities have a proper funding base for their future growth and development?

CARR: We doubled the funding for universities in our term in government. We increased opportunities for 190,000 extra students. We improved the research base by over 35 per cent. We had very substantial, comprehensive policies to secure the future of higher education in Australia. We remain committed to that. Labor is the party of education and there is absolutely no way we will walk away from that.

ROWLAND: OK, Kim Carr in Parliament House, thank you very much for your time this morning.

CARR: Thank you.


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