Doorstop interview, La Trobe University, Bendigo


SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s debt sentence for university students; Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Clive Palmer.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION:  La Trobe University, who is educating tens of thousands of students, stands to lose $141 million at least because of this governments anti-higher education, unfair Budget. But even more than that, La Trobe University at Bendigo is one of many regional campuses of many universities of Australia.

Access to universities should not just be the preserve of people who live in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and the big cities. It’s really important in this country that your postcode does not determine your access to higher education. It’s a well-known fact that universities in the bush, universities in regional Australia, have a higher proportion of students from poorer backgrounds going to university and also very importantly, in an aging Australia, they have a higher proportion of students who are mature aged.

This government is taking Australia on the wrong path when it is proposing to increase the cost of degrees to $100,000; when it’s discouraging young people and mature aged people from engaging in higher education; and it’s terrible news this Budget for the bush and for regional Australia.

I might hand over to my colleague Kim Carr to make some further points along with Lisa, then I’d be happy to take questions on this and any other issue.

KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION: Thank you Bill. We are anticipating that the Government will introduce legislation to give effect to its unfair changes next week. We are anticipating that there will be no changes from that, that they have already announced in regard to these measures, and it will be expected that the Australian Senate will have to give careful consideration to these matters before Christmas. My expectation will also be that there will be a detailed Senate inquiry.

All of these measures will be shown to be grossly unfair and grossly to the disadvantage of students in rural and regional Australia. The fact is that there will be less and less people able to afford to go to university and that’s a measure that the Labor Party will vigorously oppose, and we’ll be calling on all Senators to take a similar position. This is a measure that the Education Minister clearly understands will not get through the Senate. He should withdraw these measures and go back to the drawing board.  

LISA CHESTERS, MEMBER FOR BENDIGO: We just met with over 100 students, many of them who live here, grew up here in Bendigo and are excited and proud that they get to study their course of choice here in Bendigo. Nurses, paramedics, people in our health profession, professions we need. Those courses could quadruple, could increase and put many of the Bendigo students, their dream of going to university out of reach.

So I’m proud to stand here today and be part of a Labor team that’s going to fight these changes, fight them on the ground, fight them in our community, fight them in Parliament. What I know from being the representative of Bendigo and regional Victoria is that regional Victorians believe that this Budget is a shocker. It attacks all of us in many different ways, and I’ve got a clear message from them and my clear mandate is to go to Canberra to fight these changes.

SHORTEN: We’d be happy to take any questions thank you, on this or any other matters.

JOURNALIST: Just following Lisa’s point, is there a Budget emergency?

SHORTEN: Well I think the people that have got to answer if there’s a budget emergency is the government. This government has never seen a question on the Budget that they haven’t got wrong. Last night Finance Minister Cormann was saying that Australia should take a reality check, he said that there’s ample time and there’s no emergency. Today, Joe Hockey from exactly a 180 degree different script, says this is all urgent.

This is a government who, they are just in any discussion about the Budget, one interview away from making another gaffe. Labor has made it clear that if you want to talk about improving higher education were most committed to that, Labor’s the party of higher education. But what we won’t do is see regional campuses closed; we won’t see mature aged students discouraged; we won’t see young people from poorer postcodes or from regional postcodes denied the opportunity of an education; we won’t see the hundreds of thousands of students who’ve already completed their degrees have their HECS fees increased retrospectively; we won’t see women discouraged from going on to university, that’s what we stand for.

JOURNALIST: The Government’s focusing its arguments today on the need to cut debt, did Labor accumulate too much debt?

SHORTEN: The Government hasn’t focused its arguments on this Budget one day in the last three and a half, they are at sea. I mean, if there’s a Budget emergency which is so crucial, then why is it that when it comes to their GP tax they are putting the money into a research fund, not the recurrent health budget? Now that’s a classic example, this is a government who doesn’t know what they’re talking about or doesn’t believe in what they’re talking about.

But what really got me today is Tony Abbott, in one of his rare visits to the Budget, said about pensioners and the GP tax, he said why should pensioners be exempt from the GP tax? Now maybe Tony Abbott, I could do Tony Abbott a favour and say what he meant is why should pensioners be exempt, everyone should be exempt from the GP tax. But sadly I don’t think Tony Abbott intends to exempt anyone from the GP tax, and if he exempts some he should actually exempt everyone.

It is not right that because you can’t manage a Budget Mr Abbott, that you’re going to make the sick and the vulnerable, the people with chronic conditions pay more taxes, which you promised Australians before the last election they wouldn’t have to do.

JOURNALIST: Your Shadow Treasurer says Labor will win and lose some votes in the Senate. Is Labor conceding some of the outstanding Budget measures will pass?          

SHORTEN: Chris Bowen and the whole Labor team know one thing – they know what Labor stands for. What’s important for Australia is that when they look at the Opposition, Labor, they know what Labor stands for.

We stand for universally accessible Medicare. We stand for not attacking pensioners. We stand for not putting up taxes on petrol for motorists. We stand for not making it harder for young people, for mature age people, for women, for people from the bush, being able to go to university. We stand for a view of Australia which unites Australia, it doesn’t divide it. This Abbott Government stand for an unfair Budget, lies, broken promises, more taxes, pensioners getting a kick in the guts.

