Senate debates

Monday, 16 March 2015

Matters of Public Importance

Higher Education

4:33 pm

Photo of Lisa SinghLisa Singh (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Attorney General) Share this | Hansard source

Anyone would think, listening to Senator Birmingham's contribution to this debate, that his head has been in the sand today and that he has had absolutely no understanding or idea of what has gone on with his Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne. He clearly backed down, not only after the pressure from an open letter to the Prime Minister earlier this month but after pressure by a range of research organisations, known as the National Research Alliance, against this government's deregulation of universities and its effect on research—scientific research at that.

On top of that, Labor's notice of motion that was tabled today called on the government to immediately release the research infrastructure funding that it was holding hostage. That motion, of course, was a motion that Labor had support for from the crossbench. It had support from senators Lambie, Lazarus, Muir, Madigan, Rhiannon, Wang and Xenophon. After all of that pressure, finally Christopher Pyne came to his senses and decided that the intimidation that he had placed on the Senate—particularly on the crossbench—over his very unfair and unnecessary policy for $100,000 university degrees and holding the research infrastructure funding to ransom in doing so—limiting 1,700 scientific research jobs through that process—was a bad idea.

Senator Birmingham seems to be completely unaware that this has gone on today—that this backdown has occurred today. I think that I could not put it any better than journalist Laura Tingle put it today, when she said:

Education Minister Christopher Pyne's attempt to blackmail the Senate by threatening scientific research funding if the higher education changes are not passed this week has backfired spectacularly, …

That is exactly what has happened. It has backfired spectacularly, with the crossbench joining Labor to insist, through that notice of motion, that the funding be assured before the Senate considers the package.

It is pleasing to see that Christopher Pyne has come to his senses, but we know that he has not come completely to his senses when it comes to his backdown. What Minister Pyne should learn from today is a lesson, not just of backing down on the research funding that he has now freed from his education reform package but he should go all the way and back down on his proposal for deregulation. Why? Because it is not just Labor that opposes these proposals, and it is not just the crossbench that rejects this proposal, it is the Australian people—particularly students and those who work in the university sector.

Australians oppose these measures. They oppose cutting public funding to undergraduate courses by up to 37 per cent. They oppose the extraordinarily expensive university degrees that will come as a result of fee deregulation. They oppose the Americanisation of our world-class university system. They oppose these things because they understand the value of our universities and the value of higher education—and the contribution that those with degrees then contribute to our Australian society, the skills that they learn there.

Despite Minister Pyne's backdown today—releasing the 1,700 jobs he was holding to ransom, trying to intimidate the crossbench to support his education package—we know that the Abbott government did try very hard, up until around lunchtime, to shamelessly threaten to destroy the future of scientific research in Australia unless it got its plans for its $100,000 university degrees through this Senate. That is no way to govern. That is certainly no way to negotiate with the crossbench.

How absolutely absurd—for a minister of the crown to approach his portfolio with intimidation, with blackmail! It is absolutely ridiculous. That is why Labor will vote against these cuts to university funding and student support. Labor will not support a system of higher fees, bigger student debt, reduced access and greater inequality; because that is exactly what Minister Pyne's package is all about. We will never tell Australia that the quality of their education depends on their capacity to pay. That is not the Australia we live in. That is not the ethos of a fair go that we know Australia to stand for. And that is why Labor will not support this package.

When Christopher Pyne threatens to cut research if he does not get his way—when he has a tantrum, as he does—Australians do not think: 'Gee, that's a good idea! What a good idea! Let's cut scientific research by 1,700 jobs!' No. They become even angrier; their representatives are standing up against the broken promises; they are being subjected to threats and blackmail. This is not something that the Abbott government took to the people. This is something again that has been thrown on the people of Australia, thrown on the crossbench, with intimidation and threat. As I said, that is no way to govern for this country.

Labor's position remains very clear. Since the budget we have seen that it is not only Labor that opposes the government's unfair, short-sighted higher education package; it is the broader Australian public. I think the biggest summation of this kind of charade that has gone on with Christopher Pyne over this last month really comes back to that open letter from the National Research Alliance to the Prime Minister about 'Australia's national public research infrastructure preparing for shutdown', as it is titled. A number of those national researchers, a number of those scientific researchers, come from my home state in Tasmania. IMOS, for example, is a recipient of the NCRIS and would be deeply affected by the cuts that Christopher Pyne threatened the crossbench with.

I stand with Labor and oppose this bill. (Time expired)


No comments