House debates

Tuesday, 25 May 2021


Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Charges) Bill 2021, Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2021; Second Reading

4:28 pm

Photo of Garth HamiltonGarth Hamilton (Groom, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

These bills are about maintaining the high quality of higher education that Australia is renowned for, while ensuring the sustainability of the sector now and into the future. At present the TEQSA's cost-recovery levels are quite low, at around 15 per cent of total costs. The taxpayer currently bears the burden of funding the vast majority of the regulatory activities. Moving towards an industry funded model is not without precedence. In the financial services sector businesses pay a levy to fund their independent watchdog and the same applies in a number of other industries with a great deal of success. In every case having this independent oversight ensures the quality of services being provided and gives assurance to those using those services that they are getting exactly what they pay for. My comments come from my time running research within a CRC. What was very important to us was to make sure that we were getting the high quality of research from these educational institutions that we were asking for. It's something that Australia has a very good standing in for it higher education facility. This is an important step towards making sure that we maintain these high standards.

The increased cost recovery for the TEQSA will involve increasing the application base fees to recover the true costs of these activities. The increase to application base fees will be enabled by a new fees determination to be issued by the TEQSA and introducing a new annual charge on higher education providers to recover the costs of the risk monitoring and regulatory oversight activities, and the new annual charge is the subject of these bills.

These activities are crucial to protect students from unscrupulous providers and to protect the reputation of our higher education sector, allowing targeted and timely responses to issues such as academic integrity, admission standards and information, student safety, fraud and corruption. At a time when many people are looking to upskill and retrain, taking advantage of the flexibility of online education, it's even more vital that this agency exists. It ensures that students can feel secure, knowing that their qualifications will be accredited and recognised.

TEQSA registration means that, from anywhere in Australia, students can sign up to online courses at the University of Southern Queensland, based in my electorate of Groom, and receive a world-class education with full confidence. In fact, we saw many people do this and benefit from USQ's implementation of discounted short courses during the peak of the pandemic. Backed by this government's COVID-19 relief package, community members were able to enrol in 20 undergraduate and graduate certificate programs across priority areas such as health, IT, engineering, education and agriculture—a very big one for our region. The university saw a remarkable uptake, and this government is providing and extra $26.1 million in the budget to fund an extra 5,000 short course places, further proof that there is strong demand for high-quality education delivered by Australian universities. I would add that a learning from USQ's good performance is its minimal reliance on international students to fund its operation. This was a point raised by the vice-chancellor, Geraldine Mackenzie, in a meeting with Minister Tudge recently. I know the government agrees with me that this foresight has positioned USQ very well to handle the challenges faced during the pandemic.

I also want to assure the House that this cost-recovery strategy isn't being implemented blindly. TEQSA will seek stakeholder feedback on a draft cost recovery implementation statement, consistent with the Australian government's cost recovery guidelines. The clear intention is for the government to work with the higher education sector to create a sustainable model. We know that such cooperation will be have the best possible outcomes. We look forward to working with the sector and receiving feedback. This is a clear example of the government working with industry to create a plan that will bring in meaningful change with the least possible disruption. Our economy is reopening. This is the government doing everything it can to ensure that this continues to happen, through planned and coordinated efforts with industry.

While higher education providers might have some criticism of the charges the government is listing, they will be phased in over three years to moderate the immediate financial impact. It will commence on 1 January 2022, and 20 per cent of the costs will be recovered in 2022, 50 per cent in 2023 and 100 per cent in 2024.

In summary, these bills are essential to sustaining this independent service and protecting the integrity of Australia's higher education sector, which I hope will encourage more students to feel confident in taking advantage of the myriad courses available to them, and being part of the next phase of Australia's recovery from COVID-19,

4:32 pm

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll say at the outset that I don't support this bill, Labor doesn't support this bill and this House should not support this bill. It doesn't matter how much fancy language the government dresses it up with, it's a bill that will whack higher education providers with new charges at the very worst possible time. There is no detail in the legislation about how much people are going to pay. There's no transparency or scrutiny. We heard from the previous speakers: 'Trust us; we're the government. We'll go and consult. We'll do a bit of stakeholder feedback.' Well, Labor has heard from stakeholders. The universities say that now is the worst time, and the independent higher education providers also say that now is the worst time, to whack the sector with higher fees and charges.

