Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide, Breakfast with Ali Clarke and David Bevan
Topics: New assessment measures for university research, High Court rulings and continuing the business of government; Closure of the Manus Regional Processing Centre




David Bevan:               Now, let’s welcome Simon Birmingham who’s not here, he’s on the phone. Good morning, Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister.

Simon Birmingham:    Morning David and Ali.

David Bevan:               Amanda Rishworth, Member for Kingston, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood and Education and Development and Defence Personnel, and you don’t get paid any more money for that?

Amanda Rishworth:     No, no. It’s just a very exciting policy area, so …

David Bevan:               What a rip off. Should have got the money.

Amanda Rishworth:     Good morning.

David Bevan:               Good morning to you. Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia.

Sarah Hanson-Young:  Good morning, thanks for and congratulations Amanda on the promotion. Even if it doesn’t come with any extra money.

David Bevan:               Any cash. Take the title if you can’t take the cash.

Now, Simon Birmingham, if we can just clear up a matter with you first, because you are being paid a lot more money to be the Federal Education Minister, and apparently you’ve sent a signal that you’re going to crack down on whacky research at universities. What’s going on?

Simon Birmingham:    Well, this is implementation of another key step of the Turnbull Government’s innovation and science agenda. It’s a new engagement and impact metric that universities will be assessed against, so that rather than research purely being assessed as to whether or not it generates publication, we’re actually going to make it more transparent as to whether or not there is clear levels of industry or other partnership in terms of people co-funding and working on the research, in terms of the outcomes of the research and its impact, especially whether it is generating elements of commercialisation or uptake in areas of improved healthcare delivery or the like. So it’s really about trying to create a change in the incentive to the universities …

Sarah Hanson-Young:  I love that one of your descriptions is you have to have a plain English understanding of this, and I don’t think – what have you actually said, Birmo, and what are you saying? You’re trying to justify an ideological war in our universities in relation to research. That’s what you’re doing.

Simon Birmingham:    Well actually, Sarah, take a look today and you’ll see that the report after the pilot on this which was developed with universities, with their input, has been released. And so, no, this isn’t about an ideological bent. This is about saying that we spend billions of dollars annually on research, and we ought to make sure that we get the best bang for our buck for it in terms of actually having an impact. It creates more jobs, lifts our economy …

Sarah Hanson-Young:  Code for cuts is what this is, this is code for cuts. Code for cuts, and code for if you don’t write about what the Liberal Party want you to write about, you don’t research what the Liberal Party want you to research. Bad luck. Code for cuts.

Simon Birmingham:    Sarah, you might love esoteric little papers, but we actually think that it is important that billions of taxpayer dollars going into research delivers things that are of benefit to taxpayers. Now, that does include better healthcare services, better education services, as well as improved areas in terms of commercialisation and jobs growth.

Amanda Rishworth:     I just, I think this, Simon, with all due respect, is actually about distraction, and that is a distraction from the fact that you are making large cuts to universities. Not just in the student support- you know, the student fees area, but also in the research area. And I think of course this is easy to get a headline and sort of say: yes, we shouldn’t be doing research in this area, but the fundamental issue here is the cuts that you are making to research …

David Bevan:               Well, hang on. Let’s get some examples here, and The Advertiser has kindly given us some examples. Apparently, $191,000 was spent at Melbourne University studying the fate of the artisan in revolutionary China tailors in Beijing 1930s to 1960s. Now, Simon Birmingham, should we be spending nearly $200,000 investigating tailors in Beijing in the 1930s?

Simon Birmingham:    I think people would question whether that’s good use of taxpayer funds …

David Bevan:               But is that the sort of thing that you’re after?

Simon Birmingham:    Well, what this tool is seeking to do is not to put a prescriptive yes-no over individual projects, but to change overall the incentive for universities so that they know that rather than just being judged as they currently are by many metrics on how many publications they get of research findings, there’ll also be a public record of the level of engagement with industry and other external users of research, the level of impact in terms of the uptake and utilisation of that research.

