Release type: Transcript


Interview - Sky News Regional Breakfast


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

SUBJECTS: New Country Universities Centre, National School Reform Agreement, Child care in regional Australia.

LUCY POLKINGHORNE [HOST]: Cape York’s Country Universities Centre in Cooktown officially launches today. It is one of eight new regional university centres scheduled to open from this year under the Australian Government's Regional University Centres program. For more, I'm joined live now by Anthony Chisholm, Assistant Minister for Regional Development. Anthony, good morning to you. Firstly. What more can you tell us about the Australian Government's Regional University Centres program?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: They've been a really successful program, Lucy, it's good to be with you. It’s an exciting day here in Cooktown, where the new centre opens, there's been a lot of community work led by the council that have gone into this. They've already got 20 students registered to study, a quarter of those are indigenous. And the thing for me is that given the remoteness of this location, there's no guarantee that those 20 people would be studying unless you had a centre here in town. So, I think it shows you that it does offer up more opportunity for more people across the country to study. That's something the government's passionate about and it's a good thing for the country as well.

POLKINGHORNE: Absolutely and the goal is to open eight in total by the end of the year. So, what other locations have been pinpointed for other university centres?

CHISHOLM: There's a centre due to be open soon in Mount Isa. I recently opened one on the Tablelands nearby, I opened one recently or helped to open one recently in the Wheatbelt in Western Australia. So, they are spread geographically around the country. That's in addition to the 26 that are already operating as well. So, we know that they've been an outstanding success and I think it's something like 3,400 students across the country are studying at these centres. The good thing is they've been community led, so it's often members of the community that have got together and say, we want to form one of these centres. And then the Federal Government comes in and provides some help, whether it be some capital funding or whether it be some ongoing funding to ensure that they're well-staffed and providing those opportunities for not only young Australians, but also older Australians who live in these areas who want to study as well.

POLKINGHORNE: Absolutely. One of the biggest issues for regional and rural areas is losing young professionals to study in urban areas and then not regaining them as they choose to stay in urban areas. So, is this part of the government's solution, I guess, to try and keep graduates in our regional and rural centres?

CHISHOLM: Absolutely. Because if you think about it, what we know is that if a nurse or teacher studies in a regional setting, they're more likely to stay there. So, that's obviously great news when we do have shortages when it comes to teaching and health staff in many communities across the country. So, if you can stay local and study, you're much more likely to end up working there long term. But what we're also noticing is that it might be a partner's gone to work in one of these towns, and then the other person in that relationship says "Well, what am I going to do while I'm here? I might study." So, it's expanding that opportunity for people and it's giving young people that inspiration locally that they can go to university or do further study without having to move away to a capital city.

POLKINGHORNE: Well, health professionals and attracting health professionals to our regions and rural areas is one of the biggest issues many centres face. There are calls from some medical experts for mandatory rural placements for medical students to help provide immediate relief to struggling clinics, and it could be the solution to health worker shortages in the bush. Is this something that you support?

CHISHOLM: I know it's a significant challenge and I won't go out of my lane and start endorsing policies, but what I do know is that we are looking at what we can do, not only in the health space, but also in the education space as well. I spent Friday in Canberra last week with education professionals from around the country talking about the National School Reform Agreement, and there were some really innovative ideas about what we can do to ensure we have as many teachers as possible working in remote locations, but also that they've got the skills to prosper in those areas as well. We know that the health sector is a significant challenge. I see that on my travels throughout Queensland and the rest of Australia. So, I'm sure the government will be looking at what we can do to be innovative and help provide those solutions for those communities.

POLKINGHORNE: Anthony, on another note, big talking point today. Obviously, Labor's new, Cheaper Child Care policy kicks off officially today, so welcome relief for millions of families who are doing it tough in this cost of living crisis. However, the primary issue for regional and remote families is accessibility, more so than affordability, with not enough centres or early childcare educators to keep centres open. Is this something that the government is planning to address? Because obviously, affordability being the first step, but as I mentioned, accessibility is the biggest issue for many in regional areas.

CHISHOLM: It is a significant day today, so 1.2 million families across the country will benefit from Labor's cheaper child care plans. But there are challenges in regional and remote communities, which I acknowledge. We looked at the ACCC report recently, and they did say that there are challenges in regional areas, but the cost in regional areas was actually lower than it is in the cities. So, we're very interested in what the final ACCC report will say and the recommendations it will provide, because we are doing some good things in regional areas in terms of providing funding for some centres, working with councils in other areas to ensure that there is a service. But it is evident that the ACCC will provide further recommendations about what we can do to improve services in regional Australia and at the end of the day, that's good for families, but it's also good for the children as well because we know they'll get a good start in life if they are attending early childhood education.

POLKINGHORNE: Anthony Chisholm, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

CHISHOLM: Thanks, Lucy.