I'm not in principle opposed, I must say, to the idea of moving sectors, over time, to cost recovery—but not now. University budgets are being smashed. We've heard a lot from the government speakers throughout the debate about their job-ready graduates program—a three-word slogan. Well, this job-ready graduates program will see real funding for higher education fall by 10 per cent over the next three years. That's what Senate estimates was told. That's what the budget papers show. Under the government's program for universities, real funding will fall by 10 per cent over the next three years.

Student debts are rising. We've got tens of thousands of Australian students now facing fee hikes. Again, the answers they finally gave to the last round of Senate estimates admitted the truth. What they'd said when they introduced the bill was, 'Oh well, fees might rise for students by seven per cent over three years.' The truth is that on the government's own figures fees for university students will rise by 16 per cent over three years under their so-called reform program.

Now is the very worst time to be whacking universities with higher fees. They've already faced losses of $3 billion just in the last period because of international students and the borders being closed. The economy has lost $9 billion from international education already, with more to come. But the government is not helping universities; they have implemented this real cut to their funding and more charges. It is like the minister over there is a little bit jealous of member for Hume: 'the member for Hume has got a big stick. I will get out my slightly smaller stick and whack the sector'. We have seen from the government that 17,000 jobs have been lost already and they are just the jobs that show up in organisation charts that you can put a position next to; it is not the other thousands and thousands of casuals, sessional teachers, casual researchers and other support staff. There have been 17,000 jobs lost because the government refused to extend JobKeeper. In fact, they changed the rules three times to make sure that public universities in this country were one of the few sectors not eligible for JobKeeper—teachers, researchers, cleaners, support staff, administration staff, people with families, just like all other Australians except they happen to work for a public university, and the government was out to get universities.

The most immediate impact of the international student loss of revenue has been on research. We've had a weird funding model for too long in this country, where universities make a profit off teaching students to fund research. The government, I think, three years ago cut $2.2 billion, another little sneaky cut, in the mid-year financial update—another $2.2 billion the Prime Minister hacked out of universities. At that time, he and the Treasurer said, 'Don't whinge. Go and recruit more international students.' Well, they did that and now the government is saying, 'Well, you're a bit dependent on international students, aren't you?' The practical impact of this is that our research budgets across the nation have been slashed. We hear the government say, 'We gave them a billion dollars.' We didn't actually give them a billion dollars. What the government did was bring forward money that they were going to give them in later years and now its cutting that money. So at the very worst time, we've got the government cutting university funding, effectively cutting research funding, because they've already brought it forward in a national emergency when we need research to commit to the economic recovery, seeing international education fall over—our fourth-biggest export sector—and they are thinking: 'Here is another good idea; we could whack them with fees and charges.' You could wait a couple of years if you want to move to cost recovery, until the cash flows for the universities have recovered.

There is a lot of focus in this debate on universities and very little or none on independent higher education providers. It is no exaggeration to say many independent higher education providers are facing oblivion. They are looking a fiscal cliff in six or 12 months as the student pipeline dries up. If anyone understands the nature of these businesses and this sector, they go on a pipeline. As current students leave, there are no students coming to replace them. It is a myth that gets perpetuated and rolled out—sometimes from people on my side, sometimes from the government—that all higher education providers and non-university providers are somehow dodgy. They're not. Many of them are good reputable businesses giving quality courses often in niche markets or skills.

Honourable Member:

An honourable member interjecting

Photo of Garth HamiltonGarth Hamilton (Groom, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I mean it; I'm puncturing the stereotype. Well, if the minister actually cared about them, he wouldn't be whacking them with higher charges at this time. Their international student numbers have plummeted. They are not all dodgy. The government did little to nothing to help them. We have already seen many of them go out of business. Many of them were not actually eligible for JobKeeper because they weren't going to suffer the cash flow hit in the short-term; they were facing a fiscal cliff now. Many of these businesses have been around for decades. At the very time when they are fighting for their survival, the government comes along and goes, 'Here is a good idea; we'll whack them with higher fees and charges and push them off the cliff.' If you go and talk to these businesses, that's what they say. They already have many legitimate criticisms of TEQSA's performance and behaviour as a regulator and about the one-size-fits-all approach that regulates all the animals in the sector as if they were an elephant. Well, the universities are the elephants in the sector and there are a lot of other types of providers—small, medium and large ones—but they get university-level regulation basically foisted on them. There is a sector bias within TEQSA, which is a different conversation. If you listen to previous speakers and listen to the government's rhetoric, it is 'We are on about lower taxes, lower charges, less burden on business.' It is peak irony. I mean, if it wasn't actually serious, you could say that this was just trolling the sector. At the very time higher education providers—universities and private ones—need more support from the government, at the very time that their cash flows are being hit, the government comes along and proposes with this bill to whack them with more fees and charges. We heard a government speaker say, 'Well, currently they only pay 15 per cent of the cost-recovery for the regulator, so we're going to jack that up to 100 per cent,' at the very worst time.

