House debates

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Higher Education Support Amendment (Removal of the Higher Education Workplace Relations Requirements and National Governance Protocols Requirements and Other Matters) Bill 2008

Consideration in Detail

Bill—by leave—taken as a whole.

6:22 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Casey, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move opposition amendments (1) and (2) together:

(1)    Schedule 1, item 6, page 3 (line 28) to page 4 (line 1), omit the item, substitute:

6  Section 33-17

Repeal the section, substitute:

33-17  Reduction in assistance for higher education providers failing to meet certain requirements

        (1)    A higher education provider’s *basic grant amount for a year is reduced if the Minister is satisfied that the provider does not meet the requirements known as the National Governance Protocols that were specified in the Commonwealth Grant Scheme Guidelines, as in force on 27 February 2008, as at 31 August, in the year preceding the year.

        (2)    The reduction under subsection (1) is an amount equal to the amount that would have been the increase under repealed section 33-15 if:

             (a)    the provider had been entitled to an increase of 7.5% under that section as in force immediately before the commencement of Schedule 2 to the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (2007 Budget Measures) Act 2007; and

             (b)    the *funding clusters were the funding clusters that existed immediately before the commencement of Schedule 2 to the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (2007 Budget Measures) Act 2007; and

             (c)    the *Commonwealth contribution amount for each of those funding clusters was the amount that would have been the Commonwealth contribution amount for the funding cluster for the year if the amounts in the table in section 33-10 had not been amended by the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (2007 Budget Measures) Act 2007 or any later Act.

(2)    Schedule 1, item 7, page 4 (lines 2 to 5), omit the item, substitute:

7  Application—section 33-17

Section 33-17 as in force immediately after the commencement of item 6 of this Schedule has no effect in relation to a higher education provider’s *basic grant amount for the grant year 2008.

In the brief time available I will describe the substance of the amendments, which I also did earlier today during the second reading debate, and address some of the issues raised by the Deputy Prime Minister. As I said earlier today, the amendments moved in my name seek to amend the bill that is now being considered to maintain funding conditionality with respect to the national governance protocols only. That has been our public position for two months. I articulated that clearly earlier today in the House. Our amendments, therefore, omit item 6 of the government’s bill and substitute a section that first repeals the whole section 33-17 of the Higher Education Support Act and then substitutes in its place funding conditionality only with respect to the national governance protocols.

The national governance protocols conditionality requirements within the opposition’s amendments have exactly the same operation and effect on universities and higher education providers that they used to. I might add that, as I said earlier today, it was confirmed in Senate estimates that all of the universities were compliant with the protocols in the preceding year. The coalition’s amendments will also reinstate the minister with exactly the same authority to withdraw the prescribed amount of funding for universities or higher education providers that are not compliant with the national governance protocols, as is currently the case. This is the very essence of the coalition’s amendments to the government’s bill—to restore the tried and tested relationship of funding conditionality with respect to the national governance protocols. The amendments also omit item 7 of the government’s bill and substitutes it as a minor consequence of amendments in item 6.

I would like to address a couple of issues that arose with respect to these amendments. Firstly, they wholly and solely deal only with conditionality of funding with respect to the national governance protocols. That is our only difference of opinion on this bill and that is all our amendments seek to do. Suspicion by the minister is no substitute for the substance of our amendments, which just deal with the national governance protocols. I have heard many speeches today talking about the HEWRRs. As I said, our amendments do not deal with funding conditionality for the HEWRRs; we are just dealing with maintaining funding conditionality was respect to the protocols.

The Minister for Education well knows that one of her first acts in the new parliament—I think in the first week—was to introduce Labor’s industrial relations changes. She said in this place that Australian workplace agreements were abolished. We did not oppose that. That has occurred. They do not exist. It is hard to offer something that does not exist. That is the substance of the law. The minister knows that. I think most of the speakers know that. AWAs as described in the HEWRRs do not exist. So the notion that somehow at the end of the day they could be offered to me is passing strange. But, in any event, the amendments deal just with the maintenance of funding conditionality with respect to the protocols. These protocols were not invented by the government; they were the result of a series of extensive reviews over many years and most recently a review, I understand, by the minister’s own department. The government did not sit down and dream up protocols. Reviews recommended them and the reason they were recommended was that university governance was failing—that is, without protocols and the funding conditionality attached to them, we had substandard governance in some campuses.

I know that Universities Australia has made a statement. I am well aware of that. I am also well aware of what chancellors tell me in private and I am well aware of the history. This is our firm view. The intention of our amendments is just to maintain these national governance protocols. That is the purpose of the amendments that have now been circulated. (Time expired)

6:28 pm

Photo of Julia GillardJulia Gillard (Lalor, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I indicate that the government will be opposing these amendments for the reasons I put in my summation on the second reading.

Question put:

That the amendments (Mr Anthony Smith’s) be agreed to.

Question put:

That the bill be agreed to.