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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13222


Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (12:18): I am pleased to rise today in support of the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2015 and those measures contained within it.

We have before the House some important measures and also some measures that relate to the normal business of government. Unfortunately, these measures, which should have gone through the parliament two years ago, have been hijacked by the government in their ideological crusade to deregulate the Australian university system and usher in an era of $100,000 degrees instead of getting on with the normal business of government, which is what they should have been doing. Labor has had to call on those on the other side to uncouple the measures contained in this bill from their ideological attempt to deregulate the universities so that we can go ahead with these important measures. It is certainly pleasing that, finally, after two years, the government have listened to Labor's calls and are putting forward these important changes.

Australian universities, researchers and students have been taken hostage by the Abbott-Turnbull government while they have been pursuing their folly of deregulation—a folly that has not been supported by the Australian people. But today we can offer our support to the government for these sensible measures. In particular I would like to highlight Labor's support for the part of the legislation that expands access to the higher education loan scheme to New Zealand citizens who have been in Australia since childhood. This is an anomaly that does need to be fixed. I, along with many members on our side—and I am sure those on the other side—have been speaking with young people who came to Australia as New Zealand citizens and who have been locked out of the HELP scheme. I know the member for Rankin, who will speak after me, has been representing his constituents on this issue to ensure that those of New Zealand origin have the opportunity to take up a higher education qualification in Australia. Indeed, the member for Rankin and I have visited universities that have also indicated just how important this measure is.

Labor flagged in 2013 its intention to bring such a bill to the parliament. Unfortunately, we would have liked to have seen reform in this area much more quickly. However, as I mentioned, the government chose to bundle this reform in its plan to deregulate university fees, despite us and many people around Australia urging and pleading for the government to uncouple this reform from its plan. We have now finally got to the point of seeing this legislation being supported in legislation in this House. In June this year, Senator Kim Carr did introduce a private senators bill, the Higher Education Support Amendment (New Zealand Citizens) Bill 2015, to try and rectify this anomaly. Although the government did not support that bill at the time, we are very pleased to see action on this.

I know that in my electorate, as well as right around the country, there are many young New Zealanders that came out here up to 10 years ago that are now approaching the end of their high school studies. They are keen to pursue a higher education degree and might not come from a family of significant means. Therefore, a loan through the HELP program that is available to Australian students is a very, very important element to make higher education accessible. Ensuring that those New Zealand citizens that have been here since childhood for a period of 10 years have access to the scheme is very, very important.

Further, this bill also gives Australian researchers and universities certainty by guaranteeing appropriations for the Australian Research Council, allowing the vital National Competitive Grants Program to proceed at fully funded rates. It also, importantly, will update the name of the University of Ballarat to Federation University in the Higher Education Support Act. Federation University has been rebranded for some time. Because of the government's inaction in this area and their inability to proceed with the normal governance arrangements, we have had to wait some time to see this change in the Higher Education Support Act. With this bill, we will now see those changes.

This bill also clarifies the constitutional power that the other grants under the Higher Education Support Act—mostly research and equity grants—rely upon, which is a really important element. It also adds Torrens University to the list of table B universities under the Higher Education Support Act, making it eligible for the same funding support enjoyed by other private Australian universities, like Bond University. Of course, Torrens University Australia has added to the complement of public and private universities in Adelaide, my home town. I was very pleased to be at the opening of that university and I am very pleased that the government have finally caught up with and will be making this amendment. This bill also streamlines reporting requirements for the ARC and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. The bill has a range of elements that are important to governance arrangements—really part of what should be the normal function of parliament. So I am certainly pleased to see these changes brought before the parliament today.

Of course, as I said, Labor will support these measures, because they are sensible measures. Ensuring that young New Zealanders have the opportunity to access our higher education system is an incredibly important element, so we will support the government on these measures. In doing so, we recognise they have taken a long, long time and that it has taken Labor calling again and again for the government to uncouple these measures from the wider higher education reforms. The previous minister was quite determined not to that. It was almost as if he was blackmailing the parliament and blackmailing the Australian people by saying, 'If you want the ordinary business of government to proceed, you must support our radical deregulation agenda.' It seems that the new minister has seen some sense. Despite that, we do not know what his plans are when it comes to the broader higher education reforms; we are still unsure. He seems to have delayed them for one year, and that is all the reform that he has done. The measures contained in this bill are responsible measures. They should have been brought in much earlier. We are pleased that the government have listened to Labor's calls to uncouple these measures from the radical, ideological deregulation agenda. I commend the bill to the House.