SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan for 20,000 extra uni places; Proposal for a submarine base in Newcastle; Flood damage on the east coast; Mum’s cottage.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: It's wonderful to be here at Newcastle University, with my friend and colleague, Sharon Claydon, talking about Labor's policy to allow 20,000 more Australians to get the opportunity of going to university. We want to release 20,000 extra University places so that young Australians who have had such a tough couple of years, have the hope of getting the education that will help them get the job of their dreams. Newcastle University is in a great position to get more of these new places. Right here people are learning about nursing, teaching, engineering, IT, all of those skills that are in such demand right across our economy. We know that a lot of the young students that we've been talking to today are the first in their family to get the opportunity of going to University. We want more Australians to have that chance. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: Tanya, what are your thoughts on a submarine base out here in Newcastle?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm not sure why the people of Newcastle would believe anything this government says about submarines, given that this is the government that has spent billions of dollars and wasted years on announcing and then cancelling different submarine contracts. Today what we've heard from the Government is an announcement that sometime down the track they may make an announcement about something for Newcastle. I'm not sure that that would give the people of Newcastle a great deal of confidence. I'm going to ask Sharon to add to that.
SHARON CLAYDON, MEMBER FOR NEWCASTLE: Indeed our local community and our local manufacturing sector has been dudded by this government on many occasions when it comes to defence contracts. We all remember well when the role of the AWD was met with a wall of silence, no ongoing shipbuilding work available for anybody. And then, when this government decided to pull the rug out from the French submarine deal, again not talking to anybody, local manufacturers here in Newcastle lost millions of dollars overnight. And how did they find out about that? Well, it was an announcement, a press release from the Government. So announcements about potential announcements should be taken with an absolute grain of salt. No detail, no level of consultation with any other key players here in Newcastle. So very, very disappointing but it is more of the same from the Morrison Government.
JOURNALIST: Announcement aside, and I guess politics aside, would it be something that would be welcome in the Newcastle community if it were to go ahead?
CLAYDON: The Newcastle community has an incredibly strong skill base. There are all sorts of strategic reasons why you might be looking at Newcastle as well given our close proximity to some key defence sites here. But again, do not make hollow announcements with no detail building people’s hopes perhaps for jobs of the future, only to find out that there is no detail. The other incredibly disappointing thing of course is that, you know, announcements like this have very long term implications and they require not governments of just today but for governments of tomorrow to be signed up, and the lack of consultation - this Prime Minister couldn't even pick up the phone to brief Labor, an alternative government in waiting. No conversations with Labor about this, no briefing whatsoever. And, again, I've contacted key players here in Newcastle. No briefing, no courtesy calls to any of those in Newcastle.
JOURNALIST: And if the submarine base was built here, do you have concerns about our future security? Newcastle, possibly becoming a target?
CLAYDON: Look again, why would you take anything this government says seriously? It is no detail, an announcement about a potential announcement. Honestly, we've all learned from experience not to take anything this government says when it comes to defence contracts seriously. As I said, we've been burnt before, we’ve been dudded by this government time and time again. Lost jobs, lost big contracts because they've made decisions in the dark somewhere. If you don't show the courtesy of including my community in this consultation, it's very difficult for us to contemplate taking this seriously at all.
JOURNALIST: Is there concern then that, I mean certainly people were briefed? Tim Owens was on ABC Radio this morning, he is a formal Liberal member, a state Liberal member, a defence spokesperson for HunterNet so there were briefings, but just not for Labor. Is that a concern?
CLAYDON: It's not just Labor, but also key players. So I also heard Tim Owen's comments and he is HunterNet, involved with the HunterNet taskforce. He would almost certainly be on the lookout for defence contracts in any shape or form. That's his job. It's unclear to me the level of briefing that took place there to be frank, but I certainly know they've not been briefing local members of parliament at any level of government and they're not briefing port of Newcastle, which is clearly a potential site. So it's difficult. I can only say this again, it is difficult to take any of this very seriously. We certainly are a region that has got the skills, the knowledge and capacity, but when we're not involved, not included in any genuine way, shape or form in a conversation about this. What are people of Newcastle to make of it? Well, you know, they're going to be like me and sit back and just say "these guys have just dudded us time and time again, why would we take it seriously this time?"
JOURNALIST: And Tanya what about yourself. How do you think it might affect Newcastle's security in the future?
PLIBERSEK: Well as Sharon has said so clearly, without the Government giving us any details about what they're actually proposing, while this is just an announcement that sometime down the track they may make an announcement about Newcastle, it's very difficult to give a detailed response. Of course, regional communities like Newcastle welcome every additional job to their community. This is a highly skilled community. It's had a strong manufacturing base in the past. It's been let down by the current government when it comes to previous defence contracts, but this is all speculation from a government that has wasted eight years. We are left with a capability gap in the Australian submarine program because this government keeps announcing contracts, and then cancelling them, spending billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on projects that never proceed, that are cancelled and cause us all sorts of diplomatic heartburn when they're cancelled. It is worrying for the people of Newcastle that there's so little detail and so little consultation. But I'm actually also worried about our nation. We have a government that is addicted to announcing then cancelling defence projects, that's not good for our national security. It's particularly not good for our national security in a time when the world is becoming an increasingly uncertain place.
JOURNALIST: Tanya, you're obviously here at the university. I'm interested myself personally, obviously with COVID we've seen our frontline workers, nurses, doctors, etc, we know there are shortages. What are the plans to get more people into scrubs, in terms of starting at University etc. What are some of the options that Labor would look at?
