How do we become a clever country if we keep on cutting our universities? - Transcript, Sky AM Agenda




MONDAY, 1 MAY 2017

SUBJECT/S: Liberals’ Budget mess; University funding; Competition policy; GST.

TOM CONNELL: Joining me now is Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Treasurer from the Labor Party. Thank you for your time today. Starting on this Deloitte Access Report, lower tax receipts than we were expecting, bigger budget deficit happens under both parties these days it seems?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: We had a global financial crisis which led to governments around the world taking on debt as you well know. The difference is with Australia is that other countries have started to pay down their debt. But since 2013 Australia’s debt has increased by over $4000 or more for every man, woman and child in Australia. So a Government who campaigned in front of debt trucks really should be driving debt road trains around the country right now if they were being honest.

CONNELL: What about though the fact that this is about sluggish wage growth. It's not really something the Government can click their fingers and fix can they? Maybe even the tax cut will help in that area?

LEIGH: Sluggish wage growth, growing inequality, corporate profits up significantly. Would you think that in that environment that the right solution was a big company tax cut, cuts to weekend penalty rates and a huge giveaway to millionaires? Surely they're exactly the wrong prescription for where Australia is right now. Of course we need to pay down debt but we need to do that by reining in tax concessions that are unfair and are blowing up our housing market and we need to have a Government who says this is the wrong time to give a $7 billion tax break to the biggest banks in Australia.

CONNELL: OK well we'll see where all of that goes. But university fees in the area of higher education, it's looking as though the Government could go down the path of efficiency, asking for more efficiency, this dividend of 2 or 3 per cent to try and save some money in the area - the same plan that Labor had but didn't legislate?

LEIGH: Let's be clear about the context in which that happened, Tom. We increased university funding by around 70 per cent during our time in office. We can debate whether or not the 2 per cent efficiency measure put in place in Labor’s last year to fund the Gonski reforms was right or wrong, but it came off the back of a 70 per cent increase. Under this Government, you've seen universities starved for funds, you haven't seen the big increase in university places that you saw under Labor which also boosted access and equity.

CONNELL: But didn't Labor want to put a clamp on those big increase in places towards the end anyway?

LEIGH: Absolutely not. We put in place the demand-driven system, we oversaw a 25 per cent increase in students coming through, we increased the per student contribution, we increased research funding. All of those things are now at threat under a Government which seems to think that it can keep on increasing costs on students and squeezing down universities.

CONNELL: Isn't this latest one, the efficiency dividend, is more along the lines compared to previous plans such as 2014?

LEIGH: How do we become a clever country if we keep on cutting our universities? We need to have more Australian kids aspiring to higher levels of education.

CONNELL: This is at the margins isn't it, this sort of change? Rather than the bigger axe that was being yielded in 2014. Isn't this better than that plan?

LEIGH: Is a smaller cut better than a bigger cut? Sure. but that doesn't make it good policy. The fact is that this is a Government that is always looking to cut back on education where if you're asked the question where are the jobs of the future going to come from for Australia they've got to come from a better educated work force.

CONNELL: The Government are also saying it's based on a Deloitte Access Report that says most courses, with the exception of a couple, are adequately funded?

LEIGH: I was listening to Chris Richardson on the radio this morning talking about investing in the value of education. We need to make sure that we've got those university places, we need to make sure they're properly funded, we need to make sure that we're investing in research. The idea that the great solution for Australia will be to cut back on our universities so we can give money to multinational companies is the wrong prescription for Australia.

CONNELL: Alright, I want to ask you about Facebook and this story today that they are using an algorithm to gather information from teenagers, that it can sort of track words, 'depressed, upset, anxious', whatever it may be, and sell that to advertisers. What do you make of that?

LEIGH: I have been doing a lot of work as Shadow Minister for Competition on growing market concentration in Australia, and one of the things you see a firm has a big market share is that they can start to throw their weight around, behaving badly. I worry about that with Facebook. We’ve got an environment now in which advertising might be much more concentrated than in the classified ad days. This is egregious behaviour. Facebook should never be acting in this way. It needs to recognise the ethical requirements incumbent on any company, but particularly a firm of this size.

CONNELL: It's understood they may have breached things under the advertising standards to do with children. Is enough going to be done with the laws in place, do we need to look at other things for tech giants in particular?

LEIGH: We need to make sure that tech giants are appropriately regulated under our competition laws. Right now there is increasing concentration. If you look at companies like Uber in travel, AirBnB in accommodation, Google in search, Facebook in social media - these are companies which have a bigger market share than you see if you look, for example, at industries like farming.

CONNELL: So are there things you have in mind to be done to reign it in?

LEIGH: We need to make sure we have got strong competition laws. Labor has argued for increased penalties, for giving the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a market studies power. We've argued for an increase in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s litigation budget. And the Government is fighting us on every single one of those – despite the fact that most of those recommendations come out of reviews like the Harper Review that the Government commissioned. They are very quick to act when it comes to taking money away from weekend workers, but pretty slow to act when it comes to taking on the big end of town.

CONNELL: Andrew, getting your thoughts on metadata. This story, last week the AFP accessed the metadata of a journalist. This could be the records, basically who they called or texted for example, or emailed - they didn't follow proper procedure. What did you make of this story?

LEIGH: It's a deeply disturbing breach, and I don't think the Government can simply palm it off on the AFP, Tom. We know that this was publicly reported two days after it went to the Ombudsman. So as Mark Dreyfus has been saying, George Brandis and Michael Keenan need to come clear about when they knew about this, and why it took days for it to be publicly reported.

CONNELL: What does it say about metadata being used in this way? It seems to be basically chasing a leak, because we were told we needed this for organised crime and terror, which is why Labor supported these moves.

LEIGH: That is why you need a court order in order to access information from journalists. I think that's an important principle.

CONNELL: That's enough of a check and balance?

LEIGH: Look, I'm not always going to agree with what the media says about my side of politics, but I do think we need a strong and independent media, and that's why we have these higher standards for following up on things up that journalists do. That's as it should be. This breach is a serious one, and we need George Brandis and Michael Keenan to say what they knew and when they knew it.

CONNELL: So they principle should be though that let's not just find out if a leak is coming out - there's got to be some sort of threat to national security to be using this - is this what the principle should be rather than chasing leaks?

LEIGH: The standard is higher for journalists than it would be for  regular citizen and that is as it should be. Journalists serve a valuable role in our community in the scrutiny of politicians and large organisations. It's important that they have those extra protections around any intent to access their metadata.

CONNELL: Finally, GST. What do you tell your Western Australian colleagues anxious for earlier change on that distribution front?

LEIGH: We'll certainly see what the Government is doing. We know they had their quick fix approach last year, but it would be good to see some more holistic reform here. I'm very interested, Tom, in making sure that this ensures that we have incentives for good tax policies. The worst thing that the GST distribution formula can do is encourage states to go down the wrong path in revenue-raising.

CONNELL: So you are up for a discussion on this, the revenue and so on?

LEIGH: Labor has always been up for that. Bill Shorten led the conversation last year in saying that Western Australia needed a better deal. If the Government has sensible long-term solutions, we'll certainly look at them.

CONNELL: Okay. Andrew Leigh, Shadow Assistant Treasurer, thank you for your time today on Sky News

LEIGH Thank you, Tom.


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