Breaking Politics with Jim Chalmers

04 November 2014


SUBJECT/S: Higher Education Cuts; Kevin Andrews’ comments about ‘parental competence’; IPCC Report on Climate Change; Coal; Melbourne Cup

CALLUM DENNES: Joining me now is Jim Chalmers, Labor Member for Rankin in Queensland. Good Morning.


DENNES: Now, we’ve heard from some Senate crossbenchers today that they’ve been furiously lobbied by the university sector and have become convinced that maintaining the status quo when it comes to university funding is not an option. The point that they make is that the system, as it is, is broken, and both parties are guilty of making cuts and they want to deliver certainty to the sector. They’ve got a point, don’t they?

CHALMERS: Labor invested record amounts in our universities, for good reason, that’s because the only way we’ll compete into the future is if we build our stock of human capital. But the most important thing that’s been said on this issue in the last few days actually came from Joe Hockey, when he said that he’ll find any way he can to take money out of universities. And what that really tells us is that this isn’t about improving the system, it isn’t about reform. It’s about cutting money from the university sector – almost $6 billion, $6 billion – taken out of universities in the budget. That’s what all this is about; it’s not about reform or anything else like that.

DENNES: But if you change the funding mix so that students contribute more to the cost of their degrees, you do provide universities with that certainty. Because at the moment, as we’ve seen, university funding is really at the whim of the government.

CHALMERS: It is at the whim of the government, and unfortunately they are pulling out almost $6 billion out of our universities, that’s the big problem. But there’s another problem as well. When you saddle students with $100,000 degrees, with that debt sentence that the Liberal Government wants to impose on our young people, you really do risk deterring people from making that decision to go on to university. In my own electorate, I know that a lot of people would baulk at figures of that magnitude. And we don’t want to be deterring people from going to university. We don’t want them to be seeing $100,000 degrees as a reason not to sign up, to continue their education at university. That’s really the big problem we have with the Government’s university changes. And that’s why we oppose them so vehemently. We don’t want to see the Americanisation of our university sector.

DENNES: Is there any evidence that will happen? The Government points to the UK experience which is where fees have been increased substantially but there’s been no apparent drop-off in student enrolments. They also point to our HECS system as well.

CHALMERS: Nobody believes them – for good reason. And we know because of what Joe Hockey said about finding any way to take money out of universities that this isn’t about improving the student experience, it isn’t about any sophisticated modelling or anything like that. It’s a straight cut from our universities. Any excuse to jack up university fees. Unfortunately, that will deter a lot of kids around the country, including people here in my own community.

DENNES: Just finally on this issue, you accuse the Government of making cuts, but the university themselves are saying that they were underfunded during the Labor years as well. So it’s understandable that they’re pushing for funding certainty, isn’t that right?

CHALMERS: I think any objective analysis of the billions of dollars that went into universities under Labor would show that there was a tremendous increase under Education Minister Gillard and then Prime Minister Gillard. When we responded to the Bradley Review into higher education, we pumped a whole lot more money into universities. Not just for the sake of it, but because if we want to be a first-rate nation in the Asian Century, we’ve got to do what other countries are doing and that’s invest in our universities, invest in higher education and research. That’s what we did. We’ve got a very, very proud record. It stands in pretty stark contrast to what the Liberal Party’s trying to do, as described by Joe Hockey, which is to find any way to cut money from universities.

DENNES: Okay let’s move on. There are reports this morning that Kevin Andrews wants to boost parental competence and this comes on the back of his marriage counselling voucher scheme – so far only 5,000 people have taken that up. What do you make of this? Do you think it’s appropriate for the Minister for Social Services to be playing this role?

