SUBJECTS: Universities Accord Interim Report; Paid placements; Sexual assault and harassment in universities.
CLAUDIA LONG: Hello Minister, welcome.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: How are you?
LONG: Good, good, good. We're just getting the minute mic'd up as you can see, and soon we'll start getting to the questions. Thank you for coming up straight after the division.
CLARE: No, not at all, I'm so sorry.
LONG: Oh, no, that's all right. It's live, you know, it's live, and that's the good thing about Social is that, you know, we don't have the broadcast deadline, so we're all flexible. Thank you very much for joining us.
CLARE: And no TV ads, right?
LONG: No TV ads, I know. So no one scroll, because otherwise you might get ads. So no telly ads. Thank you so much, Minister, for joining us today.
CLARE: No at all, thank you.
LONG: I was just introducing the viewers who are here with us to you, and what you do as your role as Education Minister. Can you, I guess, just explain a little bit about the number of different kinds of education that you're responsible for?
CLARE: From the very, very young Australians, little children as young as my one‑year‑old that are in early education and care, through to people that are doing their PhDs at university, or going back to university to do a second degree in their 50s or their 60s or their 70s. I'm in charge of everything from early education through to schools, through to uni.
When I got this job a year ago my eldest little boy, who's six, said, "Dad, are you in charge of schools?" And I said, "Sort of." And he said, "Well, can you ring my teacher and tell her I'm not coming back?"
LONG: Permanent sick days. Wagging.
CLARE: I haven't done that.
LONG: Firstly, can we go to the Universities Accord, Minister. So one is the big things that I think has really been a big part of your first year and a bit now as Education Minister is this Universities Accord. It's the biggest review this sector has seen in many, many years. Why have you decided to do it?
CLARE: We've got a good university system, I think we really do. Anybody that's been to university will know how important it is, but it's not necessarily set up for the future. And the report that I put out a couple of weeks ago really proves that. It says that in the course of the next 20 or 30 years that more and more jobs are going to require a university degree. That means more and more people will go to university and get a degree. It kind of makes sense when you think that the fastest growing jobs in Australia at the moment in healthcare and teaching and education and science, they all require a university degree.
So we're potentially going to have double the number of students at uni by the middle of the century than we do now. That means potentially more unis or different types of higher education institutions, and this report's about, what do we need to do right now to improve universities, but also what do we need to do in the next five years, in the next 10 years and in the next 20.
LONG: You're here with the Federal Minister for Education, Jason Clare, here on ABC News TikTok and Instagram. I'm political journalist, Claudia Long. Please do let us know what you think about your higher education situation as well in the comments if you've got a question about the Unis Accord or anything else. You've asked for, "Big spiky ideas" as part of this. Is there going to be a price limit on some of those ideas, because a lot of the stuff that people are proposing, that people are sending to us, seems pretty expensive.
LONG: Are you, I guess, open to anything at this point?
CLARE: I have deliberately said I'm in the market for big and bold ideas. I see what we do here as an investment, not a cost. Here's the biggest idea: I want everybody to have the same chance to go to university. We're not a country where that exists at the moment.
Almost one in two young people in their 20s and 30s has a uni degree today, but not everywhere, not where I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney, not in the western suburbs of Brisbane or in Melbourne. If you live in the bush, if you live in regional Australia, then it's something like only about 18 per cent of young people in their 20s has a uni degree, and if you're an Indigenous young person today, that's more like 7 per cent.
I don't think that's fair; I don't think that's right. And what this report says is that we need to change that, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it's what we have to do. It says that because more people will need a uni degree, we're going to need to make the changes necessary to make sure that more people from poor backgrounds and from the regions and our suburbs get a fair crack at going to university.
