Television Interview with Andrew Clennell – Sky News Sunday Agenda – Sunday 3 March 2024




SUBJECTS: Dunkley by-election; Cost of living; Albo’s tax cuts; Vehicle Efficiency Standards; Sussan Ley’s tweet; Meta’s news content announcement; ASIO; Universities Accord

ANDREW CLENNELL: Well, joining me live now is the Education Minister, Jason Clare. Thanks for joining us this Sunday morning Jason Clare.


CLENNELL: It’s ended up a happier day for you than it could have been. A happier interview, perhaps?

CLARE: I wish we weren’t having a by-election at all, to be honest, mate. I wish Peta Murphy was still with us. I am surprised with the primary vote. It was a higher primary vote than I expected. Peta was loved by the people of Dunkley. She was a really hard-working local member and was admired by the local community. The fact that Jodie got more votes yesterday than Peta did, what, 18 months or so ago, surprised me. I guess that’s a tribute to Jodie and the work that her team did on the ground.

CLENNELL: It is a swing, though. It’s a 4 per cent swing after postals, I reckon. It’s 3.74 this morning.

CLARE: Yeah, absolutely right.

CLENNELL: Does this make you fear the prospect of a minority government? You only need to lose three seats to be a minority government at the next election.

CLARE: I guess I’d hesitate to draw too many conclusions out of a by-election, but we did see the Greens vote go down, One Nation and Palmer weren’t in the field and that contributed to the Libs primary vote going up. But the big issue for all Aussies, whether they’re in Dunkley or right around the country, is the cost of living. That’s what’s on everybody’s mind, whether they’re paying bills at the supermarket or paying down their mortgage. The tax cuts will help with that. Inflation going down will help with that. Wages going up will help with that. But we’re very conscious that that’s the big issue that Aussie’s face right now.

CLENNELL: So, you’re ready to tackle it in the Budget, perhaps? That’s how you get the government back in an election winning position.

CLARE: It’ll be a big part of the Budget. That is the biggest issue in the country at the moment. It’s what all Australians are focused on and it’s what we’re focused on as well.

CLENNELL: Did the stage three backflip turn this in your favour?

CLARE: I think the tax cuts are supported by Aussies right across the country. 13 million Aussies will get a tax cut out of this, 80 odd per cent of Australians will get a bigger tax cut. The fact that the Liberal Party decided to back these tax cuts show just how important they are. They hated them, but they supported them. They held their nose and voted for them in the parliament. I think that just goes to show just how important these tax cuts are.

CLENNELL: What messages do you take out of the result?

CLARE: As I said a moment ago, in answer to the other question, the big issue that Australians are focused on now is the cost of living. They’re not interested in political scare campaigns. They’re interested in what government can do to help them. Tax cuts are a very good example of where government can help people who are doing it tough. If you’re on, say, $90,000 a year, then this means a tax cut of about $2,000, almost $2,000 to you from the 1st of July. That makes a real difference, real help for Australians on an income of $90,000, for example. But it means that all Australians who pay tax will get a tax cut. That’s important at a time where people are doing it tough.

CLENNELL: Do you concede that perceptions towards the PM have changed after The Voice and that made it a bit harder, the failure of The Voice?

CLARE: I don’t know about that. I think when Australians see Albo, they see a decent bloke, a bloke who grew up in Marrickville, grew up in social housing, who knows what it’s like to do it tough because he’s lived it himself, growing up with a single mum, and a bloke who is focused on the sorts of issues that are affecting all Australians. The fact that he was ready and willing to make a tough decision to change those tax cuts so it wasn’t just some Australians that benefit, but all Australians who pay tax benefit, I think is a sign that he’s focused on the things that really matter to all Australians.

CLENNELL: Did your mate Chris Bowen’s Vehicle Efficiency Standard hurt the government this by-election?

CLARE: I don’t think so, mate, but we do need to fight fear with facts, you know. The fact is that these changes have been implemented in the United States, in Europe, even in Saudi Arabia, and you haven’t seen prices go up. The only country in the world where they don’t have these standards, apart from Australia, is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. That should tell us everything that we need to know here. This is about making sure that we get better fuel efficiency standards. So, when you buy petrol at the petrol station, the car goes further. It’s as simple as that.