The final thing I'll say, just on the international education sector, which TEQSA has a huge role in regulating, is that it's more than just dollars. Students are human. They're usually young people. There have often been huge sacrifices from them and their families to come and study in our country in some of their formative years. We should welcome that. We should show care and consideration for these young people who have chosen to spend this time in our country—in our cities, towns and regions. Instead, we had the Prime Minister showing an appalling lack of empathy, getting up last year and saying, 'If you don't like it, go home.' That ricocheted through the sector.

Mr Tudge interjecting

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's exactly what he said, Minister. It's exactly what he said. The minister is over there denying that the Prime Minister told students to go home. I talked a few weeks later with the CEO of one of the large accommodation providers in Sydney. I won't mention the name, but I'm in touch with the sector. I used to be a senior bureaucrat. I chaired the Commonwealth-state officials group for this sector. I ran the sector in Victoria. I actually do know something about this, Minister, perhaps unlike you, who had all your submissions bounced at cabinet last year. So this CEO of the accommodation provider, in relation to the international education sector—

Mr Tudge interjecting

That's what they tell us. They said that the minister—you were the immigration minister. That's what the sector believes, that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer were personally hostile to this sector, and any minister who took anything to cabinet to try and do something got thrown out: 'No, we're not interested. We're hostile to this sector.' The CEO of this accommodation provider told me very clearly that the day after the Prime Minister said, 'If you don't like it, go home,' he had students lining up at the front desk taking that literally, saying, 'I have to check out. The Prime Minister told me to go home.' Many of these students fall in love with Australia and Australians. We should show more compassion and a bit of care and empathy. TEQSA has a role in this, but there are also whole-of-government considerations.

I've spoken in other forums and other places about the students stranded offshore, the billions of dollars lost and the lives destroyed, but I want also to place on the record that there's another group of students, not the current or prospective students but the students who've already made that investment in Australia and who, frankly, were sold a promise by the government that if they studied here for three years or four years or whatever the period was, they'd get a graduate 485 visa and be allowed to stay and work in Australia for one year or two years as the case might be. The government should do the right thing by these students and actually commit that it will extend, renew or allow students to enter when the borders are open and it's safe to do so. We've got tens of thousands of students around the world trashing Australia's reputation. They feel misled. They feel abandoned by the government, which can't even extend them an olive branch and say, 'We know you've invested in Australia. We know we made you a promise. We will honour that promise. We may not be able to do it now, but we will honour it.' It's not a difficult thing to do, and it would help to restore some of our international reputation. This is a sector that relies on word of mouth. I'm sure the minister would agree with that. This is a sector which relies overwhelmingly on word of mouth from former students who've studied here and from current students saying to their mates and their families back home: 'Australia's a good place to come and study. You should come here.' That's what marketing of international education is fundamentally about. But the word of mouth right now for Australia is being trashed. A very small thing that the government could do is extend that olive branch to students who have a 485 visa or have post-study work rights and say that they will be allowed to come back.

4:43 pm

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Maintaining high standards for Australia's educational institutions is a key priority for the government to protect our international reputation for quality in higher education. In order to do this, we must ensure that our regulatory agencies are adequately resourced to perform their governance and supervisory functions. I support the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Charges) Bill 2021 and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2021. These bills give effect to the 2018-19 budget measures to implement increased cost recovery for the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

The government has delayed the introduction of increased cost-recovery for TEQSA on several occasions due to external factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic. At present, cost-recovery levels are relatively low, currently representing around 15 per cent of total costs. Clearly this is not a sustainable financial model. Currently the burden of funding the vast majority of the regulatory activities is borne by the taxpayer. Increased cost-recovery for TEQSA will involve increasing the agency's application based fees to recover the true cost of these activities. The increase to application based fees will be enabled by a new fees determination to be issued by the agency and introducing a new annual charge on higher education providers to recover the costs of TEQSA's risk-monitoring and regulatory oversight activities, including compliance monitoring and investigations, complaint management and stakeholder engagement.

