Transcript - ABC Illawarra - Budget-In-Reply, 6 May 2016




FRIDAY, 6 MAY 2015


SUBJECT/S: Budget-In-Reply, announcement to cap VET FEE-HELP loans at $8,000


JOURNALIST: Really it was an election pitch, wasn’t it, casting Labor as the underdogs although we all know from recent polls that things are getting tighter and tighter as the July 2nd election approaches, both sides accusing the other of being all politics and no plan.


Joining me now is the Labor Member for Cunningham and the Opposition Spokesperson on Vocational Education, Sharon Bird. Sharon Bird good morning….


BIRD:  Good morning


JOURNALIST: All politics no plan is what Matias Corman has said about Bill Shorten’s speech last night and he really casted it in terms of this being about big business versus battlers, is that how you see the difference between the Coalition and Labor as we come close to an election?


BIRD:  Well to be honest if you looked at the government’s budget on Tuesday night and Bill Shorten’s reply last night I think the evidence is pretty much there that the priorities have been set by the government in their budget and the reality is that that in my area about 70 per cent of people will get no tax relief because they earn under $80,000 but people who earn over a $180,000 will get a tax cut. I think most people would judge that as being pretty unfair.


It’s the same thing with the cut to the business tax rate, we have no problem with small businesses getting a bit of a break but most people have understood small business, for a long time, to be those that turn over less than $2 million dollars. This government has got a sneaky little trick that they are trying to get away with. They are redefining small business as anyone with turnover under a billion dollars. Now we won’t support that and we believe that the cuts that are in the budget to health and to education reflect a wrong priority for the country. We need to be investing in education to give people a good chance at the jobs that they will need to take in the future, setting up their own small business but we have seen nothing but cuts…


JOURNALIST: Just to talk about the tax cuts for a moment, Bill Shorten was basically framing these tax cuts for small business who do have much larger turnovers, the businesses that have turnovers of 10 million dollars or less and more who the Coalition is planning to give tax cuts to over time.


Bill Shorten was basically acting as if that was an act of generosity on the part of the Coalition.


Surely Labor still recognises the stimulus effect that that can have in job creation by cutting taxes for much larger corporations as well. My understanding is that tax cuts for very small businesses don’t actually lead to extra jobs as much as they do for larger businesses.


BIRD: Bill has been pretty clear that our view is that when you do a budget you have to address priorities. Of course there are lots of arguments for all sorts of things to be cut or money to be spent on them, you have got limited capacity to do that and so you then set where your priorities will be for the nation and you fund those or you provide that sort of cost relief.


For us the government has been claiming it’s getting the budget back into balance, it’s not, it’s tripled the deficit in that time and at the same time they are pulling out of the sorts of investments that actually drive jobs and growth and that is fundamentally education and infrastructure. If you look at most of the business sector submissions to budgets over many, many years now they are constantly saying to the government that you need to invest in education and infrastructure to get us the platform we need to grow.


Then tax cuts are something that people will always want to have and the big business is no different to anyone else but when you do have a restrained budget situation we argue that you actually spend your money on the investment areas where you get a much bigger pay off and you can guarantee that everyone gets a chance. Tax cuts may end up going to a small group of shareholders, and as Bill said last night, probably overseas share-holders, we want people who need education and jobs to be able to get their chance of getting into the market.


JOURNALIST: I just want to touch on education as well because of course this is your portfolio, Vocational Education. Bill Shorten talked about Labor supporting a publicly funded TAFE, he talked about a crack-down on dodgy private colleges. It has been criticised by the government this morning saying that this crackdown could result in students paying up-front fees and that basically it could mean that it sends a signal to the market that everyone can charge $8,000 given Labor intends to put a cap on loans over $8,000 per student per year for vocational training, what would you say to those criticisms?


BIRD: It has been very, very clear to us for quite a while now, since about the middle of 2014, when the massive explosion started in people being signed up to very poor quality, massively over-priced courses, that something had to be done and we have been calling on the government to do that. We have moved amendments to the bills to try and get some measures in place to control the blow out and we believe that our public TAFE system has to be the dominant backbone of the system because it’s the one that provides for everybody, that provides for regional and rural areas, and to make sure there is some comparison for quality and price in that market.


The government has, after two and a half years, released a discussion paper that will lead to another discussion paper, we just don’t accept that that is enough action and we do believe that, having looked at the examples such as the IPART Report of NSW with how much NSW TAFE charges for these courses, that $8,000 per year per student is a very reasonable amount.


JOURNALIST: We might now see all courses magically costing $8,000?


BIRD:  It will be interesting and this is why I don’t accept the government’s response at all. We have made provision, there are some very, very expensive courses to run for example aviation, and we have made provision that people can make an application to the Minister for an exemption for a higher course but they are going to have to make the case that it is a legitimate cost. We are not just going to accept diplomas consistently costing far more than it costs to do a University degree.


JOURNALIST:  Sharon Bird we will have to leave it there, thanks for your time, I’m sure we will be talking plenty of times in the next couple of months.


BIRD: Thank you, no problem.


JOURNALIST: Sharon Bird who is the Labor Member for Cunningham and the Opposition Spokesperson on Vocational Education.