CLENNELL: We’ve seen a full-throated attack by the Opposition last Thursday against the Immigration Minister, Andrew Giles, concerning a then charge against an immigration detainee, which was later withdrawn. Now, you spoke about this on Friday. That’s this tweet I’m about to show the viewer.

Susan Ley, Deputy Liberal Leader, said, “If you live in Frankston, you’ve got a problem with Victorian women being assaulted by foreign criminals, vote against Labor. If you don’t want to see Australian women being assaulted by foreign criminals, vote against Labor. Send Labour a message.” I asked her about this during our coverage last night. Have a listen.


CLENNELL: Do you regret that message at all? It seems to have caused a bit of offence within the government.

SUSSAN LEY: No, I don’t. And it certainly doesn’t exonerate – the fact that the Victoria Police got this particular charge wrong does not exonerate this government from the egregious nature of what they have done in releasing those hardcore criminals.

[Excerpt ends.]

CLENNELL: All right, Jason Clare, what do you make of that?

CLARE: Sussan Ley spat out a lot of bile in that tweet and it’s all blown back in her face. I think it’s a classic example of where politicians, rather than leaping to conclusions, should let police do their job. She didn’t do that, and I think she, in her heart of hearts, would be very embarrassed by that. Probably wants to take the tweet down, but someone’s told her that she can’t do it.

CLENNELL: When are we going to start seeing the government attempt to put some of these detainees back in detention, though? Is it going to happen?

CLARE: That’s the work that law enforcement agencies are doing right now. There’s a high bar under the law that was introduced late last year. It’s a high test before you can put an application before the court. It’s based on the terrorist offender laws that the former government put in place. They know that too. That bar meant that it took some years before they were able to put people behind bars. But that process is underway now with law enforcement agencies.

CLENNELL: Now, also on Friday, we had this decision by the owners of Facebook, Meta, to no longer agree terms with Australia’s media companies for their content. The government has vowed to act on this, but what can you actually do?

CLARE: First, I think it’s important to say that if a company is making money out of the work of other people then they should be paying for that, whether that’s employees in a business or whether it’s the work of journalists that gets put up on Facebook. And Meta is making a motza out of the work that journalists are doing across the country and it’s only fair that they pay. That’s why we’ve come out so strongly on Friday and said that we’re not going to cop this.

There’s a code that Meta is obliged to comply with. And what Stephen Jones and Michelle Rowland said on Friday is that we’ll use all the powers under the code. I shouldn’t pre-empt the actions that they take. I don’t want to prejudice any legal proceedings that might flow from that. But we’ve made it clear that there are powers that the government can take based on that code and that we’re willing and prepared to take them.

CLENNELL: Now, I can’t interview a Cabinet Minister this week without asking about this business of the former politician named by Mike Burgess, the ASIO boss, as being in cahoots with agents of a foreign power. You at all concerned by this and would you personally like to know who it is?

CLARE: It’s obviously very, very serious, but I’ve got to listen to what the boss of ASIO says. He says if he was to release the name that it would undermine the ability of ASIO to do their job because it would reveal the sources they relied on and the techniques they used to disrupt it in the first place. You got to accept the advice of the national security boss of the country. This is not a game of Guess Who.

This is about keeping the country safe. The fact that this happened in the first place is deadly serious. And I’m glad that they intercepted, interrupted this and caught this in the act, but I wouldn’t want them to do anything that might make a headline one day, but would undermine the ability of ASIO to do their job tomorrow. And that’s essentially what he’s saying in that statement, is that it’s not the right thing to release all the details of this because it would enable the country that was involved in this in the first place to understand how ASIO intercepted and interrupted this in the first place.

CLENNELL: It’s a hell of an allegation to just lob out there, though, isn’t it? Do you think it’s a Labor or a Liberal person?