Amanda Rishworth:     Of course, the international research though, Simon, contributes to international rankings, and so I think you’ve got to be really clear is if you start directing where the research goes, you will be okay, as the Federal Education Minister, that we slip down the international rankings because the way it’s been described in The Advertiser is some sort of benefit for academic’s resume. No, publications contribute to our international rankings, so I expect if we slide down the international rankings as a result of you directing research that you will be willing to say: that’s what we want, that’s what I wanted, and that’s as a result of that policy.

Sarah Hanson-Young:  Just imagine if it was Tony Abbott getting to dictate what universities were able to research on. I mean, this is ridiculous…

David Bevan:               But hang on. Is that what you’re suggesting, Simon Birmingham?

Simon Birmingham:    If you want to talk about international rankings, OECD research indicates very clearly that Australia ranks amongst the highest countries in the world for publications but amongst the lowest countries in the world for actually translating that research into commercialisation, into uptake, which of course means that we get good research findings and then they go offshore, because we haven’t actually embedded industry with researchers at an earlier opportunity. That’s what this is really trying to do, to ensure that we don’t just have good rankings internationally for our universities or good rankings in terms of research publications, but we actually see the lasting benefits from the research as well.

Sarah Hanson-Young:  Well, cutting money to the sector isn’t going to do that.

David Bevan:               Alright. Now, moving on, at almost 18 minutes to nine: the High Court has now handed out its formula for who is and who is not eligible to sit in the Federal Parliament. Now, given that formula – and I imagine that all three of you have gone back and looked at that formula – does it apply, and do you pass the test? Amanda Rishworth?

Amanda Rishworth:     Yes, and the Labor Party has very, very extensive vetting processes to make sure all their candidates comply with constitution.

David Bevan:               So, sorry, do you have any parents that were born overseas?

Amanda Rishworth:     I don’t, but as I said, the Labor Party looks at all that information. There is very comprehensive vetting procedures …

David Bevan:               Oh yeah. But we’re just asking about you personally.

Amanda Rishworth:     Yeah, no.

David Bevan:               So you haven’t got a nonna or a papa who could have given you citizenship without you realising?

Amanda Rishworth:     The Labor Party- we’ve gone through all of that, the Labor Party has done extensive checking, and I don’t have parents that are born overseas.

David Bevan:               Sarah Hanson-Young?

Sarah Hanson-Young:  Yeah, no. Neither do I; both my parents born here, and both sets of grandparents. But I think what we’ve got to admit is going on here is that Government has a backbench revolt on their hands over this, and for months now, the Greens have been moving motions in the Parliament to establish an audit. Both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party have said no, no, no, we don’t need it. Well, the time has well and truly come for a proper audit of all MPs. We know what the High Court thinks so we can’t use that as an excuse anymore, and we need to get on with it. And how embarrassing must it be for the Government – particularly George Brandis – after the weekend of really doubling down to say: no-one in the Liberal Party, there were any question marks, no-one, no chance, and then to be absolutely embarrassed by Stephen Parry yesterday. There must be an audit, there has to be an audit. If the Government doesn’t announce one in the next 24 hours, I’ll be shocked.

Ali Clarke:                    So then, Simon Birmingham, will there be an announcement that we can wait for?

Simon Birmingham:    Well look, Sarah can say there must be an audit, there should be an audit, but the High Court last week did clarify the operation of that clause of the Constitution. Anybody who has any doubts about an individual’s circumstances is free now to raise those. Obviously, Stephen Parry reflected on the High Court’s decision and has found circumstances that cause him to come out voluntarily and indicate his position. But otherwise every Member of Parliament should get on with their jobs, and our jobs are to actually worry about policies that impact on and help the Australian people and make our country better.

David Bevan:               Sorry, was that a yes or a no? Was that a yes or a no?

Simon Birmingham:    No, the Government’s going to actually keep getting on with the things that matter to Australians …

David Bevan:               So, no audit?

Simon Birmingham:    How do we reform our energy markets to actually keep prices lower for the future?

Sarah Hanson-Young: But the problem is this is distracting you. It’s distracted you for three months and you’re refusing to deal with it.

