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Transcript of interview with Samantha Maiden: SKY News: 12 October 2017: English test for international students; International students' migration; university funding cuts; schools' funding cuts for disabled students; workplace relations; Turnbull Government's constitutional crisis; access to abortion; young people and pornography

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SUBJECTS: English test for international students; International students’ migration; University funding cuts; Schools’ funding cuts for disabled students; Workplace Relations; Turnbull Government’s Constitutional crisis; Access to abortion; Young people and pornography.

SAMANTHA MAIDEN, PRESENTER: Welcome back. Now the Government has today announced some changes in relation to overseas students in Australia, including tougher English tests. And joining me now live is the Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek from Perth. Tanya thanks for your time today. What's your view on these greater English tests for foreign students in Australia?

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well Sam like most of these announcements we haven't seen the details other than what's been reported in the newspaper, so we'll take a little bit of time to examine the details when we get them from the Government, but on the face of it we think it is important that students who are studying in Australia do have good English, that they're able to participate effectively in class, so we're open to this proposal. I think the Minister's speaking today in Hobart at a conference, a university conference, and no doubt people will be interested in this, but there will be more interested I think in the $3.8 billion of cuts that the Minister's proposing to inflict on universities, the higher fees that he's proposed for students, the lower income threshold for repayment of HECS debt, and the other changes, like charging fees for the first time for enabling courses. Those measures are still very controversial.

MAIDEN: It has been the case for a long time though that students from overseas have often seen university education in Australia as a pathway to citizenship as well, even though they've made some changes in that area to some extent. Is that a concern do you think or is that a reasonable pathway to citizenship in Australia?

PLIBERSEK: I think it shouldn't be a back door to migration to Australia. People shouldn't be able to effectively buy their way in by paying high fees for an Australian university degree. On the other hand, if we have people who are educated in the Australian university system in areas where we need skills, we need people to be working, then we need to be flexible about that as well. Obviously if we've got high performing, academically gifted, great contributors who are wanting to become Australian citizens then I think we should look favourably at that group of people.

MAIDEN: OK you've also been talking during the week about this issue that in some cases some private schools could be gaming the system by boosting the number of students it claims have a disability to get more money out of taxpayers. What's going on there?

PLIBERSEK: It's very difficult to understand Sam because we are just going on information that's been requested through Freedom of Information requests from the Government. After they announced their new funding model the Government put up a schools funding calculator online and that came down very quickly and for the last three months we've had no school-by-school information available. But it is unusual when we know that the vast majority of children with a disability are educated in the public system, to a lesser extent in the Catholic systemic system, that some very, very wealthy schools with very high fees are seeing very large multi-million dollar increases because of, the Government says, the changes to disability funding for those schools. I think it really is up to the Government to explain why public schools that educate the majority of kids with a disability get a multi-billion dollar cut over the coming decade, and some of these very elite schools are seeing multi-million dollar increases.

MAIDEN: Now last night the Labor leader Bill Shorten gave a speech where he talked about the concern that economic prosperity wasn't being transferred to workers, that there's very little wage growth. Unions are obviously pushing for the Labor Party to overhaul a whole range of industrial laws if it wins the next election including around enterprise bargaining and the right to strike. Do you believe it needs to be easier for workers to strike?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it needs to be easier for workers to see the benefits of prosperity better shared. We've seen a lot of Australian companies, very profitable, they're doing very well, but we still see flat-lining wages growth in Australia. So we do need to look at the elements of our industrial relations system that have led to the fact that we've got the lowest wages growth in history. Now this isn't just bad for individual workers. Obviously people are struggling to keep up with higher energy prices, the higher cost of living, and low wages growth. This has an impact on the family budget, but it also has a big potential impact on our economy as a whole. If you take wages growth out of the economy, people are less confident to spend, they don't buy a cup of coffee on the way to work, they don't take the kids out for pizza on a Friday night. So low wages growth, when it translates to lower aggregate demand in our economy, is a potential threat to the economic security of our nation, to economic growth for our nation, and we need to tackle that. We need to make sure that we're seeing decent wages growth coming from improvements to productivity.

MAIDEN: OK what about strikes, because unions say that's part of their ability to enterprise bargain.

