Doorstop interview, Parliament House


SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government introduces higher education package legislation; Labor will fight unfair package; national security.

SENATOR KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, RESEARCH, INNOVATION AND INDUSTRY: I’m here to talk about higher education. The Government today will introduce its legislation which will allow universities to charge unlimited fees; it will involve crippling debts for students and devastating cuts for universities. This is a program that the Government has rushed, this is a program that has been ill-considered, this is a program which was something the public never voted for. In fact, it’s a complete breach of the commitments that the Government gave prior to the last election. This is a program for $100,000 university degrees, and a generation of debt for tens of thousands of Australian families.

The Minister is not to be trusted. He, on TV today, said he has never threatened the research programs of the universities. I have spoken to vice-chancellors who have told me that last Tuesday night, in Perth, at the Universities Australia dinner, he made such a threat. He has allowed that threat to be prosecuted through the media. He had five opportunities on the Bolt program on Sunday to rule it out. This is a minister that’s quite prepared to say anything and do anything to get this warped program through the Senate. He keeps implying that people are telling him privately that they support the program, when they publicly deny it. And I might say to you that they tell us privately that they are not supporting it.

There’s good reason why they will not support it, because it’s fundamentally unfair. Fundamentally, it’s taking away opportunities for Australians to get a fair go. Now we, as the Labor Party, will fight it every inch of the way. We will fight it in the House of Representatives and we will fight it in the Senate.

Today we are told that the Government will receive a report about the arrangements for the 20 per cent reduction in course subsidies. The Government is proposing to change the way in which it is administered. Those changes will have a very serious impact on nurses and teachers and this will be yet another example of where the Government says one thing and does the other and tries to pretend that, in fact, it’s doing something completely different.

I’ll leave it there. Any questions?

REPORTER: HECS is something that is being talked about, the market rate is being talked about as something the Government might be willing to give ground on. Is there any kind of middle ground here between you and the Government?

CARR: No, there is no middle ground here. This is fundamentally unfair. This is something that would undermine the very premise of the HECS scheme. Professor Bruce Chapman has indicated that university fees will increase by two or three times. The vice-chancellors are saying that at the very minimum university fees will increase by at least 30 per cent, and their own modelling suggests much higher rates. We have the international student market as a benchmark here and what we can see in that area is that university fees are much, much higher. So we’ll have higher fees, that means higher debt, and then higher interest rates and of course much longer periods of time for repayments.

The real rate of interest could see people repaying their debts for up to 25 years and any proposal that the Government is considering is simply tinkering at the edges. Even Professor Chapman’s proposal of either a 25 per cent upfront fee, increase of 25 per cent on that matter alone, or real rates of interest for people that are earning slightly more, produces much the same in budgetary terms. You see this whole program is about shifting the cost of universities on to students and families, it’s about taking away opportunities, not expanding opportunities, on top of the massive budget cuts. So when you put it all together, tinkering at the edges won’t fix the problem, it won’t change anything and it’s simply not attractive to us because this is a program which is fundamentally flawed. It is rotten to the core.

REPORTER: With hindsight then was it wrong for Labor to cut university funding when it was in government?

CARR: Look, we put some money aside for schools. The Government reneged on its promises on schools as well. Because the Government’s reneged on its promises on schools we’ve walked away from it. We increased funding for universities by 100 per cent – that is between the time we came to office through to the forward estimates, that’s money in the budget. Even with the efficiency dividend there were 10 per cent increases in real terms per student.

So this is a government that has threatened research; now of course it’s already cut research; it says it wants to open up opportunities for poorer students but cut equity funding; proposes Commonwealth scholarships where there is no Commonwealth money at all – it is in fact a scam from beginning to end. It means that the wealthy and privileged get benefits and poorer Australians, middle-income Australians, are seriously disadvantaged, people particularly in rural and regional areas. The consequences of these changes are to make Australia a much less fair place. Real rates of interest on existing debts – that’s for people who currently have debts, not just those who are incurring new debts – will of course exacerbate that problem. But trying to fiddle at the edges won’t fix that.

REPORTER: Can I just ask about the situation in Iraq and what Australia is considering doing there. We find ourselves almost repeating history. Do you have any view about what Australia’s involvement should be, whether Parliament should be asked to approve any involvement?

CARR: Well, it’s a classic case where this government is seeking to get away from any discussion about real budgetary problems, a budgetary crisis created by them, the only real crisis is their failure to actually be able to run the budget properly.

REPORTER: Are you saying they’re using this as a distraction?

CARR: No, I’m saying to you that the Government will talk about anything else. What we heard from the Defence Minister last night is that sometime in the future he might consider the deployment of defence assets. We’ll have a look at that when there’s actually a decision being made rather than discussing the possibilities. What we see from this government is that they want to talk about everything but their own fiascos when it comes to this budget, their lies, their deceit, their deceptions of the Australian people, and we will be doing everything we can to hold them accountable and to ensure that these measures do not pass the Senate. 

REPORTER: Shouldn’t national security be the priority, though? When David Irvine was standing at the Press Club saying this is the greatest threat we’ve ever faced, this should be the Prime Minister’s priority?

CARR: Well, let’s actually see what they’re doing, as distinct from what they’re actually talking about doing. Let’s just see what the basis of those conversations are. Thank you.


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