The new annual charge is the subject of these bills. Consistent with the Australian government's Cost Recovery Guidelines, stakeholder feedback will be sought on a draft cost-recovery implementation statement. While higher education providers are likely to oppose this new annual charge, it will be phased in over three years to moderate the immediate financial impact. From 1 January 2022 the charge will be set to recover 20 per cent of the total costs of these activities. From 1 January 2023 the charge will be increased to recover 50 per cent of the total costs. Finally, from 1 January 2024 and ongoing, the charge will be set to recover the full costs of these regulatory activities. The amount of the annual charge will be prescribed by regulations setting out the formula for the charge, to be made by the Governor-General through the Executive Council. The amendments will require a higher education provider to pay the annual charge as and when it falls due, including any penalties for late payment. Failure by a higher education provider to pay the charge will constitute a breach of its conditions of registration.

The 2018-19 budget included a measure providing additional resources and revised cost-recovery arrangements for TEQSA. It provided additional resources of $24.3 million over four years to strengthen TEQSA's regulatory oversight of the higher education sector, meet a significant increase in applications for registration from prospective providers and protect Australia's reputation for high-quality higher education. It also included a shift to increased cost-recovery for regulatory activities. The fees for application based activities are determined by legislative instrument made by the agency under section 158 of the TEQSA Act. Those fees will increase from 1 January, to reflect the Australian government's decision to implement increased cost-recovery for regulatory activities.

The increased resources for the agency's other regulatory functions will be cost-recovered through the new charge developed in line with the Australian Government Charging Framework and imposed by the charges bill. The new charge will be set at a level sufficient to recover the cost of regulatory activities that are not the subject of its application based fees. The estimated total cost of these activities is around $5.7 million annually. The actual amount of the charge for each provider will be determined each year, based on the anticipated costs of TEQSA's regulatory activity for that year. The charge will be imposed on all providers on the agency's national register at the start of that year. The amount of the charge payable by each registered provider will be determined in accordance with a formula set out in the regulations made under proposed section 9 of the charges bill.

The bill also authorises regulations to be made that prescribe the amount or the method for working out the amount of the registered higher education provider charge and, in doing so, may provide for the indexation of the charge and exempt a registered higher education provider, including a class of registered higher education provider, from paying the charge.

Edith Cowan University, based in my electorate, has built up an international reputation for delivering quality in tertiary education and, in particular, excellence in research and development. The university has been allocated $245 million in federal funding as part of the recent budget to establish a new campus specialising in creative industries, business and technology courses. The satellite campus, which will be based at Perth's central business district and house the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, is scheduled to open in 2025 at a total cost of $695 million, with the university contributing $300 million and the WA state government providing land worth $150 million.

Public awareness of the significance of this funding commitment to the higher education sector in Perth is only beginning to be realised, with many residents still relatively unaware of the scale of the tertiary education project. For residents in my electorate, it means a wider range of courses and subjects to choose from and access to a broader selection of learning facilities and educational resources to equip them for future careers in the workforce. This investment by the federal government transcends electoral boundaries. It does not matter where the students live, they will have access to world-class educational facilities, literally on their doorstep, within the Perth metropolitan area.

The Perth campus will complement the courses offered at ECU's main Joondalup campus, based in the Moore electorate, and is expected to accommodate more than 8,000 students and 1,200 staff. The new campus should not be viewed as competing with the Joondalup campus; to the contrary, having a campus based in Western Australia's capital city will function as a gateway to channel international and interstate academics, students and researchers to ECU, putting it on the map. The modern state-of-the-art facilities will boost the reputation of the university, which already ranks among the world's top 100 universities under 50 years old, enhancing the status of the alumni and prestige of its degrees.