PLIBERSEK: Well, we know that the Liberal government has let down university students, let down university staff. We've seen about 40,000 university staff lose their jobs in the last couple of years, including about 7,000 researchers. Australia cannot be a wealthy competitive nation if we're cutting investment in our research, the research that is behind the discovery, the invention, the innovation that drives jobs growth and productivity in Australia. When it comes to students, we've got the highest turn away rates of students wishing to go to university than we've seen in Australia's history. More kids are getting turned away today than since these figures have been kept, that is so heartbreaking. It's so hard on those kids who’ve had a really terrible couple of years, the last two years of their schooling. The disruptions that they've seen, but it's with bad for our nation. One in four employers will tell you that they can't find the skilled staff they need and we know that we need IT specialists, engineers, pharmacists, nurses, teachers. All of the professions that should be being taught at universities like this. The universities want more students. There are students who want a place at university. Our nation needs this investment. And instead of that, this government has cut funding and support to universities. Labor, in contrast, would offer 20,000 additional university places to give more students the chance of pursuing the education that gives them the job of their dreams.
JOURNALIST: And what do you think some of the barriers are that are stopping people from going to university and how will this plan help counteract that?
PLIBERSEK: Well, you know, the biggest barrier if we’ve got a government that refuses to invest in universities. That's the biggest barrier. But we also know from talking to students like today that those enabling programs that help kids who have tough time at school - become homeless, mum and dad divorce, been sick, whatever that has stopped them from getting the ATAR they need for university. Helping them embark on a university career. That's a great thing to do for them and for their community.
JOURNALIST: And Sharon, what do you think this plan would do for Newcastle specifically?
CLAYDON: Thank you. It is a plan that is almost a perfect fit for Newcastle and that shouldn't be shocking because Labor's done its homework. And I can't thank Tanya enough for putting together a set of policies that invest in higher education, that invest in young people, that invest in regions. So universities like Newcastle that are at the forefront of reaching out to those students who might otherwise struggle to get to University. So I'm thinking of our reach out to first in families, our very proactive reach out to First Nations students, and of course, kids in the Upper Hunter and outer regions in this area. It makes the world of difference. We still have, in the upper Hunter we still have the struggles with kids retention rates. That was Newcastle 20 years ago. So we've got a lot of work to do and its policies like this that are actually going to ensure that all of those people who absolutely deserve a place at university but for a lot of them life has thrown a lot of curveballs at them and you know, not least of which was COVID for tens of thousands of kids. This is their moment. This is one of those sliding door moments where you get to make another decision and it means the world to students in our region.
JOURNALIST: Can I just get one comment Tanya on the floods, obviously an emergency of unprecedented proportions. We're seeing 2000 homes I think completely ruined, people with nowhere to go. What's your message to those people in the north of our state?
PLIBERSEK: Well the first thing to say is that Labor is so very saddened by the loss of life that we've seen in this most recent flood disaster. Our thoughts go out to the families and loved ones of those who’ve lost their lives. We need to help immediately in the Northern Rivers, Brisbane, right across the country, where we see flood-affected communities. We need to make sure that those communities have the help they need - the financial assistance they need to get back on their feet, the help in the clean-up that they need to get life back to normal. We've seen massive loss of property, people's homes, people's businesses, people's farmland, we need to repair that damage. Beyond that I'd say it is really disappointing that we have a government that has been sitting on a disaster fund with about $4.8 billion in it, almost $5 billion, and they haven't managed to spend any of that to prevent or mitigate disasters like this. So they didn't spend it on the bushfires, they haven't spent it building flood levees, building water courses that could help divert flood water, they haven't done any of the work they need to protect people from this sort of flooding event. And indeed the university cuts have meant that Southern Cross University's flood centre, in Lismore, was closed down, the flood research centre there. So of course our focus right now is on providing immediate assistance of any kind that a community needs, but our long-term focus needs to be on rebuilding in a way that keeps individuals and communities safer from the next disaster.
JOURNALIST: To me that implies that maybe some properties, some land should be off-limits to build, for rebuilding?
PLIBERSEK: No I'm not saying that and I certainly wouldn't say that from my position. Right now we are 100 per cent focused on the immediate needs of communities, making sure that they have – that their lives are safe, that they are physically safe in a safe place, and that their immediate needs are met, making sure that they've got emergency financial assistance. I mean it actually literally blows me away that this government is saying ‘yeah people can just hop online and fill in forms online using their MyGov log on and so on’. I mean we are talking about people in crisis, who don't have a phone, don't have a battery, don't have a power source, don't have the internet, and the Government's first response was yeah just log on, we'll help you out through the portal. I mean, it is an unbelievable lack of understanding of the catastrophe that people were facing. But longer term we know that there are things that we can do to build back better, to build back safer. The Government's got a fund of almost $5 billion. It's got $800 million in interest payments, and this government hasn't used that fund to help communities rebuild after bushfires, after floods, to make sure that they're safer in the future. That has to be a focus and that's what Labor is committed to.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us what the announcement was this morning?
PLIBERSEK: We were at a fantastic local service in Wallsend today, Mum's Cottage with Dan Repacholi. Dan came to us federally and said look I've got this wonderful place, Mum's Cottage in the electorate that I'd like to help. They do amazing work helping people who are escaping violence, helping people who are isolated and with mental health and legal problems, helping the most disadvantaged people in the community. But they're in a very old building and with about $250,000 we can fix it up so that the people who work at Mum's Cottage can focus on doing what they do best, which is helping every person who walks in the front door. So we were very happy to make that announcement that if Labor is elected, we would provide Mum's Cottage with the $250,000 they need to fix up their building so they can offer more services to more people in need.