Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 August 2021


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

1:16 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Charges) Bill 2021, and I will start off by expressing my concern, which clearly is shared by Senator Carr, that again the government brings to this chamber half-law for us to consider. They don't put into the bill some of the substantial, or at least important, elements of the laws that are being passed, and that's one of the bases upon which I will not be supporting this bill. Do the job properly, departments. Bring your legislation to your minister with the regulations attached. Ministers, see that your departments do the proper job. Refer your departments to section 1 of the Constitution, which says that it is the parliament that makes the laws. It's parliamentarians, in full visibility of the public, who make the laws, not faceless people in offices into which no-one can peer to look at what they're doing. That is not the way this system is supposed to work. The government needs to up its game on this, and the parliament and the Senate need to stand firm. Every time bills which are half-laws come to this chamber, they ought to be rejected.

Of course, the other problem with this bill is the fact that it raises charges which will ultimately be passed on to students. So here we have a government again slogging students, people who are struggling and trying to get ahead and get educated so they can go off and contribute to our economy and to our society. And what do you want to do? You want to increase the charges.

I get that you have to manage money, but why don't you start with the submarine project, a project that went from $50 billion to $90 billion and to which we've now added another $10 billion because we won't get our submarines in time before the Collins class would otherwise retire? They're due to retire starting in 2026 and we're not going to get our future submarine until 2035, so we've had to pay an additional $10 billion to fill the gap. You have these enormously risky projects that are draining the budget. How did we get into this situation? Go back to 2003 and read the Kinnaird review, which says: 'Buy off the shelf. Build it here in Australia—that's fine—but buy products that you know work.' If you didn't know about the Kinnaird review, go to the 2008 Mortimer review, because that'll tell you the same thing. But what happens every single time is that we have admirals, air marshals and generals who don't have project experience and who don't understand project risk making recommendations to cabinets full of ministers who have even less idea about project risk, project management and the cost blowouts that occur when you take on extremely risky projects.

So that's $50 billion. If you want to find some money for education, sort that project out. But you can't. No-one on the other side of the chamber will look at me while I'm talking about this, because you don't know how to do that. You're incompetent and incapable of doing that. It's the same thing for the Future Frigate project. It went from $35 billion to $45 billion—another blowout that could be paying for education services. Of course, we want trades people and people with engineering degrees to go and work to complete those projects, and they're going to struggle because they're going to get slugged by this new bill.

Why don't you go to Gerry Harvey and ask him for the $22½ million in JobKeeper that he took to make profit, pay higher dividends and pay executive bonuses? Right now he's spending that money on advertising for the Olympic Games. JobKeeper was for a good purpose. It was a wage subsidy for people who were trying to get through COVID-19. It was a good program, but it has been abused. Are you guys on the other side of the chamber going out there and saying, 'You know what? It has been used for a purpose it wasn't intended. We're going to take that taxpayers' money back, because then we can spend it on education'? No, you're not, and the irony of that is that the very people who are going to have to dig us out of the deficit created by JobKeeper abuse are the people you're going to slug with these new charges. It's disgraceful.

The Liberal Party is normally characterised as being the party of business people and good project managers. Well, you're falling way short in that regard. You've got no idea how to deal with some of these projects. Let me give you a hint. You see a naval officer, a general or an air marshal wander past, and they're good people. I would go to war with almost all of them—and I say that as a former serving member of the ADF—because they're highly competent at what they do. But they're not project managers. I wouldn't take a project manager and say, 'Go and be the commanding officer of a submarine.' So why would I take the commanding officer of a submarine and say, 'I'm going to make you a project manager today'? It doesn't make any sense.

So we end up with these hugely risky programs. It is completely out of control. Unfortunately, not only will it affect the bottom line, which you're trying to claw back with these much, much smaller measures—but you slug the little guy—it also endangers national security. I don't know if anyone on your side of the chamber has looked north of Australia for a little while, but there's tension brewing, and that tension will likely manifest itself not in 2035—if we're lucky enough to have our future submarines at that point in time—but much, much sooner.

The response we had last week was the defence minister announcing that we have a 1½-year delay in the Future Frigate program. We're going in the wrong direction. Actually, he then stood up to said, 'Don't worry. We're going to recover that schedule.' That is one of the most naive statements I've ever heard a defence minister make. I can tell you, after being in the project management space for many, many years—in fact, after watching Defence for the last 3½ decades and being a part of it—that they never recover schedule, and that's consistent with what happens in the commercial world. It's clear that Minister Dutton has now started drinking the department's Kool-Aid. If there's one thing I had hoped for, it is that Minister Dutton would look at things very objectively and not end up swallowing all of the rubbish that comes from Defence when they're defending some of their poor projects.

But the relevance to this bill is the fact that it is taking money from the people, from students, through tertiary education bodies to try and balance a budget that is so way out on the other side with things like defence projects and JobKeeper payments that have not been recovered that it's going to make almost no difference at all. Focus on the things that matter and stop trying to rip off students. Stop trying to put hurdles in the way of people who want to get educated. It doesn't even fit in with any of your standard marketing about a smart Australia, because what you are actually doing is dumbing things down and that's not good government.


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