Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014; Second Reading
I rise this afternoon to speak on the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014. This is undoubtedly a controversial piece of legislation which has the capacity to completely reform the higher education landscape across Australia. Whether this reform of the landscape will be positive or negative, we will not know. Whether the legislation is what it should be, we will not know. The reason we will not know is that throughout the course of this debate some senators in this place could not rise above the politics. They have indicated that they will vote this bill down at the second reading, before we have even been able to discuss amendments. Let me make this crystal clear. In its current form, I do not support this legislation. If this were the final vote today, I would not be voting for it. But this is not the final vote; this is the second reading. I am simply voting in favour of procedure.
This vote is not about whether the bill becomes law, but whether or not we are prepared to be constructive, rather than destructive. This place is meant to be a place of review and I, for one, want to be able to properly review this legislation. We do our constituents a disservice if we refuse to even attempt to fix a bill which aims to make our higher education system more sustainable. I am not arguing that this bill is perfect. I am not even arguing that this bill is repairable. I am simply arguing that we should at least try.
While it may be politically expedient to vote this bill down before it has had a fair hearing, in my opinion that is not the responsible thing to do. I have had over 50 meetings with universities, students, unions, lobby groups, small- and medium-sized businesses and current and former academics on this bill. As a result of these meetings, I sincerely believe that reform is needed and that reform, especially for regional universities, is required. What I have been told by those who run our nation's universities is that the status quo is unsustainable. It would be irresponsible for me to ignore their advice. I believe we owe it to the tertiary education sector and, most importantly, to the students to at least try to make some reasonable reforms work. If, at the end of that process, we in this place are unable to do that, then so be it. But the important thing is that we will have tried. That is why I have decided to vote in favour of the second reading, even when my fellow crossbenchers have indicated that they will not. That is their right to do so. That is democracy at work.