Subject: (International Education; Emissions Trading Schemes)


KIERAN GILBERT: We’re live to Beijing now and the Assistant Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, joins me. Minister, thanks for your time, you’ve met with some senior members of the Chinese administration, what’s the mood like given the volatility on their market?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning Kieran, there is a laser like focus on the future here in China from their leadership, both at a government level and a business level. What I sense is a country that knows where it’s going economically, that yes, has ups and downs of a stock market, but their stock market is still a long way ahead of where it was 12 months ago as Joe Hockey has emphasised and it’s a country with come clear plans to continue to transform their economy and Australia is very well placed to play a big role in that, in of course, the well-known sectors like the resources and mining sector, but also in a range of other sectors and, most particularly for my trip here, the international education sector which is so critical to our economy and offers so much opportunity for collaboration with China.

KIERAN GILBERT: It is a $17 billion industry for Australia, the international education sector, but in terms of vocational education and training which has been your focus, is their much interest amongst the Chinese for that or is it more about the prestigious universities?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, very strong interest. You’re right, overall, international education is a $17 billion industry, it’s our largest services export and we’re proud, as a government, to have grown that from $15 billion up to $17 billion and turned around a decline we’ve seen in the international education sector. There are 121,000 Chinese students studying in Australia across universities, but also in our schools, vocational education and training providers and English language courses. Importantly though, there are also around 30,000 Chinese students studying with Australian vocational education and training providers who are operating here in China. So, we’re looking to grow the market, not just of students coming to Australia, but for Australian providers operating in China and ensuring the quality and integrity of that arrangement is a key part of my trip here. 

KIERAN GILBERT: So, you’ve had talks with the Chinese Education Minister and others, are they…obviously as I say, the big focus to this point has been on the Chinese students coming to Australia studying at the likes of ANU, but you believe that there is scope here for providers to be upgrading, enhancing their services there in Beijing and broader China as well?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: China sees rich opportunities for collaboration in vocational skills and we signed two documents yesterday that will give us greater capacity to work with China on the mutual development of skills, the recognition of those skills where that’s appropriate, but importantly also, for our skills regulator who regulates the Australian training providers operating in Australia to provide some guarantees to China and to employers and to everybody, that Australian training providers operating in China are delivering the same high quality courses and the same high quality outcome when they’re delivering Australian qualifications here in China, so it’s a very important move to give that quality assurance to Chinese employers and Chinese students that if they go to an Australian training provider here in China, they’re going to get the best possible training outcomes and that they are well placed then to be able to grow those markets and help China in its economic transformation in years to come. 

KIERAN GILBERT: A final issue…and more detail emerging across the NewsCorp papers on Labor’s plan for an emissions trading scheme. There are, as you know, a number of emissions trading schemes across China in several provinces already aren’t there? They’re really committed to responding to the issue of climate change.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Kieran, a few quick points there. Firstly, China’s policies are, of course, China’s business, but I would note that any pricing schemes they have are vastly different in terms of the scale or size or scope or cost of what Labor had in Australia or what Labor is proposing to reintroduce. Secondly, that we are committed to action on climate change and our direct action policy is actually delivering abatement at much greater rate just from the very first option than what occurred under Labor’s carbon tax in the first two years, but thirdly, if you do look at those reports in the Daily Telegraph about Labor’s secret carbon tax policy, it seems to be proposing not one, but two or three carbon taxes. Different ones for electricity, for vehicles, for big business and the real question for Labor is to be honest and upfront about what their policies are, but does this policy come, not just with greater cost in terms of the Australian economy, but with so much bureaucracy that would come with having not one new carbon tax, but three new carbon taxes?

KIERAN GILBERT: In terms of, just finally, the emissions trading scheme principal, it’s something that China is committed to and they are serious about responding to climate change, do you accept that?   

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: China is applying a range of different policy mechanisms that differ from provinces and at the national government level, but as I say, China’s policies are China’s business. We have found in Australia, that you can bring emissions down through our direct action policies, through the emissions reduction fund and its auction process in a meaningful way that gets real reductions, in terms of your emissions, at a much cheaper cost base than you did from the carbon tax and is achieving far greater reductions in those emissions, so ultimately, you have to go, as a country, where the policy evidence shows you can get the best returns. We’re delivering that through our direct action fund and emissions reduction fund in Australia. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Simon Birmingham, Assistant Education Minister, I appreciate your time, thanks for that.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure, Kieran.