Television Interview with Kieran Gilbert – Sky News – Monday 6 May 2024

MONDAY, 6 MAY 2024

SUBJECTS: Commonwealth Prac Payment; making HECS-HELP fairer; university protests; NSW electoral redistribution.

KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s return now to the Budget. A big announcement on higher education today. Joining me is the Education Minister, Jason Clare. And you’ve announced the prac payments for those studying nursing, teaching. Is it in your scope to broaden that to other professions potentially?

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: What the Universities Accord Report said is that we should start with teaching, early educators as well, so, the teachers in our early education centres, nurses, midwives as well, and people doing social work degrees. They’re the sort of people you see in domestic violence refuges, helping people who are escaping domestic violence. These are people doing some of the most important jobs in our country.

GILBERT: Will we see more people do it now? Because of these payments?

CLARE: The Accord said focus on them first, so that’s where we’re focused.

GILBERT: But will you get more people into teaching and nursing because of this?

CLARE: I hope so. I think it’ll potentially do two things. One, as people see this, encourage more people to want to be a teacher or a nurse. These are people who are teaching our kids, looking after us when we’re sick or in aged care centres when we’re old, but hopefully help more people to finish the degree, because this thing called placement poverty is real. A lot of nursing and teaching students have told me that it’s hard to finish the degree. They can do the theory, but when it comes to doing the prac they’ve got to give up the part time job so they don’t have the money to pay the rent or pay the bills. And there’s plenty of examples of people either delaying the prac or not finishing the degree. So, this is not just about encouraging people to want to go to uni and be a teacher or a nurse, but helping them to finish the degree.

GILBERT: Your critics are saying that you’re delaying it. Why is it starting July next year and not this year?

CLARE: We’ve got to introduce legislation to implement it. Just like the HECS changes that I announced yesterday that are going to make HECS fairer and cut the cost of HECS, a lot of the things that you’ll see in the Budget, including what we announced today and what we announced yesterday, require legislation. There’s also work that we need to do on the design of it. It’s intended that this is means tested. So, we get this money not to everybody, but to the people who really need it, who will make a difference about whether they finish the course or not. And so I want to do the detailed design work with students, unions, universities. That’ll be part of an implementation advisory committee that I’ll set up.

GILBERT: On the HECS or the HELP loans that you spoke about. Again, those that want you to go further say they’d like you to increase the Austudy payment now. Is that, are you open to that?

CLARE: That’s something that we did in the Budget last year. What we announced yesterday wipes $3 billion of HECS debt and reduces the HECS debt or the HELP debt for more than three million Australians. And it takes up that recommendation from the Universities Accord and goes further. What they recommended is that we should set the indexation rate for HECS at either inflation or wages, whatever’s the lowest. We’re going to do that, but we’re going to backdate it to 1 June last year when that big hike in indexation happened. So, it wipes that out.

GILBERT: No, it’s a big deal, and I think those advocates have welcomed, but they’re saying you need to go further. They want you to increase Austudy more.

CLARE: The point I’d make is the Universities Accord is not just about HECS. It’s not just about paid placement. It’s a big report with 47 recommendations to reform higher education for the next decade and beyond. It’s bigger than one Budget, but we’ve got to start now, and you’ll see in the Budget the full first stage of our response to that report. But it’s going to take multiple ministers, multiple governments to make sure that we reform the higher education system to set us up for the future that’s ahead of us. The report says that by the middle of the century, when you and I are no longer here, but when our kids are in the workforce, that 80 per cent of people in the workforce need a TAFE qualification or a uni degree. And that at its core is what that report’s about. The reforms to get there.

GILBERT: The Job-ready graduates, that reform under the Morrison government, it’s seen a lot of people, students have to pay more for their degree as opposed to government support. Are you going to change that? Will you reverse that? Because it does seem inequitable right now.

CLARE: I said at the press conference with the PM this morning that if the intent of that was to get fewer people to do arts degrees, then it had failed, because there’s more people, last time I checked, doing arts degrees now than when that was originally implemented. Again, it’s one of the 47 recommendations. What you’ll see on Budget night is stage one, but it won’t be: here’s what we’re going to do, and we’re not doing the rest. What we’ll be setting out is: here are our top priorities. Here are the things that we need to do first.

GILBERT: Okay. On the Pro-Palestinian protests, what’s your sense of where the protests are now? Are you comfortable with where things are right now in terms of our university campuses?

CLARE: What I’ve said to university vice-chancellors is there’s nothing more important than the safety of students. Students shouldn’t feel afraid to go to university. And the fact is some Jewish students do feel afraid to go to university. They’ve told me so, their parents have told me so. I’ve told university vice-chancellors that, there’s a right to protest. This is a democracy. We’re not Russia. But there’s no place for hate and there’s no place for antisemitism, or, for that matter, Islamophobia. In the lifetime of our grandparents we’ve all seen the evil that antisemitism can wreak, and that universities have got an obligation to make sure that their codes of conduct are implemented. To be fair, you’re seeing evidence of that now, whether it’s ANU, with disciplinary action being considered against certain students, or Queensland University.

GILBERT: So, they’re taking that seriously. What you said about Jewish students should be allowed to go to class and learn like the rest of us.

CLARE: Absolutely. And not feel afraid to go to uni. Last week I asked my department to –

GILBERT: And your vice-chancellors, all of them, are taking heed of that?

CLARE: I think so. Evidence of that is a meeting that I asked my department to convene last week. The head of my department convened a meeting with the universities and Jewish students and representatives from the Jewish community. The key point that came out of that meeting is some of the things the unis are doing. They’re not telling Jewish students and we’ve got to improve communication.

GILBERT: Finally, a redistribution in NSW looming. You could be up against Dai Le, the member for Fowler, in a potential contest at the next election. You feel confident up against the independent? I know you grew up in, in that part of the world. You know it well.

CLARE: There is no point talking about boundaries until they’re set by the Electoral Commission. The great thing about this country is that we’ve got an independent Electoral Commission that set the boundaries up. The Liberal Party recommended abolishing my seat and I sort of take that as a badge of honour. The National Party said we should abolish Albo’s seat. The parties don’t get to decide this. The Electoral Commission sets it. There’ll always be boundaries set up where I grew up. And if I get the chance to continue in this Parliament, representing the people of Western Sydney, then that’d be a privilege that I would relish.

GILBERT: You take the, the cards you’re dealt with, I guess in a sense.

CLARE: Yeah, exactly right.

GILBERT: Jason Clare. Talk to you soon.

CLARE: Thanks, mate.

GILBERT: Appreciate it.