LONG: I'm really glad you mentioned people who come from a poor, like backgrounds, you know, where you haven't got a wealthy family perhaps to back you up when you're doing an internship for free, right, because one of the things that really seems to hold a lot of students back who don't come from wealthy backgrounds is having to essentially work for free, right, to get your degree. You know, I did internships as part of my university degree for free then had to front up - work for eight hours afterwards. There's people who do much harder work than that to get through their university degree. Why shouldn't they be paid? Is that the kind of big idea that you are asking for potentially for people to bring to you?
CLARE: It's one of the big ideas that's in this report I released a couple of weeks ago. I think nursing's a really good example of this. I was at Griffith Uni in the outskirts of Brissie a couple of weeks ago, talking to nursing students, and they made this point that you've just made. The degree's three years, but about one of those years is in a hospital, and the amount of hours they need to do means that they have to give up their part‑time job.
Part‑time jobs come in all shapes and forms. I worked at Sizzler sort of cooking cheese toast for five years through uni, but whether you're working in a café or whether you're working in a restaurant, or whatever the sort of job that you're doing, that helps pay the bills, pay the rent, help you to go out and have a bit of fun. And what they were saying is, "I can't do that because I've got to work in the hospital."
This report nails that, and it says one of the things that we need to do to help with cost‑of‑living, but also help people from poorer backgrounds who need help to get through uni and not quit because they can't afford to stay there is the idea of paid placement. What these students described it as was placement poverty.
So the next stage is, we've got an interim report that says, "Here's a good idea", then asking for feedback from students and from universities and everybody else about, "How would that work?"
LONG: In terms of the unpaid placements thing, and perhaps needing to pay people for placements, like, you know, we're talking about nurses, teachers, like really hard, hard work. Is there a reason we can't just paying them now? Like if people are telling you that when you go and see them, if the National Union of Students, it's my understanding that they have asked for this as well, is, why wait around?
CLARE: I think it's the detail about how it would work.
LONG: Okay. So how long will people need to kind of wait for the start?
CLARE: Well, the final report's due at the end of the year.
CLARE: Professor O'Kane, who leads the Accord, is looking at that. There's about 70 ideas just like this in the report. There won't be that many recommendations in the final report, so what she's saying to people at the moment is, tell us what we've got right, tell us what we've got wrong, help us sort of define and improve these recommendations, so in this area how might it work, who would get it, what type of courses would qualify; all of that sort of detail that you'd need to implement a policy like that. But she's asking that question about everything in the report. So that the report that we get at the end of the year is something that government can implement.
LONG: Okay. And just on that issue, because obviously people who really struggle with, like you've just said, actually, placement poverty, cost‑of‑living is frankly nuts at the moment, as you know, what is the government doing to help students who can't access Centrelink; for example there's a lot of people who are held back in terms of like the means testing of that, where they don't actually have access to their parents' money?
CLARE: And there's some things that were in the budget, like rental assistance support, increasing Youth Allowance as well as changes to JobSeeker. But what this report is saying is, “what can we do differently”? One of them is paid placement.
The other idea that's in this report that I thought, "Now, that's a pretty good idea" is the idea of a jobs broker program at universities. So students who might be studying in one course can get some part‑time work in that area that they're going to go into.
I mentioned I spent five years cooking cheese toast, that was while I was studying law at the University of New South Wales, and I always think back on that time and think, "Wouldn't it have been better if I'd got some part‑time work in a law firm in the city not too far from uni where I could have learnt the skills that would have helped me while I was studying, but also once I finished my degree".
So this idea, which might help with cost‑of‑living pressures as well, is about what sort of system could we set up to help students while they're at uni get work in the area that they're studying in.
LONG: Can I just ask though, in terms of the next six months, right, like we talk to people who can't pay their rent, who can't even pay for a bus fare to get to uni, people are actually asking about it right now in these comments. What is the government doing to support students who are facing that right now, who can't actually wait another six months?
