Doorstop interview, University of Tasmania, Hobart


SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s cuts to the University of Tasmania; impact on Tasmania; $100,000 degrees; Steve Ciobo; paid parental leave scheme; Premier Hodgman’s inaction.

SENATOR CAROL BROWN: We’re here today to speak to academics and stakeholders about the impacts of this massive cut by the Federal Government on higher education. We’ve also been here speaking with the vice-chancellor today. We already know that there will be a $35 million cut for the University of Tasmania. Now what we need to see is what that will actually mean in impacting on Tasmania, on the students, on the courses, and of course whether there will be campus closures. That’s why we’re here today and the Senator, Kim Carr, is here to talk to stakeholders about.

SENATOR KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION: Well, can I thank you, Carol. This is an incredibly serious question for the future of Tasmania. You have a great university here in Tasmania, a university that services the entire state of Tasmania. It has areas of world-leading research and it has a phenomenal reputation – this is all at risk. This Government, the Government in Canberra, is seeking to take $35 million away from this university – and for this university the price of deregulation will be that they have to make choices – they have to make choices between reducing the number of campuses, reducing the courses that are offered, or reducing the research that’s undertaken. And if they want to maintain their standing, their status as a university of renown, they can’t afford to cut the research program. So the inevitable consequence of the Government’s changes is the reduction either in campuses and/or courses that are offered, limiting options for students in Tasmania, limiting their opportunities to get a world-class education.

Now for parents it means massive debts, for students massive debts. It may well be that particularly because the university attracts so many people from poorer backgrounds and so many mature-age students, that the capacity to repay these debts will extend through to their retirement. The consequences again are about reducing opportunities for the people of Tasmania and reducing opportunities to ensure that Tasmanians enjoy the prosperity that this country has to offer.

JOURNALIST: Given we do lag behind in so many socioeconomic indicators around the country, do you think it’s going to bite harder in Tasmania for those less well-off students?

CARR: There is no doubt that the Government’s programs hit hardest rural and regional students across the nation. In a state like Tasmania it may mean devastation, particularly for regions in the north and north-west of the state. It may well mean that the University of Tasmania simply cannot compete in terms of the offerings that it currently has; it cannot produce $35 million worth of savings by increasing the fees available or being charged, particularly for poorer and mature-age students.

The consequences for Tasmania may well be that this state is at a profound disadvantage for the rest of the country. You could see increasing numbers of people forced to go to the mainland to be able to undertake their studies, and for many Tasmanians, particularly working Tasmanians, they simply won’t be able to afford to get a university degree – $100,000 university degrees with crippling debts means that many Tasmanians will be priced out of getting a university degree.

JOURNALIST: The Tasmanian state Government in conjunction with the university is launching a program today to help get disadvantaged students to university, is it a bit of a taking with one hand and giving with the other?

CARR: Well, it’ll be whistling into the wind with this Government’s proposal. Because what it means is that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly badly affected. Students in states like Tasmania are going to be savaged by the Liberal Party’s approach to making it for the privileged, to extend their privilege. These university reforms were designed by the elite universities for the benefit of elite universities. And Minister Pyne, of course, has tried to sell the Australian people a giant pup and we trust that the senators won’t go along with that and that these measures are knocked off and that the Government is forced to go back to the drawing board.

JOURNALIST: What do you expect to actually come out of the round table today?

CARR: Well, we’re expecting that we have a better understanding of how people are directly affected by the changes that this Government is proposing to make. We believe that a $100,000 university degree is going to make it very, very hard for people from modest backgrounds to secure the future that they are entitled to and we believe that this will be an opportunity to argue the case for a better deal for Tasmania and a better case to have these proposals knocked back by the Senate.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Steve Ciobo’s admission on radio this morning that the Budget unfairly targets the poor?

