Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC Brisbane Radio


Senator the Hon Anthony Chisholm
Assistant Minister for Education
Assistant Minister for Regional Development

KELLY HIGGINS‑DEVINE [HOST]: If you're studying, you have studied, or you're planning to study, there's a fair bit to unpack out of last night's Federal Budget. Some good news for students, many will now get paid for placements, there's some HECS debt relief. But some tough news for universities, who will be forced to cap numbers of overseas student enrolments as part of Labor's efforts to ease pressure on Australia's housing market and slash the migration intake ahead of the next election. Queensland Labor Senator, Anthony Chisholm is the Assistant Minister for Education. Good afternoon. 

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: Good afternoon, Kelly, good to be with you. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: All right. Let's start with the students. Who's going to get paid to do practical work that was previously unpaid?

CHISHOLM: Yeah, really exciting announcement, this one. I spend a lot of time across the country, and I meet with a lot of nursing, teaching and students who are studying social work who have to go and do long periods of prac, and the announcement that we made as part of the Budget is that they'll receive just over $300 to help them do that. So, a lot of the people that I've met who are doing those courses often have care‑giver responsibilities, they often have to give up work whilst they are doing that prac. So, it's just a recognition of the sacrifice that they're making and the support that the Federal Government can give them, and obviously we need more nurses, we need more teachers, and we need more social workers as well. So it hopefully will encourage more people to take up those courses. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: Okay. So that's $300 a week while they're doing those pracs? 

CHISHOLM: That's correct, yeah, and some of them have to do multiple weeks, so it will just be that little boost to acknowledge that they do often have to sacrifice, some of them would have to get other care‑giving responsibilities in place as well, and it's just the Federal Government recognising that we want to support them, but we also want to encourage more people to study those courses as well. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: Yep. So when does this kick in, this payment? 

CHISHOLM: Kicks in from 1 July next year. So work will start now on how we design it, and how we implement it.

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: All right. Does it need to take that long, necessarily?

CHISHOLM: It's reasonably complex in terms of how we do it. We've got multiple jurisdictions; it cuts across both the higher education and the vocational education sector as well. So, we believe there is a bit of work to do and starting it, obviously, at the start of a financial year makes it a lot neater. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: All right. Let's get to HECS debt relief, because the last rise was crazy big in terms of that seven per cent. How much is going to be wiped off that HECS debt? 

CHISHOLM: So it works out to be $3 billion, it will make the difference by adjusting it back from last year, and for the average student that means about a $1,200 saving as part of that. But I think more broadly what this means longer term, Kelly, is that we don't want the cost of a higher education degree to be a barrier for people studying. I'm someone who benefitted from the HECS system, I started a long time ago. And I know that I wouldn't have been able to study, being the first in my family to do it if it wasn't for the HECS scheme. It's been an outstanding success, but we want to make sure that it's fit‑for‑purpose, and we don't have what we've seen with some of the extraordinary economic circumstances that it's been punishing students. So it's a sensible change, it's a much needed change, but I think longer term it means that a higher education degree will remain affordable for so many more people. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: So, what is the change that's being made permanent to how it's going to be implemented; the percentage of what the debt will be?

CHISHOLM: So basically, what it means now is that what will apply is whatever is lower between the CPI and the Wage Price Index. So that means that the lower form of that will ensure that that's applied to the debt, so you won't get the larger rise that we saw last year, which we've managed to avoid. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: ABC Radio Brisbane. You're with Kelly Higgins‑Devine, Queensland Labor Senator, Anthony Chisholm is the Assistant Minister for Education. We're talking about some of the things that came up in last night's Federal Budget. It's 13 past 4. Okay, let's go to the university front. Forcing caps on the number of international students that universities can accept. Why would you do that? Aren't you punishing them for their success?