Simon Birmingham:    Well no, it hasn’t distracted us at all, Sarah. In the whole time that this saga’s been running, we’ve got on with developing the National Energy Guarantee and the policies around that. We’ve got on with delivering the postal survey on same-sex marriage …

Sarah Hanson-Young: You don’t even have the numbers to put in legislation through the Parliament now because you’ve lost Barnaby Joyce in the House. I mean, you’re living in an alternative universe. The public can see …

Simon Birmingham:    Sorry, Sarah. I know maths isn’t the Greens strong point but 75 members out of 149 in the House of Representatives is a majority.

Sarah Hanson-Young: You can’t pass legislation without the help of other people, Birmo, that’s the truth.

Simon Birmingham:    No, that’s not true at all, Sarah.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Yes it is.

Simon Birmingham:    Seventy-five Coalition members continue in the House of Representatives out of 149 seats. That’s a majority.

Amanda Rishworth:     Well, I think the other question though has been the hubris of the Prime Minister. His behaviour by not standing down Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash has caused a huge amount of uncertainty now. He predicted what the High Court- or he told us all what the High Court was going to find and he was wrong, and as a result we’ve now seen third-party groups suggesting they would tell some of the decisions that have been made by those two ministers and I think it showed a real error of judgement.

Ali Clarke:                    So you then, the Labor Party, will support an audit to get it all done?

Amanda Rishworth:     We don’t believe an audit’s necessary. I mean, it’s up to the parties to do the right thing. It’s up to the parties to do extensive auditing.

Sarah Hanson-Young: I just think the punters are sick of this. They’re absolutely sick of this argy-bargy. Just get the audit done.

David Bevan:               Okay, well let’s move on then. Do we need – and very quickly, because there’s a lot to cover before nine o’clock – but do we need to change the Constitution? Because it was pointed out by a Queensland academic that Sir Ninian Stephens was able to sit as the member of the High Court. He was Governor-General and yet he was almost certainly ineligible to sit for Parliament because he would have had dual citizenship being born in the UK. How dopey is that?

Amanda Rishworth:     I mean, we are open to it being- it has been referred now to a joint parliamentary committee. We have said we will participate in that review. I guess what would be concerning is if the focus was on changing the Constitution for this element at the same time as rejecting Indigenous recognition, I think most people would be scratching their head and wondering why that was the priority of the Parliament in not recognising our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Sarah Hanson-Young: I love that the excuse now is that it’s the constitution that’s wrong. You know, sure, we could have a conversation about that. But the truth here is MPs didn’t do their paperwork and there is- and without wanting to sound to populous, the fact is there’s only one thing that the public hate more than lying politicians and it’s politicians who lie about lying. You’ve stuffed up, fess up, get the audit done and then we can move on.

Ali Clarke:                    They also don’t like people who don’t answer questions. So yes or no, do you think the constitution needs to change, Sarah Hanson-Young?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Look, I think we can have a conversation about it, but not at the expense of Indigenous recognition.

David Bevan:               Simon Birmingham, do we need to change the constitution?

Simon Birmingham:    Well firstly, I’m not sure I see the link between this Indigenous recognition. Secondly …

Amanda Rishworth:     Both will require a referendum.

Simon Birmingham:    Secondly, I’d like to hear from multicultural communities. I’m open to the discussion, and we are a country that has a large number of people who come from different backgrounds and the problem with the High Court ruling is it’s not just a case of paperwork, it does in some cases require people to really dig into the laws of other countries about whether or not there might be an entitlement to citizenship there, and that is a particular burden then on some parts of our population that could be a barrier to those people standing for Parliament.

David Bevan:               Okay, 600 men are still in the Manus Island facility. They’re too scared to walk out although Australia has left managing that facility. Simon Birmingham, what is our moral responsibility to these men and what should we do?

Simon Birmingham:    Well, all of those 600 men have been advised some five months ago that the centre was closing. They’ve been advised of alternative shelter and accommodation that is available, that is safe, that is there for them to go to. But indeed hundreds of them have previously made day trips and overnight trips too at various occasions. So, what we’re seeing now is the Greens in particular and other advocates out there trying to stir up trouble and engender fear when in fact there are pathways to either return home for those who are not refugees, to resettlement pathways in PNG or elsewhere and ultimately this is about maintaining a policy that has seen for now more than 1100 days not a successful arrival in Australia and has allowed us to be in charge of our record level of humanitarian intake.