CHALMERS: I have absolutely no patience for politicians who parade around, and strut around, talking about family values at the same time as they attack living standards for families right around the country. I mean, give me a break. Kevin Andrews talking about parental standards and parental competence while he reaches into their pockets and takes from their wallets the money that they need to make ends meet.  I mean if he’s serious about parental competence, would he really be part of a Government charging $7 for visits to GPs, $100,000 university degrees, some families are copping a hit of $6,000 a year. I mean, give me a break.  I have no patience for that sort of behaviour. He struts around the country talking about family values while he is one of the main reasons that families will be doing it tougher as a result of this budget. If he’s serious about parental competence, he’ll stop making it so hard for families to make ends meet.

DENNES: He’s not cutting everywhere, he’s provided money for these marriage counselling vouchers.

CHALMERS: Yeah, and that’s one of the things that people find very hard to believe. That they’ll find $20 million for counselling vouchers at the same time as he’s cutting the pension, at the same time as he’s cutting family payments, at the same time as they’re jacking up the price of GP visits, pharmaceuticals, petrol, all of the essentials of life. And so, I think Kevin Andrews is the symbol, he’s the poster child, of the ridiculously skewed priorities in this budget, made all the worst by the speeches and grand statements that he makes about family values and parental competence. I think a lot of families around the country would see him for what he is, which is a fraud when he comes to issues around families.

DENNES: Okay, the IPCC has reported back again, and they’ve found that if the world is to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we’ll have to completely stop using fossil fuels by 2100. The coal industry has come out and said that actually coal will be a major energy provider for decades to come. What do you make of their response?

CHALMERS: I do think that the coal industry has been an important part of our prosperity to this point and I do think that it has a role to play into the future, particularly with the efforts that go into making coal cleaner as an energy source. But the reality is that Australia, like every country, needs to ensure that we are boosting our renewable energy stock. Because renewable energy is the way of the future. One of the biggest problems that we have with the Government at the moment is the way that they have jeopardised investment going into renewable energy by threatening the Renewable Energy Target and all of the other things that they’re doing in this space to make renewable energy less attractive in Australia. We were in the top four countries when it came to renewable energy investment at the change of government, now we’re at tenth or eleventh or something like that.

We are falling down the global charts when it comes to renewable energy, and that’s a great shame.  And more broadly than that, you mentioned the UN report, which is a really important report for people to get their head around. The rest of the world is going forwards on climate change, while Australia is going backwards. Strangely, bizarrely, Tony Abbott thinks he knows more about this than the economic consensus, the scientific consensus, than the UN. And what this shows is they’re really more keen to pander to the sort of lunatic fringe of climate denialism than they are of listening to our scientists and economists to come up with the most effective way to combat climate change.

DENNES: Now, this idea of clean coal, it’s something Minister Hunt is very enthusiastic about. It’s something that the coal industry has promoted, but how credible is this technology?

CHALMERS: Well I think that the coal industry has some skin in the game when it comes to making coal cleaner. They should be putting every effort into that objective and there is a lot of work going into that objective. I think that coal will have a role to play going into the future. But we do need to make sure that we’re turning our sights on to renewable energy more and more. That is the way of the future. The more that can run our economy, the more that we can cut pollution, the better. One side of politics – our side – is interested in that, the other side is unfortunately interested in trashing that objective.

DENNES: Can you see a future in 2100 where there’s virtually no use of fossil fuels?

CHALMERS: If I could predict the future, I’d be betting on the Melbourne Cup this afternoon. I don’t know about 2100, but the difference is that we take our advice from the scientists and the economists – they know their stuff. We don’t pretend that we can predict the future better than the experts in these fields. Unfortunately, Tony Abbott thinks he knows more than the scientists and the economists. I take the advice of experts. I think our policy should be driven by objective evidence and that’s why that report is so important to our thinking.

DENNES: While we’re thinking about predicting the future, we may as well segue to the Melbourne Cup. Any tips for punters?

CHALMERS: Look, I’m going to make an uncontroversial tip. I think Admire Rakti is going to win it. That’s not a particularly courageous bet, given it’s one of the favourites. But I do think it will take it out. But like a lot of people, I think I’d like to see Fawkner win.

DENNES: Alright, Jim Chalmers thanks for your time.

CHALMERS: Thank you.