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Wednesday, 18 March 2015
Page: 2769

Higher Education

Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (14:05): My question is to the Minister for Education. In January, when asked what would happen if the government's unfair university changes were not passed by the Senate, the minister said, 'Well, the government will accept the decision of the Senate.' Just now the Prime Minister said that the government will have another go at these unfair changes. Doesn't this show that the same unfair cuts and chaos of the last budget will be the hallmark of this budget?

Mr PYNE (SturtLeader of the House and Minister for Education and Training) (14:06): I thank the member for her question. I disagree with her analysis and I disagree with the statements she made. Instead, I agree with Peter Lee, who is the chairman of Southern Cross University, and also the chairman of the Regional Universities Network. Many of my colleagues on this side of the House represent regional universities. As part of our debate around higher education over the past 12 months, or more, we have been ensuring that regional universities are looked after and for the first time can compete with suburban universities for students. Peter Lee, the chairman of the Regional Universities Network, which represents rural and regional students said:

… universities are too important to the nation to be used in a partisan way as a political football.

He said further:

One is deeply disappointed at the failure of the government's higher education reforms to pass the Senate.

Another regional university, with the go-ahead Vice-Chancellor Scott Bowman, from the Central Queensland University, said:

If regional Australia had any hope of ever catching up with city Australia in university participation … it would be through an uncapped student system in a deregulated market.

So I disagree with the analysis of the deputy leader, and instead, I substitute another analysis. What the Labor Party have done by voting down this bill last night in the Senate is deny students from country Australia the same opportunities to go to university as their city counterparts. That is what Labor has done.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Lalor and the member for Hotham!

Mr PYNE: Labor has shut off opportunity for students to go to university—whether it be the 80,000 new places that were going to be created because of the government's reforms; whether it be the 130,000 students who are with the non-university higher education providers, who were going to benefit from the taking away of the premium on VET FEE-HELP and FEE-HELP; or whether it be the university students who were going to gain scholarships in the biggest scholarships scheme in the history of Australia. That scheme led Michael Spence, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, to say that they would go from 700 scholarships a year to 9,000. He also said that because of the freedom that this deregulated market would create he would be able to skew those scholarships to disadvantaged students, low-SES students, students from rural and regional Australia, disadvantaged and first-generation university students so that they would be able to increase the demographic breakdown of their university from six per cent of low-SES students to 30 per cent. The Labor Party likes to pretend, to wring its hands about free education. The Labor Party likes to wring its hands about apparently standing up for students from disadvantaged backgrounds— (Time expired)