I acknowledge the futuristic vision of Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve Chapman, who has led the ECU team to institute what is a transformational education asset for the benefit of future generations. Professor Chapman first briefed me on his visionary plans to establish a capital city campus more than three years ago—a massive undertaking for both government and the university. The contribution of the Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population, the Hon. Alan Tudge MP, must be recognised. Minister Tudge visited the electorate on two occasions to discuss the federal government's City Deals program more broadly. We met with the City of Joondalup mayor, Albert Jacob, to discuss our regional infrastructure needs for a growing population. I also thank former Senator Mathias Cormann, who was instrumental in turning this ambitious project proposal to expand our local university into a reality.

During the construction phase, the project is expected to deliver $1.5 billion of economic activity and create more than 3,100 local jobs, adding to the government's economic stimulus program. The campus site is located at the central Perth City Link, adjoining Perth railway station. Interestingly, the northern suburbs railway passes adjacent to ECU's Joondalup campus, effectively directly connecting both campuses with public transport. It is envisaged that the creative and performing arts talent being nurtured at the city campus will add to the entertainment offering for visitors to the city of Perth, particularly during the evenings, supporting the local hospitality industry and adding vibrancy. If the city of Perth succeeds then all of us as Western Australians collectively share in that success as our capital city prospers. This $245 million investment by the Morrison government will expand our local university, which is good for our capital city and a positive for Western Australia, as it expands the higher education opportunities for the younger generation across Perth and the metropolitan area seeking to enter the workforce.

I am pleased that the federal budget included a $1.2 billion investment promoting Australia's digital future, providing the framework to ensure that we develop a world-class digital economy by 2030. Last week I attended the opening of Sapien Cyber, based on the ground floor of the new science building at the Joondalup Campus at Edith Cowan University. The facility was opened by the Governor of Western Australia, His Excellency the Honourable Kim Beazley AC, a former member of this House. I also acknowledge the presence of the chairman, the Honourable Stephen Smith, a former Defence minister and member of this House. May I also acknowledge the exemplary contributions of ECU Vice-Chancellor, Steven Chapman CBE; Chief Executive Officer, Glenn Murray; and the Chief Operating Officer of Sapien Cyber, Rochelle Fleming, in establishing the state-of-the-art facility, which is a collaboration of academic and industry experienced practitioners building upon Edith Cowan University's 20 years of world-leading research in cybersecurity in the form of a new commercial entity model. It will enable local businesses to effectively prepare, defend and respond against cyberincursions and protect against losses to business continuity, safeguarding against reputational and financial loss.

The Joondalup Learning Precinct will develop into a centre of excellence for innovation, technology and research and development. Our educational institutions, such as Edith Cowan University, will continue to collaborate with industry to promote the commercialisation of intellectual property. Our city has the potential to evolve into a digital hub supporting software development, cybersecurity and advanced information technology. We have the highly educated and skilled workforce necessary to attract advanced industries into the heart of Joondalup. The information technology sector in Joondalup has been supported by the federal budget as part of our Digital Economy Strategy. I look forward to supporting the work of Sapien Cyber in the digital sphere, safeguarding our IT infrastructure which the economy of the future will be built upon.

In conclusion, these bills give effect to the 2018-19 budget measures to implement increased cost recovery for the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. This will ensure adequate resourcing of the agency, strengthening the regulatory oversight of the higher education sector in light of the projected significant increase in applications for registration from prospective providers, protecting Australia's reputation for high quality, tertiary education. I commend the bills to the House.

4:57 pm

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Youth) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to sum up to on these bills, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Charges) Bill 2021 and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2021. One of the reasons that we have a highly regarded tertiary education system in Australia is because we have very good regulators. With that regulation though, comes some costs. These bills are aimed at recovering those costs in the now becoming-normal arrangements that we are putting in place across the Commonwealth.

I should stress that these had been mooted, and in fact it was a budget decision, as previous speakers have said, going way back to 2018-19, and we're legislating now for it to come into effect next year. Then, when it does, there will be a transition period over three years. It's in keeping with our general principles of cost recovery. There's a transition period starting from next year. We obviously have consulted in relation to this, and the sector has known it has been a long time coming.

I would say in relation to this—and in doing so address some of the points which particularly those opposite have raised, which I note are opposing this bill which is disappointing—that at the moment all of our regulatory costs have been deferred. They have not just been deferred actually; they were not charged during last year. Indeed, a budget decision was to extend that all the way through the remainder of this calendar year, and obviously we'll keep a very close eye on it.

