Anika Wells MP on Sky News




THURSDAY, 1 October 2020


SUBJECTS: US presidential debate, manufacturing, university fee increases

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Well, this was certainly the focus of probably most televisions around the world at one point in time. Let's get the reaction here in Australia, joined by my pollie panel, Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg, and from the Labor Party, Anika Wells.


CONNELL: I’ll just give an open-ended one first of all, to you Anika. What did you make of all this?

WELLS: [Cringing] It wasn’t edifying. I think the challenge for President Trump was to change votes. He is the one who is currently behind, and I can’t think of a single person who would have been wooed by that performance yesterday. I think what I took away the most was what Joe Biden talked about when he talked about the suburbs, and how people in the suburbs in Milwaukee want to know whether they’re going to have the Affordable Care Act ripped away a week after the election. People in the suburbs of LA want to know whether or not there’s a plan to stop bushfires ripping through their suburbs due to climate change. I think Joe Biden did better because he just talked down the camera to the people and reminded them that at the end of the day, they’re the reason that we do all of this.

CONNELL: And what did you think, Andrew Bragg? Again, I’ll just keep it open-ended. Any thoughts as you were, I’m sure, keeping an eye on it?

ANDREW BRAGG, SENATOR FOR NSW: Look, I don’t watch television during the day. Usually I am doing a number of work-related activities. Look, the small amount of the debate I have seen, you would have to say, was quite unedifying. But the reality is I’m not a commentator on US politics. My basic view on this is that our relationship is so deep and complex through military, economic, and social ties that it doesn’t really make a huge difference, who ultimately the American people will decide to be their president. We will still have a very strong, incredibly strong bilateral relationship.

CONNELL: Alright, we will see in the cut and thrust how that all works out, but I take your point that it goes beyond just the president. Let’s turn to manufacturing. The strategy seems to be a pretty welcome one at the moment. I guess people are asking though, why seven years in power before a major manufacturing strategy and a major investment of this nature, Andrew?

BRAGG: Well Tom, there is no substitute here for having a competitive economy and the plan here, in many respects, is building on the plan from earlier this week around the digital component. We want to make sure that Australian businesses are able to use all the technologies and all of the schemes that are available to them in order to compete on the global scale and to become exporters. Now, as a relatively small population spread across a large land mass, we need to be able to export, but also use our own capacity for domestic purposes, and that is effectively what this plan, which is going to be announced today I think, will build on.

CONNELL: Has it taken COVID though, to make the Government realise there needs to be more attention on this? That seems to be what’s happened here.

BRAGG: There is no substitute for driving private investment, and our Government is doing everything it can to try and promote private investment. At the moment there is a review into the industrial relations laws and there will be a budget next week which will no doubt look at tax policies. I mean, these are the really big levers that help drive private investment in an environment where capital is very, very mobile, and I’m hoping that the labour will be mobile again in the future, and so this is the environment in which we are working.

CONNELL: The policy itself, Anika, focuses on what the Government calls “key strengths,” including resources, technology, clean energy and defence. They seem like pretty sensible areas?

WELLS: Yes, but it’s another plan to develop a plan to pick some winners when too many Australians are already losing out today. I mean, I have 8,600 people unemployed in my electorate of Lilley. That’s double what we had in Christmas last year. What they need is a plan for jobs, and we just can’t trust this Government to deliver one. We look at things like JobMaker; the JobMaker plan came out on 25 June, and not a single brick has been laid in Lilley as a result of that plan. I think even this Modernising Manufacturing Fund that we’re hearing about today is just another reannouncement of an election commitment. They are all photo op and no follow-up.

CONNELL: Well the announcement is happening today, so presumably the money will be in the budget. That’s a bit more concrete, isn’t it?

WELLS: Well the announcement for JobMaker was made back in June, and as I said we haven’t seen a single brick, a single house or a single job made. My constituents and I have lost all trust in this Government to deliver anything by way of a jobs plan no matter what they say, because what they say and what they do is very different, particularly nearly 8 years in.

CONNELL: Alright. Just on the university funding fee changes, Jacqui Lambie has dealt quite a savage blow to this by saying she won’t support it. One part she talks about is how the Bill withdraws help for those who fail half of the subjects in their first year. She points out that Indigenous students are twice as likely to fail a subject, and about 50% of them fail subjects in their first year. Are you comfortable with a policy, Andrew Bragg, that could see more Indigenous students compared to the rest of the population effectively kicked out of university?

BRAGG: More and more Indigenous students are completing high school and going to university. I’m not sure whether or not those stats are accurate, but certainly this is a plan that will put more places for people who want to go to university and it incentivises people to take on subjects which are more likely to result in jobs that our country needs to fill now.

CONNELL: But if those stats are accurate, would that be a concern?

BRAGG: I’m not sure those stats are accurate, and clearly we don’t have any policy in this space that wants to discriminate against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders…

CONNELL: Well maybe not deliberately, but if there was, would that be a concern?

BRAGG: Well of course, but we put in place schemes which actually incentivise education attainment amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, recognising that’s one of the key components of closing the gap targets, and something I think is very tangible and doable, so that is a worthwhile initiative.

CONNELL: Alright, Anika it looks as though this Bill will fail. For Labor in this space, is it just a question of billions of dollars more being spent in the sector? Given what happened with COVID and overseas students, there is no other solution really, other than a lot of money.

WELLS: I think it is going to need a lot of money, but this is a sector that’s had billions ripped away from it by this Government, and they’ve acted, what, two or three times to exclude university staff from JobKeeper? I note Senator Lambie also said that she asked and failed to receive any modelling from the Government, so when we talk about the stats I’m not sure what stats the Government actually has. At the end of the day the policy is a shocker and should be put in the bin. I don’t agree with Andrew about what it incentivises people to do. I had a town hall talking about this very policy a couple of weeks back, and a kid named Mitchell said that he was planning to study music at university next year, but now he is genuinely considering joining the army instead because of the cuts to the arts industry and the decisions by this Government around university funding. It’s just untenable for him. I commend Senator Lambie, and I totally agree with her. I will not support any policy which denies poor kids and working-class kids the right to seek their own dream jobs.

CONNELL: Alight, we will have to leave it there. Well, we will see you soon Andrew. Anika, you’re having a little break with a couple more humans to come into the world, and I used the plural deliberately.

WELLS: Yes, they could come any time between tonight and maybe five or six weeks away, so we will see.

BRAGG: Good luck!

WELLS: Thanks!

CONNELL: All the best, indeed.

WELLS: Maybe you can help me hold one in Canberra.

BRAGG: Of course.

CONNELL: There you go, that would be good television. We’ll see you on the other side, Anika Wells and Andrew Bragg.