12 August 2014


SUBJECT/S: A Degree shouldn’t be a Debt Sentence, Meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Iraq, GP Tax, Polls.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s great to be at UWS in Western Sydney with my colleagues, Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek and hardworking local western suburbs member Michelle Rowland. The campaign by Labor to protect higher education from Tony Abbott’s cuts is well and truly underway. All across Australia in university campuses, Labor will be talking to students, to their parents, to staff and the wider community on the basic proposition that a university degree should not be a debt sentence. The Abbott Government lied before the last election. They promised black and blue there would be no cuts to education. Now after the election, at the Budget, Joe Hockey, Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne having lied to Australia in order to get Australia to vote for them, have now broken their word, broken their promises and the losers are going to be the universities and the students and staff in those universities.

In Australia, we are at a cross roads. We can choose the American path, where how much your parents earn or your credit card limit determines whether or not you go to university. Or we can take the high road, with Australian values, where hard work, not your postcode, determines your opportunity in life. Labor will most strongly oppose the broken promises and lies, the unfair Budget which will create $100,000 degrees and higher. We will oppose UWS losing $195 million over the next four years. We will make sure that women don’t get extra debt because of the fact that they have broken periods of service and parenting, so it costs them a lot more to go to university. We will make sure that working class kids get the opportunity to go to university.
Six in every 10 students at UWS are the first people in their families to go to university. Three in every 10 come from non-English speaking backgrounds. 75 in every 100 kids at UWS come from the western suburbs of Sydney. This new tax, these new charges, these new fees on UWS is a direct attack on western Sydney. Western Sydney’s the third largest economy in Australia, so if you’re discouraging kids in Western Sydney from going to university, that will affect not only Western Sydney but the whole of Australia. Before I pass to my colleague Michelle Rowland to talk about the attacks on educational opportunity in Western Sydney, I might also just brief the gathered media that my colleague Tanya Plibersek, our Shadow Foreign Affairs Spokesperson and myself are looking forward to our meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry today. We will be talking about Iraq and the growing crisis there. We will be talking about MH17 and of course the attitude of the Russian Federation with its unfair and unjustified sanctions.

In terms of Iraq, we will also be talking to Secretary of State Kerry about what they see as the necessary measures to deal with citizens of the United States or citizens of Australia joining these terror groups wreaking their havoc in parts of Syria and of course Iraq. It beggars belief six months after Khaled Sharrouf eluded Australian authorities and was able to fly overseas to join this terrible war and yesterday we were subjected to the terrible images of Khaled Sharrouf getting his son caught up in the atrocities of this war. Six months ago Minister Scott Morrison promised an urgent investigation into how this could occur. He needs to tell people how this can occur and to make sure that preventing other people with similar evil or twisted intent from joining in this terrible fight and indeed suborning their families into the terrible images we saw yesterday. I’d like to hand over to Michelle to make a few comments, thank you.

REPORTER: Can I just ask what assurances would you like from your meeting with Mr Kerry today?

SHORTEN: I’d just like my colleague to talk about education and that will be the first question I answer.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MEMBER FOR GREENWAY: Thanks very much, it is great to have Bill and Tanya here at UWS today. UWS when we started… I remember it very well and one of its mottos was – ‘it was a local champion’ and that is still very much the case. The high proportion of young people who grow up in Western Sydney who then go to UWS and gain employment in their chosen areas in Western Sydney is something we simply have to ensure continues. It is fantastic and I want to specifically mention all the young people, the students who’ve come out today. These are values, this is a story about a vision which we thought had been argued and won quite some time ago, the idea that your place of birth, your postcode or your parents’ income shouldn’t be determinate of your future and your education and job prospects. Unfortunately that is what we’re fighting about here today. Bill and Tanya gave rousing speeches which have heightened peoples’ awareness and really made, I think all young people out here and also everyone else who has turned up concerned about this matter to go out and let people know exactly what is at stake. I would finally like to end by saying in Western Sydney we have some of the highest migrant populations of anywhere in Australia and if you come to Australia, as a parent, you want your child to have above all else the best education opportunities so they can get ahead in life and really set them on a path to a great future. That is what is at stake here, the public are very much aware of it and I am pleased to see young people have become so active and will continue to be so to ensure we preserve this very basic and very important value.

SHORTEN: Thanks, Would you like to repeat the question?

REPORTER: What assurances are you hoping to have from Mr Kerry today in your meeting?

SHORTEN: We look forward to meeting Secretary of State Kerry. He is a distinguished American with a distinguished record of service spanning many decades. We are keen to get his understanding to the attitude of the Russian Federation. I think like all Australians, we’ve been appalled at the Russian Federation’s bullying tactics, putting sanctions on Australia as if Australia has something to answer for when indeed the opposite is true. I am interested to see what he says about the G20 and progress there and the issues on the table at the G20. Obviously, Labor thinks climate change should be a topic to deal with on the G20. In terms of Iraq, we’re interested to hear what he has to say about how ISIS, the terrorist organisation which are spanning their particular twisted view of fundamentalism in Iraq, what they think the prospects of success for that terrible organisation are. We are also keen to hear what assistance the Americans believe is necessary. Labor has unequivocally supported the use of our Royal Australian Air Force planes to provide humanitarian relief. I think all fair-minded people are upset at the images of Kurds sheltering in the mountains in northern Iraq and desperately needing food while they sustain themselves in the struggle against the ISIS terror organisation. We will also be interested to hear what the intentions of the United States are in going forward. I should make clear at this point, the Australian Government has said that they’re not debating the issue of Australian troops. We certainly believe that. I think it would be helpful if the Defence Minister could give an unequivocal response on that matter because Australians on one hand are committed to humanitarian assistance, also very concerned at the rise of this terror organisation in northern Iraq and parts of Syria but I think the defence minister needs to clarify the intent of the Government about any further steps. In terms of other matters, we will be also talking to them about combined efforts in terms of national security. We have seen the Federal Government get itself into all sorts of bother and confusion about what it is doing with national security and monitoring on the internet. We’ll be looking forward to hearing how the US is dealing with these matters.