CLARE: It's those immediate things we put in the budget which are now starting to roll out. We’ve got that legislation through the Parliament just recently. That's the increase in rental assistance; that's those other changes to Youth Allowance. But I get that it's hard. When I talk to students, this is the number one issue. There's lots of issues, we're going to talk about sexual assault, harassment on campus, you know, which is a big, pressing, serious issue, but so is cost‑of‑living, and that's why the Accord team is looking at what we should do differently here.
LONG: Okay. You're with Education Minister, Jason Clare here, on ABC News TikTok and Instagram, thank you so much for joining us. Please put your questions to the Minister in the comments. I'm Claudia Long. I'm one of our political reporters here at the ABC.
Just a heads up, for the next little while, we're going to be talking about sexual violence on campus, and if you need support now, if you've gone through an assault or know someone who has, there is support available to you from 1800RESPECT, and they're on 1800 7377 32, and you can probably see their number down there on the screen as well. So that support is available 24 hours a day if that's what you need. So just so you know, that's what we're going to be talking about a bit over the next few minutes.
So, Minister, something you're working on the States with, and Territories ‑ I shouldn't leave them out ‑ is student safety. What work are you going to be doing on that?
CLARE: I should start by thanking you, Claudia.
CLARE: Well, the work that you do, the work that the media does is putting a spotlight on this matters. Change only happens because good people focus on things that need to change, and you've been at the forefront of that. So I want to recognise that.
I also want to recognise the students that are part of organisations like STOP, and End Rape on Campus and Fair Agenda people I've had the privilege to meet that have helped me get a better sense and understanding of what needs to happen here.
We talked about this Accord Interim Report, and we've talked about the fact that there will be a final report at the end of the year. What that report said is there's a couple of things we should act on right now, and one of them is improving the way universities are governed. That includes making sure that people are paid properly who work at our universities, and have more job security, but also the safety of students on campus, in particular students who live on campus. The recommendation there was that a process be established through National Cabinet to act on this.
So we've set up a working group led by my department, but I've also said this week that Patty Kinnersly, the leader of Our Watch, an expert in this area, who will help inform the development of policies to make sure that we get universities doing more than they're currently doing here. I think everybody knows that they do need to do more than what they're doing here, to make sure that students are safe, and when they're not safe, that they know where to go for help and support.
LONG: If you haven't heard of Our Watch before, it's a gendered violence prevention group, and you're here on ABC News TikTok and Instagram with the Federal Minister for Education, Jason Clare.
CLARE: Yeah, it's the second, it's another group.
CLARE: So it's representatives from State departments of education around the country, and Territory departments of education working with Patty, working with Ben Rimmer, the Deputy Secretary of my department. They'll provide recommendations to Ministers, and I'm hoping to get those recommendations by about November this year. Education Ministers meet every couple of months. Education Ministers will meet before the end of the year to get those recommendations and advice on what we need to do.
LONG: Okay. And so how many people will be in this working group, do you know yet?
CLARE: Oh, well, it's a representative of every State and Territory ‑‑
LONG: Plus Patty Kinnersly.
CLARE: Plus Patty, plus Ben.
LONG: And Ben.
LONG: And other than sexual violence, is it addressing any other issues?
CLARE: Yes. It's also looking at the issue of making sure that staff in our universities are paid properly.
CLARE: That goes to wage theft. It also goes to the casualisation of workforce, but it's also about the governing bodies of our universities, boards, or councils or Senate. There's a pretty well‑made argument in the Report that there's a lot of people on those boards or councils that have got experience in business, but they don't have a lot of experience in how universities operate, more people who work in our universities, in our universities' highest bodies. Patty's role in particular is to inform that key part of their work which is about what actions should be taken to make sure that our universities are safer for students to live and study at.
LONG: And in terms of the group of Education Ministers, are you going to set some kind of benchmark, some kind of timeline to actually take specific direct action on this once they give you advice? Like what are the timelines around this working group, 'cause that still seems a bit unclear to me?
