Radio National, RN Breakfast, Alison Carabine
ALISON CARABINE: Good morning.
MINISTER PYNE: Good morning, Alison.
ALISON CARABINE: Minister, the government is uncapping university fees. If you are letting the market rip, isn't it inevitable that most students will end up paying more for their degrees?
MINISTER PYNE: Well, we anticipate that some courses will see the fees rise, and some courses will see the fees fall, depending on how the market operates in each particular regional area, and for example there are some courses that should be high value where they are charged exactly the same, no matter whether you go to a university in Central Queensland, or Melbourne University.
Now, at the moment we have a demand-driven system on the supply side, but no price signal that tells students where the best degrees are to be had. Of course, every single dollar that a student will be asked to pay in fees can be borrowed from the tax payer, and not paid back until a student earns over fifty thousand dollars a year. So no student can be deterred on the basis of a cost of their degree.
ALISON CARABINE: Well, we'll get to student loans in a moment, but there are predictions around today that the cost of a university degree could jump above one-hundred-and-twenty thousand dollars - maybe even go higher. Couldn't such a price tag deter some young people from enrolling in a course in the first place, if they know that they are going to incur such a hefty debt?
MINISTER PYNE: Well, it doesn't. All the evidence shows that students don't like paying fees - of course they don't - everyone loves getting something for nothing. The evidence also shows that students don't decide not to go to university because of fees, because they know that there is a private benefit - in some cases an enormous private benefit to going to university.
People who have university degrees will earn seventy-five per cent more over a lifetime than people who don't. So the evidence that the research that's been done shows that fees do not deter students from going to university.
ALISON CARABINE: You have a university degree. You went to Adelaide University. How much did you pay for your law degree in the late 1980s?
MINISTER PYNE: Well, if my memory serves me rightly, I didn't pay anything for my law degree, but I paid for my graduate diploma of legal practice, because I think that was a year - well, I know that was after the HECS was introduced, but I think I may have also paid for my last year of law at Adelaide University. I just can't remember exactly.
ALISON CARABINE: You would have paid your HECS fees...
MINISTER PYNE: Sure.
ALISON CARABINE: ...but you wouldn't have paid a de-regulated fee set by the university which you are now asking university students to pay...
MINISTER PYNE: Sure.
ALISON CARABINE: ...in a few years' time.
MINISTER PYNE: Absolutely.
ALISON CARABINE: You don't have any concerns about...
MINISTER PYNE: Well, there were no de-regulated fees.
ALISON CARABINE: ...the equity issues here?
MINISTER PYNE: Ah, I don't think that is an equity issue at all. In fact, the measures that I am introducing are an equity measure because the biggest beneficiaries will be low SES students across Australia, and students with low ATAR score will have the biggest commonwealth scholarship scheme in the history of Australia which means the smartest kid, from whatever background will get to go to the best universities in Australia.
We're going to have eighty thousand more young people being given the opportunity to go to university and do a diploma or an associate degree leading then onto an under-graduate degree if they want to, and we're going to expand to a trade support loan program so that apprentices for the first time can access a help-style scheme and pay back their costs after they finish their apprenticeship.
So there are tens of thousands of young people that will benefit from a massive expansion of the opportunity to get skills and education.
ALISON CARABINE: What about the situation with regional universities? If fees do go down in some instances, and you say that is likely under the - because we have a free market system once fees are de-regulated.
Couldn't that mean a drop off in university standards? You are de-regulating fees to make Australia more competitive internationally. That suggest that you believe price is directly related to quality.
MINISTER PYNE: Well, we have to give our universities the opportunity to be the best that they possibly can be. Now, regional universities will be big winner - big winners from these reforms.
ALISON CARABINE: How will they compete with the group of eight sandstone universities, which will be able to push up their fees? They'll have greater capacity to charge more for their under-graduate courses. Haven't you made the playing field a little bit more unlevel with these reforms?
MINISTER PYNE: No, not at all. I mean, the whole point is that the university system is not a level playing field. Melbourne University or Sydney University are not the same as every other university. ANU is not the same as Federation University.
Now, pretending they are has been holding back our university system for thirty years, and the Asian universities are coming at us in a competitive way. Five years ago there were no Chinese universities in the top two hundred in the world. Today there are five.
If Australia does not get the opportunity to have the best excellence in research and teaching we will see the slow decline of higher education in Australia the same way as we've seen the slow decline of manufacturing in Australia. Now, regional universities were big winners. Why? Because they typically offer some bachelor degrees - associate diplomas and degrees which students then use to go on and do an under-graduate degree.