CHISHOLM: No, what we've seen, and I think you've got to go back and remember what happened during COVID when obviously the international student sector was completely wiped out in this country. So that did enormous damage, and then obviously once the borders were re‑opened, we've seen an extraordinary influx, so much so that the sector is now worth more than what it was when COVID hit. So it has come back strongly, but also at the same time, we want to make sure that it is sustainable, and what we've seen with the growth is we've seen some unscrupulous operators come in and operate in this sector around the recruitment strategies, and often bringing people in that have not really been focused on study and more focused on getting into work. So we've cracked down on that, but we also want to ensure that it's sustainable, and it's nothing better than seeing, going to university campuses and seeing the diversity, not only in Brisbane, but I see it up at James Cook University in Cairns as well. It’s a fantastic industry, it's a really important one, but we need to make sure it's sustainable, and importantly that universities are doing their part to ensure that they're accommodating these international students as well, and that hasn't been keeping up with the pace. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: Okay. So in terms of that, it was really only this last financial year though, wasn't it, where the number of international students that were coming in really boomed. They weren't expecting that same boom next year, were they? 

CHISHOLM: No, they weren't, but it's also important that it goes back to being a sustainable industry that the country can provide for, and the universities need to play their role in that as well. So overall the net migration levels will come down next year, but the university sector will continue to support international students, which is important, and they are an important part of our community now, but this measure will ensure that it's sustainable and that the unscrupulous operators are eradicated from the system that are exploiting people, and people who want to come here genuinely to study will be accepted. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: Okay. I just want to play for you ‑ I spoke yesterday with Vicki Thompson, who's the CEO of the Group of Eight, which is the eight leading research‑intensive unis. She highlighted the importance of foreign students to the economy. 


VICKI THOMPSON [Go8 CEO]: So the National Australia Bank analysis from last year showed that international student expenditure accounted for more than half of Australia's GDP growth. So that's significant. It's our largest services export sector, and I think something that a lot of people don't necessarily appreciate is that in Australia it's universities that do a large share of research. The Group of Eight, which, as you quite rightly said, includes the University of Queensland, we do around 70 per cent of all of Australia's university‑based research. We spend about $7.7 billion annually on research. We get around $2.8 billion from the Federal Government. That gap is largely funded by fee revenue from international students. So not only are international students contributing to skills, to our economy, they're also funding a large proportion of our national research effort.

[End of Excerpt] 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: Aren't we in danger of possibly harming our research levels if we're going to cap the number of international students?  

CHISHOLM: No, I'm confident that we'll continue to have strong numbers in international students, but it will be done in a sustainable way, and it will enable the universities to plan better longer term. We've obviously made ‑‑ 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: Sorry, can I interrupt, Senator. You say, "in a sustainable way". In what way is it ‑ seeing as we don't know, we haven't seen yet, of course, what's going to happen in the next year or the next two years, and we're basing this decision off the boom of last financial year, which the unis are saying isn't going to happen again, we're just getting those levels back, how do we know that we're not at a sustainable level now, that actually cutting that is going to be damaging? 

CHISHOLM: Because what this will actually do is provide the framework to ensure that we're getting the students who are coming here for the right reasons, that they want to study, and that they are going through proper accredited providers who actually have the people on the ground to verify that, and they will continue to enjoy university life, add to the vibrancy of the nation, be part of research, in strong numbers, because we do accept that it is an important industry for the country and for Queensland and for Brisbane. So, this is about putting a proper framework in place to ensure that we've got the settings right, that we've got the accommodation right for these students to come into, that they're not being exploited, and they'll continue to thrive on universities and the universities will benefit from their endeavours. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: Okay. So on that housing front, what do universities have to do if they want to increase their cap? 

CHISHOLM: That's what will be worked through between the Department and the university sector over the next couple of months as we get that framework in place. Obviously the aim of that needs to be ensuring that we get more appropriate student accommodation built. It is something that has been lagging behind in terms of the opportunity for universities to do that, but we know that there is a good opportunity to do it, and it needs to be an important part of the international student experience to ensure that they do have a good place to stay whilst they're here, that's convenient to campus, and that they can add to the vibrancy of campus life as well. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: I find this interesting, not that I have a problem with, you know, students having accommodation built for them. But there doesn't seem to be any other industry, really, where that industry is forced to find accommodation for its workers. Maybe fly‑in‑fly out, but the mines are kind of doing that for their workers, if you know what I mean, 'cause they're in remote areas. But is there any other ‑ if I'm a hairdressing salon and I get an immigrant worker who comes in, and a skilled worker, then I'm not forced to find them a place to live, or any other ‑ bakeries, for example. Why universities rather than any other industry?

