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Tuesday, 24 November 2015
Page: 8736

Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (13:19): I rise today in support of the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2015 and the many individual measures contained within. These are measures that, up until now, have been hijacked by the Abbott-Turnbull government in their ideological mission to deregulate Australian universities and to create $100,000 degrees. This crusade has not been abandoned. It has only been delayed—hidden and put away in the bottom drawer, out of sight until after the next election. For nearly two years Labor has been calling for these measures to be uncoupled from the Abbott-Turnbull plan to deregulate universities, to allow the higher education sector to continue to function as effectively as possible despite the prolonged uncertainty surrounding the government's deregulation agenda. Australian universities, researchers and students have had their futures put on hold while the Abbott-Turnbull government has zeroed in on its ideological crusade.

After going out of their way to derail the normal operations of our entire higher education sector, it appears the Abbott-Turnbull government is, in this small part, prepared to proceed with these important changes. Now that the government has delayed—not abandoned—its higher education package, it is good to see they have finally followed Labor's lead to see reason and to propose these measures in a separate piece of legislation. But it does beggar belief that we have had to bring it kicking and screaming into this chamber to ensure that this legislation, which is important to the higher education sector, will be debated and supported in this chamber.

This legislation is important, and Labor will be supporting it. However, it should be noted by those on the other side that we are vehemently opposed to any delay or any further attempts to ensure that university degrees in this country would have a price tag of $100,000-plus. That is not in the best interests of the higher education sector, and it is certainly not in the best interests of the community. In my home state of Tasmania it will certainly go no way towards ensuring that more of our young people and mature-aged people take the opportunity to experience the opportunities a tertiary education can offer you.

I must say, though, that Labor foreshadowed such a bill when we were in government, and we were prepared to work with this government to bring about this reform much more quickly. But, as I said, we had to bring them kicking and screaming to the table.

I would like to briefly touch on the individual measures contained within the bill. The bill expands access to the Higher Education Loan Program, HELP, to New Zealand citizens who have been in Australia since childhood. This is an anomaly that needs to be fixed and could have been fixed well over a year ago if it were not for the Liberal government's pig-headedness. I know many in my community, in this place and around the country are very much in support of this particular measure.

The bill adds Torrens University Australia 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. The bill will also update the name of the University of Ballarat to the Federation University in the Higher Education Support Act. It also clarifies the constitutional power that other grants under the Higher Education Support Act rely on.

Labor are pleased to see this bill streamlines the reporting requirements for the Australian Research Council and the Tertiary Education and Quality Standards Agency. We are also pleased that it gives certainty to Australian researchers and universities by guaranteeing appropriations for the Australian Research Council. Labor support this sensible measure and would have done so sooner if the government had ditched its plan for university deregulation and, instead, focused on achieving meaningful reform that has a positive impact on students and universities which, in the long term, benefits all Australians and our local communities.

In summary, Labor are pleased with the individual components of this bill, pleased that the government has now, belatedly, come to the party and pleased to support its passage through parliament. It is disappointing that it has taken so long to get to this point, and that the Abbott Turnbull government is continuing to pursue its $100,000 university degree agenda. But, as I said, it is good that those on the other side of the chamber have come to the table, though belatedly, and decided to use some common sense and ensure that these sensible measures in this bill are passed.

Government senators interjecting

Senator POLLEY: Those on the other side can yawn but that is what the Australian people do every single day when they wake up to find this out of touch government is still in office.

Labor will never support the government's agenda. Labor will never support an attack on the universities in this county. We will never support $100,000 university degrees being the only options for Australian students and those mature-age students who want to have the benefit of a tertiary education. We know that this government are sneaky. They try to say that they are nimble and that they are the government of the 21st century. What they are is a government that is hell-bent on ensuring that fewer Australians have the opportunity to go on to university. If they were serious, they would have brought this piece of legislation in more than 12 months ago and that would have then shown some credibility that they have an interest in higher education in this country. Unfortunately, as with so many other tests that have been put before them, they failed the test. They have failed the Australian people. They have failed the university sector. I am sure the university sector have, on many occasions, advised the government of their displeasure at the course of action that the government were trying to impose. But with the crossbenchers and the Labor Party on this side, we were able to stop that. We will always stand up for the universities in this country.