Why did we do that? We did that because of the impact of COVID on the higher education sector—on our universities and our private higher education providers. This provided them some relief during that period, particularly, as many have noted, when international students—who are a significant source of revenue for more of them—weren't arriving into the country.

I did want to also address a couple of other points, particularly those which the shadow minister, the member for Sydney, raised and which others from the opposition benches also raised. The main point which they were making was twofold, the first being that this is not the right time to be doing this and the second being that we have not supported the higher education industry. Let me address each of those.

They say, 'This is not the right time to do it.' Well, I've been through that. It was raised in 2018-19. It comes into play in 2022. And there will be a staggered introduction. We've waived the fees up until that particular point in time, and obviously we keep a close eye on what's going on.

Have we actually supported the sector throughout the COVID pandemic period? The answer is yes. Obviously, the tertiary sector has been impacted by the fact that international students have not been able to arrive into the country since our borders were closed early in calendar year 2020. For our public universities, international students are a significant source of their revenue—about 25 per cent—and, for some of the private higher education providers, it can be as high as 90 per cent of their revenue. So we're aware of that and have actually put in place many measures already to support them. We provided, for example, the public universities an extra billion dollars in research revenue in last year's budget and an extra half a billion dollars in additional Commonwealth supported places for domestic students, in full-time courses as well as short courses. So, all up, that's an additional $1.5 billion that the Commonwealth placed into the public universities.

In the most recent budget, we also had a particular package for the private higher education providers, noting that some of them are particularly reliant upon international students and international students for shorter courses—six-month courses, rather than necessarily two-, three- or four-year courses. That's a $53 million package provided for them, to help them deal with the pandemic. That will be rolled out over the next six months or so. It includes 5,000 additional short-course placements for the private higher education providers.

Again, we'll implement these measures and will be keeping a close eye on the private higher education providers, with the ambition, obviously, that international students will be able to return at some stage next year. As people would understand, we've made an assumption in the budget that that will be in the second half of next year.

A key point that the shadow minister raised—and she has raised this repeatedly, and I want to address it squarely—is that we should have provided JobSeeker to the public universities. That's been a key point of attack on the government from the member for Sydney and those opposite. I simply want to point out to the member for Sydney some basic maths. I know she's not very good at maths. She's not very good at geography—she confuses Africa as being a country rather than a continent. But she should know that, to be eligible for JobSeeker, you had to have at least a 30 per cent decline in your revenue, and, if you're a larger organisation with a billion dollars of revenue or more, you had to have a 50 per cent decline in your revenue. Not a single public university—many of whom were above a billion dollars worth of revenue—would have got anywhere close to that figure. So this point that the member for Sydney continuously raises is a false point, and surely she should be aware of it. In fact, if anything, I look at the figures and I know that international student numbers are down, but, for the public universities, they're down about 13 per cent at the moment. Now, international students make up 25 per cent of public universities' revenue, so 13 per cent down on the 25 per cent. That does not get you anywhere near a 30 per cent decline in revenue, let alone a 50 per cent decline in revenue. Surely that basic mathematics should be understood by those opposite, particularly the shadow education minister. So it is just a false argument which she has continuously made to make out that we are not supporting the public universities.

I will also point out—and maybe the member for Sydney is not aware of this—that many of the universities continue to report budget surpluses; not all of them, and I understand that. For example: Monash University reported its biggest-ever budget surplus in 2020 of $267 million; Melbourne University, $178 million; Flinders, $35 million; University of Southern Queensland, $12 million; Western Sydney University, $13 million. I appreciate that some have reported deficits in 2020 and I understand that, but that is on top of aggregated budget surpluses of $16 billion over the last nine years from our public universities.

I know that some of them are feeling the squeeze. We understand that. We have provided that additional assistance to those public universities. As I have publicly said and say so continuously, we keep a close eye on their finances. We are working closely with them. We are doing so in terms of potentially getting some pilots up of international students later this year and there is certainly an assumption made in the budget that we will have larger scale numbers of international students back next year.

Getting back to this particular bill, it is a reasonable bill. It has been talked about for many years. We are passing the legislation now knowing it will be implemented from next year. It will be phased in and, in the meantime, all of those charges and fees have actually been waived during this pandemic period. I commend the bill.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill now be read a second time. To this, the honourable member for Sydney has moved as an amendment that all words after 'that' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. So the immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

5:16 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that this bill be read a second time.