PLIBERSEK: Well we'll look at the whole industrial relations framework between now and the next election. It's obviously not our first choice and our first priority. Our first priority is to see improved productivity that is shared as profits for the business and improved wages for workers. What we've seen in Australia in recent years is improved productivity, good profitability, but very little of that being passed on as improved wages.

MAIDEN: OK just turning to the High Court, it's obviously wrapping up today. We've had these arguments from Malcolm Roberts' lawyer today that it would be un-Australian to sort of group him differently because he was born overseas. What's your reaction to that?

PLIBERSEK: I'm not a constitutional law expert so I can't really comment on the different arguments put by the different legal representatives of the “Citizenship 7” or whatever they're being called at the moment. What I would say is it is very difficult to understand why Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash have been allowed to continue in their Ministerial positions while these issues have been determined, because if it comes back that the High Court says that they were not properly elected, all of the decisions that they've made as Ministers potentially are drawn into question, and I think that really for me is the focus of what the Government should be doing in response to this legal issue. We should let our courts do their work without interference from Government. It's Government's responsibility however not to allow questionable decisions to be made by Ministers who may not validly be elected to the Parliament.

MAIDEN: OK I just wanted to ask you about a question in relation to a debate that I know you have been engaging with in Perth, where you appeared recently at a pro- choice event. A couple of weeks ago we had David Gillespie on the program and he was unaware that it cost Australian women up to $500 to access the abortion pill RU486 even though it is on the PBS. Do you think that Labor needs to do something if it wins the next election to make it more affordable for low income women or women generally in Australia to access abortion?

PLIBERSEK: Yes I do. First of all we need to have a whole system of sexual and reproductive health that meets the needs of our community. That means better access to contraception particularly long acting contraception. We are very low by international standards in the use of reversible long acting contraceptives. We need to have better relationship education so that young people aren't learning about sex from the pornography they watch on the internet, they're actually thinking about their relationships, their ability to say "no" to sexual activity they don't want to participate in. But at the other end of the scale we also need to be making sure that abortion services are safe and freely available in the circumstances where people have made the very difficult decision to proceed with a termination. When I was the Health Minister we did list RU486 on the Pharmaceutical Benefit Schedule and it was my hope at that time that women particularly in regional areas when they were making this difficult decision, would have the ability to be surrounded by their family in their home environment to have the support of their partner and so on, and instead we still see in many cases women having to travel long distances to access a medical or surgical termination…

MAIDEN: …but if it’s privatised…

PLIBERSEK: …and these prices they vary…

MAIDEN: …how do you make it more affordable? Yeah how do you make it more affordable though if it's privatised?

PLIBERSEK: …well it doesn't actually have to be…

MAIDEN: …Would you offer Medicare item numbers for some of the counselling?

PLIBERSEK: Sometimes, it depends on the States and Territories and some States and Territories you can have an abortion in a public hospital. In other places we are relying on clinics run by not for profit organisations and the cost of blood tests, ultrasounds and other services that go with ensuring the safety of a woman mean that the cost is relatively high. It doesn't actually need to be that way. If we had more GPs willing to prescribe and we had more pharmacists willing to dispense mifepristone, misoprostol, RU486, the drugs in this group you could actually see a scenario where price was much less of a barrier than it is now. And that is something that we need to work on I think as a community.

MAIDEN: And just finally you mentioned that the issue of pornography shaping the young people’s romantic sexual relationships in a different way the perhaps it has previously. Does that worry you, as a parent that there is a generation of children growing up that are seeing this material very early?

PLIBERSEK: It does worry me I think a lot of the statistics show that young people even from the ages of 10 or 12 years old are exposed to quite a lot of this material online and it does worry me because I think it gives a very false view of human relationships in the first instance but also human sexuality. I think it is important that we are speaking frankly to our young people about consent about feeling comfortable to say "no", being OK with waiting but then if you do want to have sex making sure that it is consensual, equal, pleasurable; not rough, not violent, not domineering as I'm told a lot of this material is online.

MAIDEN: OK Tanya Plibersek thank you for your time today we appreciate it. We covered that a lot there and we appreciate your time.

PLIBERSEK: Always a pleasure Sam, thank you.