Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC Radio Adelaide


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

SUBJECTS: Defence Trailblazer Program, funding for space research, Universities Accord Interim Report, HECS fees and Arts degrees

JULES SCHILLER [HOST]: Anthony Chisholm has been very patient while we walk through these issues. Anthony, I think we can hear you now?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: Thanks Jules. Good to be with you.

SCHILLER: Woohoo. Sorry, I shouldn't be that excited about turning your microphone on now.

CHISHOLM: People are often excited to meet me, Jules.

SCHILLER: Yes. Now, Senator Anthony Chisholm, as I said if you've just tuned in, he's the Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development, you've come to launch a $240 million program called Trailblazer. Look, it's about many things, I was reading about it, for the development of clean energy, but at the University of Adelaide it's about defence. So what sort of bang will we get for our buck?

CHISHOLM: Well it's really exciting because it builds on the existing defence industry here in Adelaide, which is significant. But this really provides the opportunity to bring in researchers together to collaborate. But it is also working in conjunction with the University of New South Wales, and it has a really strong engineering partnership as well. I saw this firsthand through the examples that they provided today when we launched this around hypersonics. So, testing materials about what can be used in defence. Cyber security, which is obviously so vital for all parts of society these days but particularly government and defence industry as well. So, it really goes to the existing capabilities, but I suppose it's exciting about the amount of money that's being invested, the amount of expertise it's going to bring, but also the partnerships with existing industry.

SCHILLER: So yeah, you're partnering with commercial organisations, are we talking like BAE?


SCHILLER: People like that?

CHISHOLM: I think the really great thing was it did have significant prime, so the bigger defence establishment, but it also had start‑ups and things that were innovative that really were looking to turbo charge and partner with universities. So, an amazing radar system that fits on a backpack that can be used in all sorts of ways across the country. It really is quite an amazing space. It's obviously important for our national security and future geopolitical challenges, and it's really great that this can be taking place in Adelaide that already has a great defence industry but creating those jobs of the future.

SCHILLER: Just on cyber security alone, I mean it was kind of an idea that, you know, we’re worried about getting our emails hacked from time to time and we'd have an expert on saying, you know, make your passwords more secure. But lately with hacks into Optus and medical companies you see that this threat is real and it's here now, and if we were experiencing it I can only imagine what the defence industry is having to do to protect their vital data. So even in that space alone you would need to invest a fair bit of money to stay ahead of the game on that, Anthony.

CHISHOLM:  It is, and some of the participants there and the university staff that were talking me through it, it is quite phenomenal what they're already achieving when they're already trying to break their systems to learn how to defend it. So, it's quite a fascinating area, it's an important area and it's one obviously that there's enormous application outside of the defence industry and it gives you a sense of how applicable some of these issues can be across the broader community which is so important.

SCHILLER: AI, do you discuss this as much when it comes to defence, because I mean we're told AI is going to shape so many aspects of our life. I mean the education industry alone, universities, high schools are having to grapple with plagiarism and AI being used. My job could be done by AI at certain points. I'm not sure if, you know, speeches in the House that you might give your future Senators for Queensland might give using AIs. Do you know how the defence industry is looking at how to grapple with that?

CHISHOLM: I get the sense that across universities and industry more broadly that they are excited about the opportunity, but they're also guarded about ensuring that there's protocols to use it in the right way. I get the opportunity to talk to Vice Chancellors and staff from universities across the country and they're all working really hard to ensure they have good systems in place. One, to protect their students and ensure that there's good quality, but then also there's the opportunity that it brings about testing things and new ideas. So, it's about finding a way to get the benefits without any of the down sides and protect the integrity of the system as well

SCHILLER: So with this announcement today, if you've just tuned in you're listening to Senator Anthony Chisholm, he's the Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development, he's launching Trailblazer which is a $240 million project. As far as Adelaide's concerned, Adelaide's leading the defence component of that, lots of money going in to fund research with commercial partners to protect I guess our country through technology for the next few years. Do you think this cements Adelaide's status as the defence State? Because we're long worried about jobs going interstate, Anthony, do you think this cements that?

CHISHOLM: I did say in my speech today that it does obviously fit as the natural home for this. There is the partnership with University of New South Wales. Both universities have put in their own money as well, so it shows you how invested they are, and then there's the expectation that there'll be industry partners that will contribute about $140, $150 million to the program. I think it does build in that excitement about AUKUS, the defence industry. Already the additional university places that have been provided to South Australia are in that area. So, I've got no doubt if you're a high school student at the moment you're hopefully, I don't know if you'll be listening to this necessarily, but you're hopefully picking up on the opportunities and thinking about what you're doing at high school and what that can translate to, not only for higher education, but also the contribution you can make to the country at the same time in such an important area.

SCHILLER: Well if you could attach a couple of Taylor Swift tickets to these research programs you'll have all the teenagers signing up, Anthony.

CHISHOLM: My girls would be there, I know.

SCHILLER: Can I ask you about space though because, you know, our State Government seems to have pulled funding from space and Adelaide of course is home to the National Space Agency, and you've got a space component of this. A lot of it's going to Queensland. Is Adelaide the centre of the space industry anymore?