Ali Clarke:                    Sarah Hanson-Young, is that all you’re doing, stirring up trouble?

Sarah Hanson-Young: This is just a revolting excuse to try and cover up the humanitarian disaster that’s unfolding on Manus Island, and these people have been there for four years. They have been treated appallingly. Let’s not forget that these are the same group of people who were beaten and harassed when PNG officers broke into the detention centre and caused a riot, which resulted in one man dying and several others being injured for the rest of their life. More people have died in Manus Island than been resettled in Papua New Guinea. That is the truth, and it is horrendous. The fact is it is a mess. Peter Dutton has failed, and we’ve got Julie Bishop as acting prime minister today; I suggest she flies to PNG and gets this sorted out quick smart.

Ali Clarke:                    Amanda Rishworth?

Amanda Rishworth:     Look, this has been a failure by the Government to actually manage the detention centre appropriately. Detention- the regional processing on Manus Island was never meant to be indefinite detention. It was meant to be processing while the Government negotiated with the countries. They have not bothered to do that in the four years they’ve been in government. Now we’ve seen the inability for the Prime Minister and his Government to reassure these individuals that their safety and basic human rights will be looked after, has shown that once again this Government has failed on Manus Island.

David Bevan:               Simon Birmingham, before we leave, the Liberal Party-National coalition agreement; have you seen it, and if you have seen it, what does it say about the River Murray?

Simon Birmingham:    No, David, I don’t believe that I have. My understanding is that the agreement …

Ali Clarke:                    Sorry, sorry. Sorry, Simon Birmingham, did you really just say there, no, sorry, I don’t believe that I have seen this agreement? Did you see the agreement or not? Sorry, I just- that turn of phrase.

Simon Birmingham:    Well, no, look, I don’t recall seeing it …

Ali Clarke:                    Okay.

Simon Birmingham:    Which probably means that I haven’t.

Ali Clarke:                    Okay, I think.

Simon Birmingham:    My understanding is that the agreement is, as it was during the Howard years, one that simply dictates the terms around how it is that ministerial arrangements are shared between the two coalition parties, and doesn’t really go any further than that. So there’s not much to see, which is why, had I seen it, I probably couldn’t even remember, but I don’t think I have.

Amanda Rishworth:     I have to say, when this agreement occurred, we know from reports that Barnaby Joyce demanded to have the water portfolio.

Sarah Hanson-Young: And that’s turned out well.

Amanda Rishworth:     And I expressed significant concerns around this at the time, and I continue to express significant concerns. We are, in Labor, under Joel Fitzgibbon as Shadow Minister, demanding to see what is in that agreement, because it is in the interests of the Australian people, but in particular, South Australians, about what was said about water and the responsibilities around water.

Sarah Hanson-Young: I think Barnaby Joyce has proven himself to be unfit to be Water Minister. He’s overseen scandal after scandal, he’s done nothing about the water theft; in fact, what he’s done is funnelled money to his mates in the big irrigating corporations. The fact that the Water portfolio is off the Nationals now needs to be made permanent. It should not go back to the Nationals.

David Bevan:               Sarah Hanson-Young, thank you for your time. Simon Birmingham, anything else you want to say in response to that?

Simon Birmingham:    Well, very quickly, that actually implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan continues on time, on plan, as it always has, and yes …

Sarah Hanson-Young: Rorting taxpayers’ money.

David Bevan:               Okay, Sarah Hanson-Young.

Simon Birmingham:    Eastern states might keep causing trouble along the way, but implementation is actually on time and on plan still.

David Bevan:               And you think Barnaby Joyce is doing a fine job.

Simon Birmingham:    I think the core job there is to see the plan implemented, and that’s what’s happening. Barnaby’s doing a great job of doing that.

David Bevan:               Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister, thank you for your time. Sarah Hanson-Young from the Greens and Amanda Rishworth, Member for Kingston for the Labor Party and Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education.