CLARE: It depends on their recommendations. They might make recommendations to us that require a change to the law. That's why I'm getting the States in as well, because some State Education Ministers are also Higher Education Ministers, others aren't. So we're getting them in as well. But the States have legislation that governs the universities, and if we need to change the law there, then we will.
If I can take action, and you asked me this question at the Press Club a couple of weeks ago, it's a bloody good question, if there's things that I can do on my own that I have the power to do, I will. If it requires legislation through this Parliament, I will introduce it. But if it requires the States to do things as well, then we need to bring them in. And let's not forget the universities. If there are things that are recommended here that require the universities to act, then we'll drive the universities to put those measures in place as well.
LONG: You're hearing from Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare. You're on ABC News TikTok and Instagram live. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm Claudia Long, one of our Federal political reporters here in Parliament House in Canberra, and please keep sending through your comments, sending through your questions for the Minister, and we'll put them in to him.
Safety advocates including the ones you've mentioned already like STOP and Fair Agenda, they've all called on you to establish an independent taskforce to not ‑ both monitor universities' progress on this specifically, and also to enforce consequences if needed. As you know, that was Labor policy back in 2019. Is it something you're still willing to do?
CLARE: It might be the sort of thing that comes out of the work of this working group.
LONG: Can I just ask though, with that, if you’re consulting groups have already told you what to do, why not just do it straight away?
CLARE: I'm not ruling it out. And when I was talking to some of the representatives from STOP the other day, I said taskforce sounds to me like something that's temporary. What you're talking about is something that's permanent. There's an organisation called TEQSA at the moment which does a lot of this work, and their argument to me is, "not good enough."
Part of what I want the working group to look at is what does TEQSA do now, what do universities provide them with, how might we improve the existing systems, or if the existing systems aren't good enough, what different system do we set up?
So Claudia, I want to make it clear, I'm not ruling it out. But I've set up a process to provide us with advice. I've asked Patty Kinnersly to come in and help inform that, but I've also asked Patty, and I was on the phone to her about this last night, I said, "Talk to STOP, talk to End Rape on Campus, talk to Fair Agenda, make sure that we get this right" because I'm imagining that this, along with a whole bunch of other actions that might need to be taken, to make sure that there are the services students need on campus, whether they're medical or legal, or mental health counselling, or the sort of resources they need or the information they need, all need to be considered by this group and brought to Ministers towards the end of the year.
LONG: Just on TEQSA, actually, that's the Tertiary Education Regulator, they appear to not collect, for instance, like the numbers of, on reports of sexual violence at every university. We had to do that ourselves actually this week at the ABC, and a number of unis didn't even respond or share those with us. Is anybody currently doing that, and is that something that you think should be established?
CLARE: The short answer to that is it's not enough. Transparent information is critical here.
LONG: But like who should do it, who should collect those numbers?
CLARE: Potentially it's TEQSA. Potentially it's some other independent body. I wanted to get the experts here, Patty's an expert, but also the departmental officials whose job it is, is to help create a structure that's transparent that gives us the information, but doesn't just give us information, but gives us information we can use to act, provide me with the right way forward.
LONG: I just have a few more questions about that, because obviously when this was 2019 Labor policy, your colleague who was then Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek, said of a taskforce, "30 years ago we saw the same kind of complaints and heard the same kind of responses, we heard the same kind of excuses, not enough has been done to fix this, the time for excuses and talk is over." The crossbench are calling on you to establish this, the Greens are calling for it. Yesterday, I know you said in the Chamber, in fact, "we have the research, we have the evidence, we have to act," why, what do you say to students who maybe don't want to wait until November, or don't want to wait until next year to see something like this established?
CLARE: I agree with all that. The time for excuses is over. And if anything, things are worse today than they were 30 years ago. There's certainly more students at university today, more living on campus, more potentially exposed to being raped or harassed on campus. Don't underestimate, as I said at the Press Club, how serious I am about this. But I do want to make sure I get this right.
What Tanya's talking about there in 2019 is making sure we get the structure right, so that if something goes wrong, it gets fixed.
