Ministerial reshuffle and higher education policy - AM Agenda





SUBJECT/S: Ministerial reshuffle; Labor’s future plans for higher education.

DAVID LIPSON: Here in the studio is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh – thanks very much for joining us this morning. Has Malcolm Turnbull stolen Labor's narrative by this Ministerial reshuffle with a big focus on renewal and innovation?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Well David, it would be hard to produce a worse line-up than the previous Abbott Cabinet. But I certainly think that Labor's line up is more than a match for the current set of ministers. Just to give you a few examples: Gary Gray, in the resources portfolio, knows that sector deeply and will be more than a match for Josh Frydenberg. Chris Bowen, with his understanding of economics and the long-term history of economic policy-making, will easily be able to take on Scott Morrison. Richard Marles' sense of the institutions in immigration and his deep well of compassion are certainly going to be more than a match for Peter Dutton.

LIPSON: It is a stronger team, as you mentioned. And as discussed, we see Joe Hockey exiting politics. Do you think he'd make a good ambassador in the US?

LEIGH: What you need if you're going to be a strong ambassador in the United States is a sense of gravitas and an ability to engage on the international stage – a strong and deep interest in foreign policy. I'm not sure that Joe Hockey has that, certainly in the way in which Kim Beazley did. One of the things that everyone knew about Kim was that he was an American politics tragic from way back. There's nothing wrong with former politicians going to represent us in Washington but they need to be engaged with the international stage.

LIPSON: So the policy announced today by Labor, you’re pushing on with innovation, that looking forward policy area. Reports suggest $2.5 billion being spent on a higher education policy. Can you just outline what that policy is and what it will do for university students?

LEIGH: Well David, I don't want to steal Bill Shorten's thunder but we do know that the most important form of capital that any Australian owns is their human capital. It's the ideas they have inside them, the skills that they can employ in the labour market. Your human capital, over the course of your career, will garner you anywhere between $1 million and $3 million. No other piece of capital will produce that for you. We know that with technological change running at pace, we need to increase the number of Australians going to university and improve the completion rates. At the moment, one in four students drops out. So Bill Shorten's plan will announce new funding to reduce the drop-out rates, particularly for kids from low socio-economic backgrounds, but also to boost the numbers going to university. Kids born in the year 2000 who will be leaving school in a few years will be in the labour market anywhere up to 2060 or 2070 and that labour market will be so different from the one today. It will demand far more skills and an ability to engage in life-long learning. A strong university sector, along with good vocational training and great schools, is really important to build for the future.

LIPSON: There is new money, as I understand it from the reports I've seen today and other information – is the money going to the students themselves rather than funding universities better?

LEIGH: The proposal is to expand the student contribution which goes to universities but then also to provide additional funding to deal with the question of drop-out rates. It is really important when students start that we don't get that waste for the institution and the student from somebody not competing. Higher education is a vital part of Labor's conversation about the future, making sure that we invest in science, technology, engineering and maths. You saw Bill Shorten in his Budget Reply speaking about the importance of coding as well. All of these skills are absolutely vital to the future.

LIPSON: That brings me back to my original question about, I suppose, the narrative. Labor had been able to present a point of difference under Tony Abbott, really focusing on the future, innovation and the like. It looks like Malcolm Turnbull is grabbing that idea with both hands and running with it. Is Labor going to be left behind here?

LEIGH: David, if we're having a conversation about the future that's a great thing for Australia. But one of the big questions for the future is how we deal with dangerous climate change. If Malcolm Turnbull is going to stick with his party's subsidies for polluters approach then that is a mistake. And on the same-sex marriage plebiscite, I'm still puzzled. Maybe you can ask this of one of your Coalition guests: if Australians vote yes in a plebiscite to same-sex marriage, will all the Liberal members of the party room then be bound the vote for it in the Parliament? Because of course, a plebiscite doesn't change the law, you then need the Parliament to act. Malcolm Turnbull seems to be talking about a plebiscite but how it actually works puzzles me.

LIPSON: Ok Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Treasurer, thanks for your time this morning.

LEIGH: Thank you, David.



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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.