CARR: Well, there’s no doubt that he’s right, there’s no doubt that he’s right. What we now see is that the Government’s own members are understanding the significance of these measures – that people that rely most on government are the most badly affected by the Government’s cut to services. This is a Government that went to the election and promised that there’d be no cuts to services, there’d be no cuts to education, no cuts to health, there’d be no increase in university fees, and of course we now know that this has been one year of lies – one year of lies from this Government, because the consequences, particularly for people from disadvantaged background, are most savage.

JOURNALIST: Are these lesser-known Liberal MPs starting to get a bit nervous, are there quite a few people in their electorates starting to rattle the cage?

CARR: Well, I hope that people understand that they have some options before them. They don’t have to support these shocking Liberal policies. There are options available, and we want to be able to say to the Australian people, the Labor Party stands firm – we are opposed to reducing people’s living standards, we’re opposed to job cuts, and we’re opposed to the cuts on their entitlements, and we expect that the Government should stand shoulder to shoulder with people, particularly in times of economic distress. What we’re seeing from this Government is that they’re turning their back on ordinary Australians, on working Australians.

JOURNALIST: Are you convinced now that the paid parental leave scheme is in fact dead in the water for now?

CARR: No. What we’ve seen from the leading figures in the Government, including the Prime Minister, is  that he wants to put it on hold for a little while. That’s all he’s saying. So much of what the Government does of course is mean and tricky. We’re seeing Mr Hockey this morning claim, oh well, these reports about people being disadvantaged misunderstands the point – this is from the man that said the Budget was too soft. So this is a government that actually has lived on lies and you can’t expect it to suddenly discover the truth.

JOURNALIST: Do you think perhaps that the Palmer United Party has been perhaps a bit more challenging than they anticipated when it comes to getting Budget measures paid parental leave scheme through?

CARR: What I can say is that from the Labor Party’s point of view, we are resolutely opposed to what this Government’s doing to destroy the living standards of Australian people. We believe that the Australian parliament should stand shoulder to shoulder with people in Tasmania, with people in rural Australia, with people in regional Australia. We think that working people have got a right to expect their Government to be with them in times of economic hardship and not fighting against them.

JOURNALIST: Personally, were you surprised to see that it looks like this PPL has actually been delayed?

CARR: I don’t believe that it has been delayed because the start-up date is actually 1 July next year, all we’re doing here is playing with the legislative program to try to buy some time so that they can deal with some of these more unpopular measures, much more unpopular measures, like cuts to universities, cuts to health, cuts to social security, cuts to job programs. This is a government that has walked away from its obligations to the Australian people and I think it’s time for the Australian people to turn their backs on this Government.

JOURNALIST: If I could quickly throw one to you, Senator Brown, on more of a state-based level. We are seeing the state government today are launching a program to get disadvantaged people, they are launching it at Huonville, into university, are they being left holding the baby a lot here when it comes to the federal Budget?

BROWN: What we need to see from the Premier, Will Hodgman, is to stand up to Mr Abbott and to the Treasurer, Mr Hockey. What we’ve heard so far is really nothing – they’re not standing up for Tasmania and they need to. We have a lot to lose here – we have a higher education system that is second to none, in Australia for Tasmania, we have a GST – you were talking about that this morning – we have a GST system that serves Australia well, which the Labor Party supports, and we need Mr Hodgman to get out there and fight for Tasmania – fight for Tasmanian families, and fight for Tasmanian students. That’s what we need Mr Hodgman to do and that’s his job.

JOURNALIST: With your meeting with the vice-chancellor this morning, I guess they would have been fairly clued up as to what’s changing as far as the federal Budget goes, but do they remain confident that they can keep plenty of places with lower socioeconomic students?

BROWN: Well, we had a very good meeting with the vice-chancellor, Professor Rathjen, today, which helps us in terms of our conversations with the stakeholders and we’re very pleased with that meeting, but Professor Rathjen confirmed that they are looking at a $35 million cut to the Tasmanian university and that can’t be sustained without things going and that impact on Tasmania is harsh and it’s hard to see where they’ll be able to make those cuts without having a deep impact on Tasmanian students, and Tasmanian families and Tasmania’s economy.

Thank you.


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