CHISHOLM: It certainly is a key part of it, and they were one of the partners with University of Southern Queensland, so there's obviously an understanding of the expertise that's involved with the universities here in South Australia. We think it's important. I was again blown away by the opportunity to talk to some of the people involved in the space agency. There's obviously a really close link between some of the things we're seeing in defence and the link to space, for instance, around hypersonic and the testing capabilities as well, and there were representatives from the space Trailblazer there today. So, I've got no doubt that there'll be good collaboration between the two and good opportunity for the universities here to be involved.

SCHILLER: So as far as you're concerned the National Space Agency will stay in Adelaide?

CHISHOLM: I haven't heard anything different, Jules, but it's not really one I'd make an announcement on myself.

SCHILLER: All right. Finally, Anthony, tertiary education when it comes to Arts degrees. We've done talk‑back on this show. I mean we know that in 2021 an Arts degree went up 113 per cent when it came to HECS. So, you can pay up to $15,000 a year in HECS doing an Arts degree, $4000 doing psychology or engineering. I mean the rationale behind that was explained by the previous government, you know, they wanted more people going into courses that will get them straight into certain professions. You look at reports now, it hasn't worked. Just as many people are studying Arts. They want to study Arts, but they've just got higher HECS fees, and we know with the interest rates now they're going to take decades to pay it back. Would your government or are they considering changing those higher HECS fees?

CHISHOLM: I'm a great example of someone who I think has benefited from an Arts degree. So, I did that back in the late 90s and found it really key to building my career. The Interim Universities Accord Report came down this week and it really highlighted the deficiencies in the previous government's announcements and the fact that it didn't actually lead to more people studying maths or becoming teachers, and it actually led to an increase in Arts degrees. So, it shows you they are always popular to do the degree and you can build a great career for it. What the interim report did was really highlight the challenges and the deficiencies in what was announced, and it talked through that this is something that the Federal Government wants to tackle, and we are going to look at solutions to that in the final report. It's really hard to change the HECS system in a one‑off. It really needs to be done in the whole system and that's what I expect the work that will be ongoing between now and the final report in the latter of the year.

SCHILLER: When is the final report going to be handed down?

CHISHOLM: By the end of the year.

SCHILLER: So, based on the findings you could look at realigning the system.


SCHILLER: Back to where it's not as expensive to do Arts or culture degrees?

CHISHOLM: Yeah, and that's what the report really identified. The problems that it's brought in terms of the cost and it hasn't actually led to any changes. They've remained as popular, if not more popular, as they have been for a long time.

SCHILLER: It's interesting because Rishi Sunak, the British PM, described them as Mickey Mouse degrees today, Arts degrees, and wanted to cap the amount of placements. It's funny that the old Arts degree, and I did a combined degree with Arts as well, is that it's attracting so much controversy. Kim from Hallett Cove has called in. 1300 222 891. G'day, Kim.

CALLER: How are you going?

SCHILLER: Good. You could have called in earlier when we were having technical problems, Kim, we would have chatted. But what's your point?

CALLER: Well you weren't talking about the Arts degrees when it happened.

SCHILLER: Yes, yes. No, we were talking about the defence aspect, but obviously Anthony Chisholm is also the Assistant Minister for Education, so it was good to bring that up with him too, Kim. What's your point?

CALLER: I'm cynical enough to believe that the Morrison Government was motivated to make Arts degrees more expensive simply because they produce ‑ and this is a generalisation, I get that ‑ but they produce the sort of people who wouldn't vote for his side of politics.

SCHILLER: No, you wouldn't be that cynical, Kim, would you? So that's your view, that more people who did Arts degrees would not vote for the Liberal Party so that's why they wanted to discourage people from doing it.

CALLER: Yeah, I think they tend to produce sort of more left leaning politically thinking people in Arts degrees, you know, sociology, all those sorts of things. My wife works in universities, so I've had contact with university people and that's what I'm left thinking.

SCHILLER: I mean universities, you know, have a reputation for being more left wing. Anthony, I mean would you agree with Kim's view? It's a bit of a hot potato for you there.

CHISHOLM: Well I can say that I did meet the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers on my first day of university, so we certainly upheld our end of the bargain and both of us did Arts degrees, which I think have served us pretty well.

SCHILLER: But they were cheaper for us.

CHISHOLM: They were.

SCHILLER: Than they are for current students.

CHISHOLM: I was very lucky, when I actually started my degree, I got one week of the Keating Government, which I was very grateful for, because when John Howard won he did jack up the cost of Arts degrees. So, there is a bit of a common theme I think when you look at the treatment of Arts degrees by conservative governments. But we want to see, I think the great part about going to university is the free-flowing ideas and the engagement with people. We want that to be a thriving part, we don't want it to be dominated by one particular ideology, but it is a really great part of being at university is engaging with other students from different walks of life, and we want to ensure that as many people as possible can go to university and thrive and enjoy it.

SCHILLER: Senator Anthony Chisholm, thanks for coming in.

CHISHOLM: Thanks Jules.

SCHILLER: I know you've got a plane to catch, but I'm sure we'll catch up at some other point when you're next in South Australia. Cheers. Senator Anthony Chisholm there.