REPORTER: The Defence Minister hasn’t ruled out sending in combat troops. Is that a move you would support if the Government decides it is what they should do if the violence escalates?

SHORTEN: I don’t believe that the Federal Government is inviting any debate about the spectre of troop involvement in Iraq and I don’t know why the Defence Minister’s making those comments.

REPORTER: Would you support it hypothetically?

SHORTEN: I’m not going into hypotheticals but I remind people of Labor’s principled stand against the second Gulf War. I haven’t seen the case made for Australian troops, I haven’t seen the case made at all. I do wish that the Government could give one position in terms of their intent. I think this is a debate which has been let run too long. I do not believe in my own discussions with the Government that there is any discussion whatsoever about troop involvement. I do wish the defence minister or the Prime Minister could clarify what the position of the Government is. Labor certainly hasn’t been consulted at all.

REPORTER: Have you had a briefing on the anti-terror laws yet?

SHORTEN: There have been some briefings with myself but also with my colleagues.

REPORTER: Kim Carr and Stephen Conroy have indicated they will run for another Senate term. At what point do you need to refresh your parliamentary team?

SHORTEN: Well first of all, matters for pre-selection are conducted by the state branches of the Labor Party. I have confidence in both Senators Conroy and Carr. We will have a good, refreshed team at the next election. I might make the point that Labor’s front bench is already younger than the Government’s front bench and so I think when we talk about refreshing, the first cab off the rank for refreshment might be Tony Abbott’s front bench. I think the Prime Minister needs to clarify is the Attorney-General going to be the Attorney-General this time next year? Will the Treasurer be the Treasurer, is the Health Minister going to be the Health Minister? I think if we’re talking about the refreshment, the Government is in the need of a cold drink.

REPORTER: Peter Dutton said on radio this morning the Government is seriously considering a proposal by the AMA to exempt pensioners from the $7 GP co-payment. If they are exempt, will you consider supporting that co-payment?

SHORTEN: Peter Dutton should get his head out of the sand. The whole GP tax is a clunker, it’s rotten, it’s unfair, it’s a broken promise. I think my advice to Peter Dutton is if on the way to trying to fix up the Budget you decide to drop the GP tax on pensioners: don’t do half-hearted measures, drop the whole GP tax. For instance, if you’re someone who is going to work and are not on a pension but you earn $40,000-$50,000 a year and you’ve chronic diabetes or chronic asthma, the GP tax is horrendous. Once Peter Dutton starts making exceptions for some, I think that’s an admission that the GP tax is an ill-conceived idea. He should just drop the whole lot and start again.

REPORTER: Is that a reasonable compromise though?

SHORTEN: The GP tax is not a reasonable idea. You can’t make a bad idea good with a bit of lipstick. What you need to do here is drop the whole thing. If you are someone with a chronic medical condition but you still get up and go to work every day, and this is thousands of Australians with chronic asthma, chronic diabetes, people with osteoporosis, they’re out there working every day. Why is it that Peter Dutton wants them to pay a GP Tax which will send their cost of living up, which will be a discouragement to see the doctor? The GP tax is just a bad idea and no amount of tinkering is going to make a bad idea a good idea.

REPORTER: What do you think about Jaime Brigg’s comments about business needing to make the case for cutting penalty rates?

SHORTEN: This Government is always getting itself into trouble by saying what they think. We saw Eric Abetz’s bizarre and nutty contribution last week linking breast cancer and abortion. This week we see Jaime Briggs talking about cutting people’s wages and conditions. The problem with this Government is when they say what they think: that’s the mistake. The real problem for this Government is what they think is a mistake. Please Jaime Briggs, please Tony Abbott stop worrying about the low paid and asking them to take pay cuts. Do your day job without forcing the bottom half of Australian society to do all the heavy lifting.

JOURNALIST: In regards to university changes, is it not the case that Labor tried to force universities to rein in their cost through an efficiency dividend program just last year?

SHORTEN: There is no way that Labor has dreamed up the current Governments propositions. This Government’s now been a Government for just about a year and all they ever try and do is blame the previous Government for everything. This Budget was all the Government’s idea. This Government shouldn’t be making it harder for kids from middle and working-class backgrounds to go to University. They shouldn’t be creating $100,000 degrees. They should be doubling or tripling the cost of going to University. It is just a bad idea.

JOURNALIST: Is that hypocritical of you though?

SHORTEN: This Government is the worst Government for higher education in a very long time.

JOURNALIST: Newspoll has shown an increase in Coalition support. What do you put that increase down to?

SHORTEN: Well, the numbers that concern me are the numbers of what these university students are going to have to pay. I’ve been speaking to really smart and idealistic undergraduates in their 3rd year of teaching or their 3rd year of law or their 3rd year of a range of courses. They’re worried that all of a sudden they’re not going to be able to pay their fees or alternatively, they’re going to have to delay their mortgage or delay starting a family. On the 31st of August this month there will be an open day. The numbers which worry me is that there are Year 11 and 12 students from across western Sydney, not able to get a straight answer to how much the courses are going to cost. The number which worries me is that the University of Western Sydney is going to have to make hard decisions about cutting teachers, closing courses and denying opportunity. They’re the numbers that matter.

Thanks everyone. Have a lovely day.