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

12:04 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | Hansard source

The legislation before the parliament today, the TEQSA charges and cost recovery bills, is legislation that the Labor Party does not support. The bills seek to establish a new charge to recover the costs of TEQSA's regulatory activities for higher education providers, moving TEQSA's operations from partial to full cost recovery. As we have seen in this chamber, there have been a concerning number of laws passed where the government leaves out

considerable detail, and, in this case, it has left out of the legislation considerable detail on how the cost-recovery framework will operate. This avoids the transparency that should be required of governments. It avoids proper transparency and accountability, and buries the detail of these charges in regulations.

In principle, Labor opposes this legislation because now is not the appropriate time to move to full cost recovery for higher education providers, providers who have been forced to bear the brunt of the COVID pandemic—most of them, and for the most part, without any government assistance at all.

Labor senators found during the most recent round of Senate estimates that the TEQSA has not done any modelling on the impacts this shift will have on individual providers. For small to medium providers who have been heavily impacted by lockdowns, the lack of international students has increased levies by up to 700 per cent, and this represents an existential threat to these providers—that is, a threat to their very existence and survival as businesses. This is not good enough. But it is just another in the laundry list of examples where Prime Minister Morrison and his government have attacked Australia's world-class higher education providers, providers in our nation that had been crying out for assistance—when they needed it the most. They have sought assistance from the government. They've received none. They've been abandoned. And now we see this legislation before us.

Prime Minister Morrison's budget had not a dollar extra for Australia's universities. Instead, our universities got a big cut. Real funding for higher education will fall by some 10 per cent over the next three years. This is not something our nation can afford. The budget papers confirmed that, because of the Job-ready Graduates Package, Commonwealth funding for universities will be lower, and student debt levels will rise.

All this is taking place after tens of thousands of Australian students started university this year facing fee hikes, with many having had their fees doubled and many of them offered places and accepting those places before the fee changes came in. This is manifestly unfair. All of this is at a time when our universities have faced revenue losses of around $3 billion—$3 billion in revenue—because of the loss of international students et cetera. The Australian economy has lost some $9 billion in decreased revenue from international students. These impacts are profound right across our education sector, yet the government has chosen not to help universities but to attack them yet again.

This government, the Morrison government, changed the JobKeeper rules three times so that they could make sure that universities could not get support. Right in the middle of the universities' crisis, the government cut support that was meant to keep Australia's world-class research alive. Then in the 2020 budget the government provided $1 billion to partly cover the impact of falling international student revenue. But this year the government cut that funding, despite the fact that the federal government has mismanaged the vaccine rollout. Our country still has no idea when international students will be able to safely return, no idea of when international students will be able to enrol at Australian institutions again nor, frankly, any idea of where our international standing will be relative to other jurisdictions which international students will have started to go to instead of Australia. As a result of all of this incompetence coming from this government, 17,000 Australians have lost their jobs—jobs that are needed to educate Australians in critical areas that we need in the future.

So why does this government feel that now is the time to levy further fees on our universities? We're talking about academics and tutors who have lost their jobs but many other workers too: admin staff and everyone who keeps a university and running. All of these Australians have bills to pay, mortgages, families et cetera. Why has Mr Morrison stood by? Why is he happy to see tens of thousands of livelihoods destroyed? If he really cared about keeping Australian jobs, he would be helping universities, not hurting them. Why does he not think that these Australian families deserve support? This budget provided no meaningful assistance for public universities; instead, it is seeing a 10 per cent real funding cut over the coming years. Emergency funding to keep researchers in their jobs was cut off while the crisis was and is very far from over. But, I guess, what else can Australians expect from this out-of-touch and in-crisis government? This is a government that thinks a university is good enough for their kids but not for yours—not for the hundreds of thousands of Australians who would like a place in Australian universities. This is a government happy to sign students in every electorate across the country into our lifetime of big debt.

During the last parliamentary sitting period, the budget papers confirmed for the first time what the government has refused to admit: this government, the Liberal government, is saving money by jacking up fees. Here on this side of the chamber, in the Labor Party, we do not want Australia to be like America, where Australian young people would have to have a lifetime of debt in order to get an education. This is not the future that Australians deserve. Currently in our nation we are talking about our children, our young people, graduating university with debts of around $60,000 just for a basic degree. All at the same time as they're trying to find work, save a deposit for a house or even start a family. Shame on this government.


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