ABC News Interview: Afternoon Briefing: Federal Budget, Higher Education Bill, Vice-Presidential Debate



SUBJECTS: Federal Budget, Higher Education Bill, Vice-Presidential Debate 

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my political panel at the end of a very big budget week, Liberal MP, Dave Sharma, and Labor MP Peter Khalil. And Dave, I want to start with you today because Anthony Albanese will announce a childcare package tonight to improve female employment. Of course it helps mums and dads there’s no doubt about it, but women clearly are the ones that do most of the child rearing in this country still. Why didn’t the government do more in this space? And I don’t want you to just reel off numbers of what you’re already doing. It’s a really specific question. Do you think the government should be doing more to help women participate in the workforce? 

DAVE SHARMA, MP: I think the government should be doing more to help everyone participate in the workforce, Patricia. This is the biggest economic crisis to hit Australia since the great depression is the biggest economic crisis to hit the world. And we need to be focused on all Australians at this time. And this is what this budget is about. Getting Australians back into work, encouraging businesses to hire again, encouraging businesses to invest, getting cash into businesses, giving households more income, all these things matter. Our childcare subsidy we’re spending about $9.2 billion on this this year. It means that over 70% of working parents pay less than $5 an hour on average for childcare. I think the focus here has to be on a macro one about getting all of Australia back to work, getting the economy moving, and we don’t want anyone left behind. Absolutely. If sectors are being left behind, that’s something we’ll need to revisit in MEFO or later in the year. But I think the focus now, rightly, for the budget is the macro picture. 

HOST: Yeah, I get your vibe of everyone, but it’s not everyone. We know young people were targeted by your budget. So obviously that’s very specific and the treasurer kept telling us that he knew women were being hurt more. So, if they’re being affected more, you got to do more to help them, don’t you? 

SHARMA: Women, as a share of the population took a larger hit at the start of this crisis because some of the sectors, they’re employed in. But then we’ve seen, of the 1.3 million people who lost their jobs or had their hours reduced to zero and of the 760,000 odd of those who’ve come back to work since, that 60% of those have been women. So, I think although women were quick out of the workforce, if you like or quick to have their hours reduced, they’re coming back quickly. None of this has said to forget, I’d guess I’d say Patricia, we need to keep an eye on all this sort of stuff. And if more things need to be done to help different sectors, be it young people, elderly people, females, Indigenous Australians, we’re always going to be mindful of that because we want to get all of Australia back to work again, We want to get unemployment back to a level, where it was before this crisis. And we want people to feel prosperous and secure again. 

HOST: Peter Khalil, The Australian newspaper is reporting that Labor is going to commit $6 billion to childcare. Now I’m sure you won’t be able to confirm the figure, but if Labor is, and I know it will be a centrepiece tonight in Anthony Albanese’s speech going to commit more. I want to pick up that point that was just made, by Dave Sharma. The government actually has already reformed childcare. It does spend quite a lot on childcare. And if you look at the out of pocket expenses, they can be quite low for some people. Why do you think it needs more investment? 

PETER KHALIL MP: Because Patricia, it has everything to do with women’s participation in the workforce, frankly. You touched on this about the weaknesses of this budget. Yes, they spent a lot of money, more than any budget we can remember. But when you start to scratch the surface, when you start to look at the fine print and the detail, you see cracks that form and they get bigger and bigger, to the point where they are a chasm. You’ve had a discussion about women being left out of this budget. It’s not just childcare. It’s the whole caring economy, where women have more employment in. Whether it’s aged care, whether it’s healthcare services, early childhood education, generally women have been left out. And then the other disturbing factor is that you’re seeing as well in the JobSeeker numbers, women over 45, particularly, becoming more of a larger percentage of those who are on JobSeeker, getting into the unemployment space.  Women, over 45 or over 50, who are big numbers startlingly of homeless in Australia. So they’ve completely forgotten about that. And there are big gaps now, and it’s not just women. It’s also the arts sector, it’s also refugees and asylum seekers. It’s also the funding freeze on the ABC, for example. There are a lot of areas where they’re just left out. People are being left behind.  Our criticism is, you can spend a lot of money because it’s a big pandemic but it’s the why you spend it and how you spend it. Social housing is the other big one, which is a huge missed opportunity. Because it creates jobs in the economy, in the construction sector really quickly, it provides dignity for people and a level playing field, for almost a million Australians who are going to need a baseline of social and affordable housing to get through this post pandemic phase. 

HOST: I just want to talk before I let you go on that significant bill that’s passed the Senate, on university funding with you, Dave Sharma. The governments now just legislated humanities degrees to be more expensive than the other set of degrees, maths, nursing, and others. You and I both know how important the humanities are. You’ve studied the humanities. You said, this is not a set and forget thing. Do we have to monitor the implications on women, on others who need the humanities to see how your new funding system will work? 

SHARMA: I’d say Patricia, people are focused here on one part of this bill. The larger purpose of this Bill was to encourage more people to study things like science, technology, engineering, mathematics in areas where we know there is growing demand for jobs and growing demand for industries. It’s not designed to discourage people from studying the arts or doing humanities subjects. Those will remain important parts of any Australian’s education and a formative part, but this is really about an allocation of priorities and trying to make sure that the university sector is producing graduates in the industries where there’s the greatest demand for work. That’s going to be key to keeping unemployment down, but I still think humanities will play an important role- 

HOST: They’ll just be more expensive. 

SHARMA: When the Labor government introduced HECS under Paul Keating, university became more expensive. 

KHALIL: This is nothing like HECS. 

SHARMA: We moved to a model of universal university education, where more and more Australians want to study at university. We moved under the Keating government to a system where the beneficiaries of that education, the students themselves need to make a contribution. I don’t disagree with that premise and I’d be surprised if anyone on the Labor side does either. 

HOST: Peter Khalil, it was actually Labor that made us pay for degrees, right? 

KHALIL: This is conflation. Sorry, I’ve got to really disagree with the way Dave has actually conflated the HECs system with the changes they’ve made. They are chalk and cheese. With the HECs system we’re talking about an even distribution where there’s a contribution by all students as well, and they pay it back through the tax system. And it didn’t specify about the degree per se. What they’re doing here basically by making humanity degrees more expensive, it’s a kind of a social engineering Patricia, because, and Dave kind of alluded to it, where you say, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get this right technical training in courses that will fill the jobs’. Well a liberal arts education is more than just about vocational training or technical training. It is about critical reasoning, it’s about critical thinking. It’s about the application of those skills throughout many sectors in our economy and our society and what makes our society work. Taking that away as an option for students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and also ethnic backgrounds, frankly. 

HOST: Let’s leave it there. One-word answer or two words who won the Vice Presidential debate? Dave Sharma? 

SHARMA: I think democracy. 

HOST: That is, Dave Sharma! Peter Khalil? 

KHALIL: I’m going to call, Kamala Harris. She was fantastic. But it was good to see both candidates having a reasoned- 

HOST: I did say two, because you’ve got a name and a surname usually. I’ll give you one more chance, Dave Sharma. Kamala Harris, do you think she got ahead? 

SHARMA: Look, I think she put it in a very effective and compelling performance. No doubt about it. She showed her background as a prosecutor and as a governor. I think the tone of the debate was a welcome improvement on the last one as well. 

HOST: That’s a very good point. Thank you very much Liberal MP Dave Sharma and Labor MP Peter Khalil.