Now, since then we've set up the Accord process, they've said we need to do this work as a working group of States. I said, okay, I accept that recommendation, but make sure there's an expert on there, report to me quickly so that I know what needs to be done. I'm not pretending here that I know the right answer, that's why I've asked them to help me inform the response that we need to take.
LONG: Can you understand though why a number of advocates who work in this space, the very ones that you've spoken to, who you have consulted, experts, students themselves, might be kind of frustrated hearing that answer?
CLARE: I won't speak for them, but in the conversations that I've had with a number of representatives over the last week, I think they're kind of glad they've got a Minister who, one, will talk to them, two, that understands how important this is, that's willing to speak publicly about it, and put in a process that's not going to just end up in the bottom drawer. That's not going to happen with me.
LONG: Sorry, we're just getting a few messages coming through there. Just out of interest, on university reporting, because the first one of the first recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission report into this issue that came out six years ago was that unis should annually publicly report on their progress and figures in this issue. That's still not happening. Do you think they should do that; yes or no?
CLARE: Well, it's yes.
LONG: Yeah, okay. And who's going to enforce that?
CLARE: It might be TEQSA, it might be another body. We've kind of asked and answered that question a minute ago. So I'm not ruling in the idea that there's an expanded role for TEQSA, it might be that it's a different body. I really do want this expert group to tell me what's the best way to do this.
LONG: And so in terms of like the timeline for that, I guess if this comes back in November then next year will be when we start to see some of these things potentially come to fruition; is that your understanding of that?
CLARE: If Education Ministers consider this in December and agree to the implementation of that, then we start to implement it, and depending on what the recommendations are, it might require us to introduce a law into this Parliament or into State Parliaments, or there may be things that don't require legislation at all.
LONG: And will you come back, you know, maybe later this year, maybe November?
CLARE: Yeah, happy ‑‑
LONG: Yeah? Happy to come back and have a chat to us about how you're going?
CLARE: You pay more attention to this issue than any other journalist in this building, any other journalist in the country, and as I said, I'm treating this seriously. I don't want this to disappear off the national radar.
LONG: We will see you back here in November. And you're on ABC News TikTok and Instagram live with Jason Clare. He's the Federal Minister for Education. We're here in Parliament House in Canberra, and I'm Claudia Long, one of the ABC's Federal politics journalists. Please keep sending us your questions for the Minister in the comments, and we'll put them to him.
And Minister, still just sticking around on this issue a bit, and please just remember, if you need support around sexual assault and violence of any kind, whether it's at universities or anywhere else, you can call 1800RESPECT, they're details are on the screen below. If you need a bit of support, they're always there.
In terms of the peak body representing universities, Universities Australia, we heard from them yesterday at the Press Club, and at a Senate Committee into consent laws a few weeks ago, we've covered this, and your colleague, Nita Green, was there as well as Deputy Chair, they said that their members had committed to a sector‑wide Respect At University Week in Semester 1 next year. But yesterday when we pushed them on it, they said, actually that may not happen. What do you make of that?
CLARE: I think I was pretty plain in what I said a couple of weeks ago when I was asked about what had happened. We're teaching consent and respectful relationships education in our schools. Patty Kinnersly is helping us to roll that out in our schools. It strikes me ‑ I wondered when I saw that story why we can't do the same thing in our universities. We can't leave everything to the gate of the universities, and that's why we've got to roll out an $80 million program in our schools as well. But we should be doing that in our universities too. Like most people I was disappointed when I saw that.
I was glad to see Universities Australia make a statement overnight about the survey that will happen next year, but a survey won't stop people being raped. A survey won't stop people being harassed, and there's action that needs to be taken as well, and that's why we've been talking about over the last 10 minutes or so is so important.
