Interview with Kieran Gilbert – Sky News AM Agenda – Wednesday 21 May 2014





SUBJECT / S: The Abbott Government’s Budget of Broken Promises.

KIERAN GILBERT: Jason Clare, thanks for your time. First of all, on the issue of the student protests that we’re going to see across the nation today, they’re calling it a national day of action, the Government, the Minister Christopher Pyne and Jamie Briggs, the Minister this morning I spoke to, saying that this is being driven in large part by the Socialist Alternative. Again, I’ll put this question to you that I put to Richard Marles, does that diminish, does that reduce the credibility of the protests that we’re going to see today?

JASON CLARE: Well Kieran, what I would say is I don’t support violent protests, I don’t support disruptive protests. There is a fight here but it’s a fight that has to happen in the parliament and guess what, it’s a fight that we’re going to win. This is a fight about our higher education system. What Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott want to do is create a two-tier system and I think this is bad policy. What it will mean is that people will decide what university they go to based on how much it costs rather than what they get in their Higher School Certificate and it’ll discourage people from going to university altogether. That’s a bad thing. We need more people to go to university and to TAFE, not less and if we increase the cost of going to university then that’ll be counterproductive for Australia in the long term.

GILBERT: But the Government, I guess there’s two points to make to that. The Government is going to increase the number of scholarships for those who are less well off so there’s that point but the second point is that students aren’t going to have to pay a dollar up front. This is when they’re back in the workforce, once they’ve completed their studies and earning more than $50,000 per annum. So how does that stop access?

CLARE: Universities will put their fees up and some universities will put up their fees more than others. University degrees are already expensive. Anybody will tell you that. This will make them more expensive and so the risk is that the university you go to, the course that you do, will be determined by yourself based on how much you want to pay rather than the results that you get in high school. That’s a bad thing. In places like Sydney, particularly western Sydney where the cost of living’s high, the amount of money you’ve got to save to get a deposit to pay a mortgage is high, if you’re going to increase the cost of doing a university degree to $100,000 or more than a lot of smart young people are going to decide look I’m not going to go to university at all, I’m going to go down a different path. Now if we lose those young people, that’s going to be counterproductive for the Australian economy in the future. We need more people to go to uni, more people going to TAFE. Making it more expensive in the long term is just a bad idea.

GILBERT: Has Labor said it’s going to block these changes though? That you will definitely vote against them?

CLARE: We’ve said it before, I am happy to say it again. We’ll block their attempts to destroy Medicare, we’ll block their attempts to cut the pension and we’ll block this as well. Labor is the party that helped to free up higher education and people like me an opportunity to go to university and we’ll fight to defend it in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.

GILBERT: By blocking the cuts, the upwards of $18 billion of cuts, doesn’t this make it more rather than less likely that Australia could lose its triple A credit rating? As the fear that was expressed yesterday by the Prime Minister after the Standard and Poor’s spokesperson suggested that could well be the case?

CLARE: Well Kieran you know better than that, you know Standard and Poor’s have now clarified that and said that’s not the case. Look if the government wants to find $18 billion over the next four years then there’s an easy solution. They can use the $22 billion from their paid parental leave scheme. That’s a very simple solution and they could make that decision today.

GILBERT: But you know, they’ve made clarification but Standard and Poor’s is very clear on its position, as are the other ratings agencies, they want an indication, a commitment from the government and policy makers generally that they get the challenge here. Labor doesn’t seem to accept that there is this challenge to make the structural changes in the budget which essentially Labor put there through those promises at the end of your term in government.

CLARE: No Kieran, I don’t think that’s a fair statement. We understand that there are challenges over the medium term. The population is getting older, our health system is costing more, there are structural changes we need to make to the budget. The question is what are the changes that you need to make? What the government has done in this is effectively create a ‘reverse robin hood’ budget. They’re giving more money to rich mums who don’t need the money and they’re cutting money for poor pensioners. Now what we’re saying is go back to the drawing board and come up with better, fairer ideas. If you want to use the money from the paid parental leave scheme to pay for that $18 billion that you need then go ahead and do that but we’re not going to allow you to rip up Medicare, we’re not going to allow you to make getting a university education unaffordable and were not going to allow you to reduce the pension over time in terms of peoples standard of living.

GILBERT: But again I put to you the fact that you’re even opposing cuts that Labor had put in place in government. Do you not accept that there is an urgency here? Not in terms of the economy, the economy’s going OK, but in terms of the budget and the medium to longer term that things need to happen and Labor’s also got to I guess in a political sense rebuild its economic credibility, why not accept some of the, or at least more of the, savings that have been put forward?

CLARE: Kieran let me make that point again, we will be constructive. We won’t do what Tony Abbott did and just say no to everything –

GILBERT: Yeah, but $19 billion doesn’t sound constructive when $19 billion of savings are being blocked –

CLARE: Well, you’ve got to ask yourself what is that $19 billion? If the Labor Party is not going to stand up for Medicare then who will? If the Labor party is not going to stand up for pensioners, who will? I should clarify that, you’ve now got Liberal MP’s saying this is a bad idea as well. That’s our job and we’ll stand up against the government when they come up with bad ideas and we’ll tell them go back to the drawing board and come up with better ideas and we’ll support them.

GILBERT: Mr Clare thanks for your time.

CLARE: Thanks Kieran.