They won't be competing with what you call the sandstone universities in many areas because the sandstone universities don't offer under-graduate degrees in many of these courses. They usually offer post-graduate degrees.
So therefore, there needs to be a diversification of the university sector if we're going to have excellent universities doing the best research in the world, and if we're going to have the best teaching universities, and more students being given the opportunity to grasp that life-changing, transformative opportunity.
ALISON CARABINE: Well, Minister if we could take a look at schools funding; the states want an urgent COAG meeting to discuss education and health funding. The states are set to lose about eighty billion dollars over a decade from the Commonwealth. It looks like you've made some pretty powerful enemies, and they're from your side of politics.
MINISTER PYNE: Well, politics isn't about making friends. It's about doing the right thing by the country, and making decisions that are fair for everyone, and I think the Australian voter will have to make an assessment whether we have made a reasonable fist of a very difficult situation. Now, the Australian public know that there is a debt and deficit disaster left to us by Labor.
They expected us to fix it. That's why they voted for us in September last year. We are through this budget building the skills, infrastructure and the physical infrastructure of the future, whether it's in higher education, whether it's an infrastructure around roads and ports et cetera...
ALISON CARABINE: You're cutting off education funding to the states. How does that fit...
MINISTER PYNE: Well, in fact we are spending more money on education over the next four years than Labor would if they'd been re-elected.
ALISON CARABINE: Well, then why are the states so angry with you?
MINISTER PYNE: I think because they had a false belief in the blue sky promises of the previous government who ten years from now were promising tens of billions of dollars of spending that they didn't have, and I don't think any treasurer or premier worth their salt would have banked their house on the blue sky promises of the Labor Party ten years from now.
Over the next four years however - and Colin Barnett's got it right - over the next four years we are actually spending more money on school education in 2017 than Labor would have if they'd been re-elected, and we are spending more on higher education.
ALISON CARABINE: Christopher Pyne, it looks like the government will struggle to get a number of its key budget measures through the senate, not just - or possibly higher education, but also the Medicare co-payment, the petrol excise - though the Green's will support that.
You have been deputised by the prime minister to manage communications with Clive Palmer. How will you get him to change his mind on issues such as the age pension and indeed the Medicare co-payment?
MINISTER PYNE: Well, I deal with Clive Palmer in the House of Representatives because I'm the leader of the house, and Clive of course is in the House of Representatives. In the senate - Eric Abetz, the senate leader deals with Clive Palmers' four senators; the Palmer United Party.
ALISON CARABINE: Yeah, but you have one-on-one communications with Clive Palmer
MINISTER PYNE: I do, but mainly in terms of the legislative program in the House of Reps. Eric Abetz is responsible for getting the legislative program through the senate.
ALISON CARABINE: Well, how will you convince him to support some of your measures?
MINISTER PYNE: Well, I find Clive a very easy person to deal with and talk to, and Clive never leaves you under any illusion about his views about things. Inevitably governments have to deal with the numbers, whether it's in the House of Reps or whether it's in the senate.
I expect that there'll be some things that the government will have to deal with in terms of the senate that we'd rather not give away. There are other things that I think the senate will support. I think by and large we have a mandate to do most of these changes, and I think the senate will recognise that.
We can't have a situation in Australia where we're un-governable, and I think the senate knows that but I think Mr Palmer's well aware of that.
ALISON CARABINE: Christopher Pyne, Bill Shorten's just arrived for his interview with Ellen Fanning. You've dubbed him Australia's number one whinger.
MINISTER PYNE: He is, yes.
ALISON CARABINE: He delivers the budget reply tonight. Just very briefly, what do you want to hear from him in his budget reply?
MINISTER PYNE: Well, Bill will have to stop being Australia's number one whinger, and he'll have to actually outline what he would do. He can't just be all complaint and no responsibility. We're in this position because Labor left us in this debt and deficit disaster.
He needs to explain how he would pay the debt and deficit back. He needs to explain how he would build the skills and physical infrastructure of the future, whether it's medical research, higher education, roads and ports, without just borrowing money, and he needs to explain how he would make our safety net sustainable into the future, without just borrowing money as Labor did when they were in government.
ALISON CARABINE: Well, he might just tell us all about that.
MINISTER PYNE: Well, let's hope so.
ALISON CARABINE: Thanks very much for you time, Christopher Pyne.
MINISTER PYNE: Thank you.
COMPERE: Christopher Pyne, the Minister for Education and the Leader of the House, speaking with our political editor, Alison Carabine. Thirteen minutes to eight.