LONG: Can I just ask you though specifically about what they said at the Senate Committee, which is, it’s a bit different to the $1.5 billion ‑‑
LONG: ‑‑ campaign that ‑ but we will come to that in a moment ‑ but this is actually, when they were at the Senate Committee, they said that all of their members had committed to a sector‑wide Respect At University Week that now hasn't ‑ it happens to perhaps not have been the case. I guess what is your reaction to that? Do you think that that's an appropriate thing to tout at a Senate Committee if it's not locked in?
CLARE: Well, I don't want to necessarily speak for Universities Australia. It would be a good thing if it did happen, and I think there was some reference to that in their statement overnight.
LONG: They confirmed in their statement over ‑ I've actually got a copy of it here somewhere ‑‑
CLARE: Have you got a copy?
LONG: I do have a copy, it's somewhere here. But they did say in their statement overnight, and it's somewhere in this big pile of papers, here we go ‑‑
CLARE: It's about halfway down, I think.
LONG: Yes. They've said, "Our members are committed to continuing to run tailored and individual campus‑based activities in 2024 similar to initiatives such as the existing Respect At Uni Week delivered by Victorian Universities, and just in contrast to what they said actually as well at the Senate Committee, which is in ‑ sorry, Minister, I've got all these papers ‑ here we go. And then what was said at the Senate Committee was, "We launched the primary prevention good practice guide. The workshop and guide were both very well received with a key outcome being the decision for the first time to hold a sector‑wide national Respect At Uni Week in Semester 1 of 2024." Those two things don't seem to go together, do they?
CLARE: No, you're right, they're different. It doesn't mean that one's better than the other. I'm not going to make a judgment about that.
The point I would make is we want universities to do more here, provide more information to students, provide more support for students, and whether that's through some standard approach that all universities do, or whether it's tailored. I get that universities are a bit different, so for example, a lot of students I talked to the other day, last week, are based here in Canberra. They're living on campus in residential colleges. In some universities there's a lot more residential colleges than others, and the issues are slightly different depending upon whether you're a student who lives at home or lives in private accommodation or who lives on campus, particularly if your perpetrator is living on the same floor of that residential college that you're living in as well.
As I think about your question, I think there's probably some justification that some universities are different to others, but no university can escape the fact that this is happening everywhere in different ways, and every university needs to do more here.
LONG: I suppose the issue I'm just trying to get at though is that they've told us at a committee that this was locked in, and that appears to perhaps not be the case. Is that appropriate?
CLARE: That's really a question for them about the answer they provided to the Senate, and then why they provided that answer.
LONG: And just on the $1.5 million campaign, which I think you were referencing before.
LONG: So we've reported on this at the ABC, that essentially Universities Australia received a $1.5 million grant from the last government to roll out a consent campaign targeting students, teaching students about consent and other related issues, was a key recommendation of the Australian Human Rights Commission six years ago. Instead they decided not to do that. Should they have to give that money back?
CLARE: Well, in a sense that horse has bolted. That money's being invested in other things. It doesn't mean it was the right thing to do to abandon that project. Consent education is important, as I said a minute ago, consent education is important right across the board. Evidence‑based, age‑appropriate consent education in high schools and even in primary schools is important as well, and that's part of the funding we're rolling out now with Patty's help. But it's also important at university too.
LONG: Minister, thank you so much for your time. I understand that you probably have to get to another division. So thank you very much for coming here during a sitting week. We really appreciate it.
CLARE: No worries. Thank you again, and thanks for everybody who's part of this conversation today.
LONG: We look forward to having you back in November to have another chat about it.
CLARE: Sounds good.
LONG: You've been on ABC live with TikTok and Instagram. Thank you so much for joining us. Please keep commenting, keep posting, and let us know perhaps future questions for the Minister, or other issues that you'd like us to follow in this area regarding universities. And if you want to watch more of this interview, you can catch it on ABC Television later today, if you like watching, you know, a bit of telly of an afternoon. And thank you so much for joining us. I'm Claudia Long from the ABC's Parliament Bureau. Thank you.