There’s a world of difference. And what Chris Bowen knows is that sometimes the crossbenchers will vote with Labor, sometimes they might be seduced by the Government. But everyone knows what Labor stands for.

JOURNALIST: So do you concede that some of the outstanding Budget measures will pass then?

SHORTEN: I haven’t given up on any fight. One thing about the Labor I lead is that we never give up. Once we set out direction, that’s what we fight for, and we fight for fair. We will fight to defend Medicare. We will fight for the pensioners. We will fight for the best higher education available to all in this country.

Labor will fight and fight. Mr Abbott needs to realise that Labor is not going to compromise on the Budget. We will fight unfairness. He needs to go back to the drawing board, and by the way, he should also realise that Australians want Labor to fight and stand up for them.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Clive Palmer’s comments criticising the Chinese, and do you think it’s out of line for a Senator?

SHORTEN: He’s not a Senator, but in terms of –

JOURNALIST: Sorry, a Member of Parliament –

SHORTEN: I just wondered if there was a bit more to the question, sorry. In terms of Clive Palmer’s comments, they were offensive. When I say that, they fundamentally underestimated Australians. Sure they’re offensive to people from China, but I also think they show a view of Australians that somehow we are afraid of change, that somehow we are not the people which I believe we are.

Chinese Australians, from Victor Chang, have made a marvellous contribution to this country. You go to any high school in Australia, you’ll see in the top three or four achieving kids someone with an ethnically Asian, and quite often an ethnically Chinese surname. This country is lucky and we’re grateful for the 160 years of Chinese engagement in this country.

So I think Clive Palmer should calm down, I think he needs to reconsider what he said, it was wrong. Labor has no truck with it, we think that this country has got an issue to fight on the unfair Budget and we will not be diverted from that task.

JOURNALIST: How damaging do you think the comments are going to be for our relationship with the Chinese?

SHORTEN: I think they were really wrong comments. I don’t believe they should have been said. I think though that people look at it, this is a minority party, one member in the House of Representatives, I do not believe it represents the vast bulk of Australian people, much less Australian politicians.

The other thing here though is I think what is damaging to this country is the debate about the Budget. I believe that the unfairness of this Budget actually represents the greatest damage to this country. But politics in Australia is not helped by people attacking and dividing communities. That is not Labor’s way, that is not my way, I am interested in how we all get along well together.

I accept in this country that when immigrants come here, they should leave behind the arguments from where they’ve come from, they’ve become Australian and that’s good, we welcome you. But we’re a multicultural country, we’re more than just a British country and we’re more than just an Aboriginal country, they’re very important – we are made up of 100 different nations. We have Australians by birth and Australians by choice. That’s what makes us the best country in the world, our tolerance.

JOURNALIST: Christopher Pyne’s office said that the changes would create 80,000 new places in universities. What’s your response to this?

SHORTEN: I’ll have an initial go, then I’ll get Kim Carr to add to it. Christopher Pyne doesn’t know anything about what his Budget is doing. He wouldn’t know about educational opportunity. What’s the point in creating new scholarships if tens of thousands of other people are discouraged? What’s the point in doing something when in fact the consequences of it are far worse on a lot more people?


Australia does not want to see Australia divided on university politics. When he says that people that don’t go to uni shouldn’t pay for people who do, Christopher Pyne does not understand that education has a public benefit as well as a private benefit. But I might hand over to my spokesperson to talk more about it.


CARR: Thank you Bill. The Government has proposed the deregulation of the university system which will see massive increases in debt for students. The Government’s also proposed massive reductions in government expenditure. The extra spots that the Government’s talking about for sub-degree programs will be a Budget savings measure. The Government will save $1.1 billion by this action, this is a half-baked proposal.

In the last election we proposed that there should be an extension of university colleges across the country, and that’s the way to go if we want to look at trying to improve access to university, clearly there’s more to be done, but this is not a measure to do that. This is a Budget savings measure designed to actually restrict access. Under Labor there were 190,000 extra places, we almost doubled the amount of money spent on higher education throughout the time we were in office. If the Government was serious it would face up to its responsibility about governments funding education properly. 

SHORTEN: Alright, last question thanks.

JOURNALIST: You’ve blamed the current government’s higher education changes for the state of tertiary education at the moment but your government actually, the previous Labor government, cut a huge amount of funding to pay for Gonski from higher education, so really you set that in train didn’t you?

SHORTEN: I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight. Under Labor 190,000 extra places were created. We made it possible for children and young people from all backgrounds to go to university. Over the life of the six years we significantly increased the funding, this government’s doing exactly the opposite. By the time of the next election this government will not have the runs on the board. There will not be tens and tens of thousands more students going to uni.

They’ve caused mayhem on the open days of every campus in Australia by having parents wonder if they can afford to send their kids to university. You’ve got a lot of mature aged people who are thinking about changing careers, upskilling in the rapidly changing world, now they’re not sure if they can afford to. This government and Christopher Pyne, Tony Abbott, are education vandals, and if they really believe in their education policies they shouldn’t try and ram them through the Senate, they should present them to the people in an election and let the people decide.

Thanks everyone.            


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