CLARE: Really, that’s beside the point. The point is that there’s evidence here from the head of ASIO that says another country has interfered in Australian politics, contacting a politician. He’s made the point that this is still a real threat and that we need to be on our guard against this. I think that’s a key point. Whether we’re talking about former politicians or current politicians, this is a threat that is real. But whether it’s one side or the other, the real point out of this is that this is a threat that we need to take seriously and listen to his advice when he says that if he was to reveal the name, he’d undermine the ability of ASIO to make sure that we keep the country safe and stop this from happening again.

CLENNELL: Now you had this release of your Universities Accord report, you foreshadowed last week possible cost of living measures in the Budget in your own backyard education. In terms of HECS, let me ask you a couple of things about this. Are you considering raising the tax rate at which it has to be paid back?

CLARE: That’s not one of the recommendations in the report. Let me dial back a sec, just so that people watching know what happened last week. We released a report called the Universities Accord, which is a blueprint for reform of higher education for the next decade and the decade after that. Ostensibly, what it says is that we’re going to need more people with more skills, more people with either a TAFE qualification or a university degree over the course of the next ten and twenty years.

At the moment, about 60 per cent of the workforce has a TAFE qualification or a uni degree. And this report says that by the middle of the century, so by 2050, we’ll need 80 per cent of the population to have either a TAFE qualification or a university degree. And it recommends different ways to help us to get there. But to your question, you talk about HECS and some of the reforms recommended in the report there. It says that the HECS system is sound, but we can make it fairer and simpler. It’s got some recommendations about changing the way we index it every year. It doesn’t have anything to your point about the rate that it kicks in, but it does have recommendations there about reducing the amount that you repay every year if you’re on a low income.

So, for example, the recommendation in there that was put in there by Bruce Chapman, the bloke who was the original architect of HECS, would mean that if you’re on a salary of 75 grand a year, you’d pay or repay about $1,000 less a year under the changes to repayments that are recommended in the report. So, that’s a good example of where you could have a real impact on people’s cost of living, but it’s one of 47 recommendations we’re looking at right now.

CLENNELL: All right, so you’re happy with what’s being charged for degrees at the moment. For example, you don’t want to tinker with that primary stuff. It’s more around the indexation and around low income earners.

CLARE: There is another recommendation in the report about the price of degrees. There’s recommendations there from everything – people watching would be very familiar with those fee-free TAFE courses. There’s recommendations here about fee-free university courses, the bridging courses that will help people to go from high school to university. There’s also recommendations in there about providing financial support for teaching students and nursing students when they do their prac. Then there’s a bunch of recommendations about HECS as well as the price of degrees. We’re looking at the whole report, all 47 recommendations. We can’t implement everything in it, at least not at once. So, we’re looking at what are the recommendations we need to implement first and we’ll respond to the whole report over the next few months.

CLENNELL: All right, does that mean that people could see the price of some degrees reduce out of this?

CLARE: As I said, there’s recommendations in there about the price of degrees. There’s also recommendations in there about HECS repayments. A whole bunch of recommendations there. We’re looking at all of it and we’ll respond over the course of the next few months.

CLENNELL: All right, I’m trying to get a headline out of you and you’re not helping, Jason Clare. Are you looking at a potential decrease in the cost of some degrees?

CLARE: Same answer, Andrew. We’re going to respond in the next few months.

CLENNELL: Oh, gosh, all right. Finally, will you change the indexation then, so people get a year’s respite? This is an issue we’ve spoken about before, before paying back an inflation rate. I think at the moment they’re paying back that inflation earlier than they perhaps could.

CLARE: Yeah. So, HECS doesn’t operate like a home loan or a personal loan where it goes up according to a set interest rate. It’s indexed at the moment to inflation. Obviously, inflation was very high last year and it went up by over 7 per cent. What the report recommends is that it should go up every year by either inflation or the wage price index, whatever’s lowest. So, that’s one of the recommendations that we’re looking at. Obviously, we’re now seeing inflation coming down quite considerably and we’re seeing wages going up. So, that’s a good thing for the economy. But that’s also one of the things we’ll look at when we respond to this report.

CLENNELL: Jason Clare thanks so much for your time this morning.

CLARE: No sweat.