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Tuesday, 24 November 2015
Page: 8741

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (13:41): Can I just indicate the position of the Labor Party on this matter. The proposition we have before us is a simple measure. The government has decided to amend the Higher Education Support Act to include Torrens University on the list of table B providers. Torrens University has been registered with the regulator since 2012. My recollection is that it arose from discussions with the former Premier of South Australia and in Mexico prior to that date, and it was intended that the university establish its operations in 2013, but it did not subsequently do so until last year.

The entity that Torrens University is associated with, as I think the minister has already indicated, is not, strictly speaking, a for-profit entity. It is headed up by an emeritus chancellor, former President Clinton, and has a number of other distinguished academics associated with it, formerly associated with the University of Adelaide. I think that, given that the circumstances are such, this is a credible, authoritative body which is quite distinct from the shonks and shysters we have seen operating within the VET sector. I think TEQSA is in many respects a different organisation to ASQA, which has not been very effective in dealing with some of the abuses that we have seen.

Specifically, this is an issue that goes to the question of attaining research block grant funding, which is subject to a whole series of other regulatory requirements, including through the ARC, which I think has a very, very strong track record of operating with integrity and on the basis of peer review so that there is an outside measure of monitoring. It also would provide for support for research scholarship and postgraduate awards. I do not expect that a body such as Torrens would actually attract very much additional revenue, given the sheer scale of its operations.

The reality is that there are already existing not-for-profit private entities within the Australian university system—namely, of course, Bond University and the Catholic University of Notre Dame, which of course arose in Western Australia under a similar set of circumstances, I might add, as a result of intervention by state authorities. Whether or not one agrees with the principle of not-for-profit, private entities being within the university system, the reality is they are there. On this issue—the inclusion of private universities as distinct from private companies—the horse has already bolted, and I think there is little that can be said about that, other than drawing attention to that fact this matter has been attended to in this manner. I would like to indicate that, as far as the Labor Party is concerned, we take this view on a case-by-case basis. This is not an invitation for every fly-by-night operator, like Greenwich university or any others, to seek to have entrance into the Australian university system. In fact, we must have the most stringent of standards to ensure that we have due quality assurance and that we can maintain an international reputation in regard to both domestic and international postgraduate students. For those reasons, the Labor Party will not be supporting either of these propositions that are put before the chamber.

I apologise that I was not able to get to the chamber in time to do the second reading on behalf of the Labor Party, but Senator Dastyari did a very admirable job on my behalf. But the central principle here is that this is bill is made up largely of non-controversial measures, which should have been put to this chamber last year, not this year. In fact I have had to move private senator's bills in regard to one particular matter here—particularly the New Zealanders. It just reflects the fact that these are genuinely non-contentious in most parts, apart from this matter, and ought to have been given swift passage. They should have been put to the chamber 18 months ago for a normal, routine passage, but the government has chosen to act in this belligerent way through the former minister—recognising of course that the Senate had to reject the whole package because it was so closely associated with some unpalatable measures, including the introduction of $100,000 degrees.

But since we now have a debate about the GST we can now see circumstances where this question becomes even more complicated, and I think it would be wise to get these matters out of the way before we have to deal with the unsavoury consequences of increasing university costs because of this government's determination to pursue the GST, which will see a further 15 per cent rise in everything from a textbook through to a university course cost and all of the other matters directly associated with education. So I would urge the chamber to deal with these matters promptly so that we can move on to the next item.