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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2508


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (12:32): I move Greens amendment (1) on sheet 8387, to the Migration Amendment (Skilling Australians Fund) Bill 2018:

(1) Schedule 1, item 12, page 6 (after line 6), after section 140ZM, insert:

140ZMA Exemption for higher education providers and registered training organisations

Despite section 140ZM, the following are not liable to pay nomination training contribution charge:

(a) higher education providers (within the meaning of the Higher Education Support Act 2003);

(b) registered training organisations (within the meaning of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011).

This amendment, as circulated by the Greens, deals with the issue of the tax on knowledge, which is effectively part of what this bill does. The government are obsessed with cuts to higher education institutions. They're doing it over and over again. We've got another bill listed for debate this week which will make it even harder for university students to pay back their HECS debts. We wait with bated breath as to what will be in the budget tonight in relation to further cuts to our higher education institutions. This bill just shuffles money from one part of the education sector to another. It effectively amounts to a $15 million a year cut to universities.

The Greens amendment that I have moved exempts universities and registered training organisations from the Skilling Australians Fund charge. It does so because the Skilling Australians Fund is supposed to be about paying to train Australians to fill skills shortages. There's no economic rationale for charging trainers to fund trainers. Australia has no monopoly on world-class educators and researchers. We compete with the rest of the world for the best and brightest to create our own best and brightest. This bill, if it goes through unamended, will work against Australia's ability to do that. If we're going to make that harder, we're going to be short-changing ourselves.

I recognise that the exemption will marginally reduce the value of the fund itself. That is self-evident. Let's ensure that we can protect our universities from even more cuts by ensuring that they are exempt in this way. If the argument that the government put up for voting against this amendment is that the fund will not adequately fund skills training, then they should put more money into the fund. They should stop short-changing our higher education institutions and training providers.

The Skilling Australians Fund would compel any employer, including universities, to pay $1,800 for every overseas employee coming to Australia on a temporary skilled visa. If it applies to universities, it will amount to a $15 million a year cut, as previously mentioned. The money that trainers pay and that comes back to trainers is churn and cost with no economic benefit. This is just more of the government's obsession with cuts, cuts, cuts to education. It is effectively introducing a tax on a base that is then handed back to the same base. It is charging on the way in and forcing them to pay on the way out. It just doesn't make economic sense. By exempting universities, as this amendment does, trainers would be left better off. By including them, as this bill currently does, unamended, our training institutions and our trainers will be left worse off.

I urge the Senate to support this commonsense amendment to improve the legislation in this way. The Greens will support the legislation, but we just don't see sense in making universities pay for something that ultimately, at the end of the day, just ends up being churn and cost with no benefit—cuts, cuts, cuts. This government is obsessed with making it harder for our universities.