Bill's Speeches

MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – HIGHER EDUCATION

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

 

TUESDAY, 17 MARCH 2015

 

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This is a matter of public importance because higher education in this country is at a crossroads.

 

We have the chief higher education minister of the nation who has no adoptable strategy for higher education in this country.
There is no hope at the moment under the current minister for a bright future for universities in government policy.
The government has no adoptable plan for higher education, and by adoptable, I mean one which can convince a sufficient majority in the Senate to vote for it.
This is a government who does not believe that its own ideas will be accepted by the Senate, yet they persist with them, wasting valuable time when we need to have a much better debate about higher education.

 

This government says it believes in the deregulation of higher education, but their model of deregulation will lead to higher prices and fewer students completing university.
Every government throughout the history of the Commonwealth has had to deal with the Senate. So why is it that we have got a minister for higher education who is proving so incapable of dealing with higher education?

This minister loves to refer to himself in Bismarckian terms, as Ataturk, as Churchill, but in fact this is a minister who has become a parody of himself.
It is remarkable, cringe-worthy television his Sky News interview. I almost thought that Clarke and Dawe had captured the studio until I actually realised it was the real thing on show.
This week we saw the so-called minister for higher education threaten the jobs of 1700 scientists, threatening $150 million worth of research funding.
This minister, I give him points for one thing: he has no shame. Yesterday, with a smile transfixed on his face, he says ‘I was fixing the problem’. The problem is the minister created the problem by taking 1700 jobs hostage.

I have never seen such a poorly executed negotiating strategy in all my time in parliament.
He goes to the crossbench senators, to Labor and to other senators and says “I have an amazing plan for you. Vote to increase to $100,000 fees, vote to make it harder for working class kids to go to university, harder for kids from the regions, harder for adults, for mature age students from the regions go to university,” and instead he says “if you don't vote for this unfair plan—which is a broken promise—the science research of Australia will get it in the neck.”

Of course, he now says “I never really meant that, or maybe it was just me creating an issue so I could fix the issue.” The truth of the matter is that he said that these issues of threatening 1700 scientists jobs are “inextricably linked” with his funding proposals for higher education. He is desperately looking through his file to try to prove that he didn’t in fact say that. The truth of the matter is that it will go down in history as one of the most famous television interviews ever given by a Coalition minister.
He is desperate to introduce $100,000 degrees. He’s given himself, I mean, it’s always funny to find someone who gives themselves their own nickname—that is never a good sign. He promoted himself to “fixer”. Not only did he give himself a nickname, it’s not the correct nickname.

He’s changed his policies three times and he puts this policy which is well beyond redemption up again to the Senate and he assumes that people are kidded. The good news for higher education in this country is that Labor, Labor has stood by one principal through all of this. We believe it is not someone’s wealth which would determine whether they get access to higher education, it is how hard they work and how good their marks are.

Labor has fought the debt sentence of Christopher Pyne and we are winning. And then we see this fellow again, with all the front of Myer, saying “no worries it's only a flesh wound” like the Black Knight out of Monty Python. He says it's only a flesh wound. He has promised Australia that he will present the same policies at the next election.

Please do, and we will beat you there on that proposition to.
By contrast, Labor does has a very positive view about the future of higher education. We do not believe that higher education is in the doldrums. We understand that hundreds of thousands of students, hundreds of thousands of teachers and researchers, great universities across Australia, are working positively for their future. They just need a minister for higher education who is switched on as they are.

Labor has made it clear that we will not offer a return to the past in university policy. We’re listening, we’re consulting and we’re working with universities and when we talk about working with universities, we don’t just mean vice-chancellors, as important as they are. We’re talking about students, we’re talking about academics, we’re talking about parents, we’re talking about businesses. There are many more stakeholders in higher education than this minister for higher education ever quotes in support of his propositions.

We are committed to sustainable funding for universities. We believe in growth in the system; we do not believe in freezing places. But we also understand that the parliament needs to have a big conversation about the future of research funding, and we say that research jobs should not be held hostage by political brinkmanship. The sheer cheek of this current Minister for Higher Education to verbal Professor Brian Schmidt, Nobel Prize laureate, and imply in the Parliament in Question Time, as he did, that somehow Professor Schmidt endorses his policies is not correct.

The selective honesty, the periodic cherry picking of individual quotes, the twisting of respected scientists and researchers to justify their unfair agenda is not on. There was a quote which they would not let us tabled in question time where Professor Schmidt made very clear when he heard about the fixes latest hostage taking issue with a fix said that 1700 research jobs will get it in the neck, $150 million won’t be funded by the fixer, what Professor Schmidt said is Australia does not have time for these childish tactics, and he is correct.

And we believe, Labor recognises the importance of higher education. By 2020, 2 out of every 3 jobs will require a university degree. We understand, unlike their rotten industrial relations agenda of this mob opposite, that we’ve got to invest in skills and training and higher wages, not a race to the bottom taking away the safety net of our industrial relations system.

Labor has goals for higher education of access and equity. That is the right direction for Australian higher education. When Labor was in office, due to its policies, 190,000 extra students have got the opportunity to go to university. We are on target that, by 2025, 40 per cent of Australians under 35 will have a bachelor’s degree. By 2020, Labor’s target was that 20 per cent of children from disadvantaged families would have the opportunity to go to university, boosting enrolments for Indigenous students, kids from the bush, poor families, first-generation migrants.
We also understand that the future of higher education has to involve making sure that students finish—that they complete year 12 and they complete their opportunities at university. Labor believes in certainty and autonomy for universities in terms of decisions they make, but we also recognise that taxpayers have a legitimate expectation of accountability.

And parents and students and employers should be able to expect that the higher education dollars that they spend are held accountable in the manner in which they are spent. Labor will develop and find the right balance between accountability and autonomy.

 

And it is long overdue for this government to start talking about better integration with vocational education. It is long overdue that we start putting resources back into the TAFE sector and sub bachelor programs—not presiding over the sorts of rorts we see in the private market of the vocational education sector, where under this government we have seen an explosion in the system and they are now saying that “there is a problem”, oh yes, there is a problem: it’s the government policies of this mob on vocational education.
We certainly see that we need to have more inclusive system which give students a pathway to make the right choices for their future. Labor will work on all of these propositions. These are the principles that Australians interested in higher education want to see and these are the ones that we will deliver.

We are committed to making sure that Australia is more productive and more innovative. We understand it’s skills and knowledge that will drive a new economy.

 

We are not pessimistic about the future of higher education; we are just pessimistic about the Higher Education Minister. We are tired, as all Australians are, of the constant noise from this minister—the uncertainty, and the backflips and the circus performance from a minister who has generated a lot of controversy and indecision but no outcomes.

It is time for a real conversation with parents, with students, with employers, with universities and researchers about a sustainable education. But the conversation must always have this at its core, we view higher education not as a private benefit but as a public benefit, And we will never, ever support the views of this rotten Higher Education Minister, who says that people who have not been to university begrudge those who do.


ENDS


 

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