CHISHOLM: Because obviously when they come in, they're going to be geographically located around the campuses. These are often located closer to the cities. More often than not, they’re not obviously going to be coming with transport, so they need to be accommodated where it's close to public transport and accessible to the campus. We think that it's important for the sustainability of the sector long‑term, and for it to continue and to enjoy public confidence, that this is part of the assessment when we're looking at the numbers that a university's to bring in. I think it's a fair and reasonable measure, and I certainly hope that the universities embrace the opportunity that this is going to present them. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: Okay. Let's go to our public schools. The Australian Education Union says it's disappointed there was no increase in the Commonwealth share of public school funding. I just want to play you a bit of President Correna Haythorpe who was talking about this, and she said that public school teachers will continue to be starved of support while private schools are provided additional cash. 


CORRENA HAYTHORPE [AEU PRESIDENT]: We've got escalating work costs, we have chronic teacher shortages, and we have students who have increasingly complex needs, who are denied the funding by governments to address those needs.

[End of Excerpt] 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: Isn't it time to actually stop the extras, paying for the extras for private schools? 

CHISHOLM: Well, and that we do get the right reforms in place to lift standards at schools, not only in Brisbane, but across the state. I spend a lot of time in regional and remote areas, and the results that we've been getting in those places aren't good enough. What we are in the process of doing across the country is negotiating those new school funding ‑ putting those new school funding agreements in place. We haven't reached agreement yet with Queensland, but I know that progress is being made. I expect that once those agreements are signed, it will lift those standards, it will lift the amount of money that's going to schools. But importantly, it can't just be about more money, it actually needs to be about improving standards and improving outcomes for students, cause that has what has been lacking at the same time. So that's why we need to link the two together. That's the work that's really ongoing at the moment between the state and federal jurisdictions, not only in Queensland, but across the country. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: Can I just ask, if we're not having improving standards, then why do we still have NAPLAN? Doesn't that tell us that over the years and years that NAPLAN has been running that we've been throwing millions and millions of dollars into it, that it's actually completely and utterly useless if nothing is actually improved?

CHISHOLM: I've got a grade fiver, so I've just gone through the NAPLAN myself, Kelly, and I certainly think that ‑ and the changes that were made to NAPLAN have really gone to this about the test being done earlier in the year, the results coming back earlier in the year, so that it can actually form part of the opportunity to improve student outcomes. So, we have made changes to accommodate NAPLAN and ensure that it is used more beneficially. I think it does provide an important national benchmark. It does highlight the fact that we need to do better. I don't know anyone who isn't saying that we need to do better, and it does enable us to track that over time, and particularly under the new standards that have been in place that will now apply across the board, I think that we do see a relatively new version, and relatively new testing regimes that will hopefully improve school and student outcomes as well. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: My daughter's now 21. It made absolutely no difference to anything, nothing changed, absolutely nothing over those years. It’s - anyhow, you're going to put your money into it, and go ahead. All it does is create league tables for News Corp. That's all it does.So, but you know, if there are no improvements, there have been no improvements, the same states are doing well, the same cashed up schools are doing well. I do not understand why we would keep throwing good money after bad. 

CHISHOLM: I think the difference this time, Kelly, is that it being done earlier, and then having the results provided earlier mean that it's more likely to be able to have an influence in the classroom. So I ‑

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: I know you disagree with me being ‑ 

CHISHOLM: No, no, I accept what you've been saying from an historical point of view, but I think these new changes that have been made that have only just been implemented do deserve the opportunity to work. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: All right. Labor Senator, Anthony Chisholm, thank you so much for chatting with me today. 

CHISHOLM: No worries, Kelly, good to be with you, and I think clanger on the vote by the way, if I get to have a vote. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: Clanger, really? 

CHISHOLM: Yeah, no good. 

HIGGINS‑DEVINE: Wow, that's ‑ I think at the moment you're actually in the majority on that one. Thank you, Senator. 

CHISHOLM: No worries, Kelly. Thank you.