Higher Education and Research Reform Bill 2014 - 17 March 2015


Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (13:52): I am really pleased to follow Senator Lines and to respond to the absurd arguments that have been put by Senator Lines and others. It is a telling reflection of the quality of debate in this place at times when we hear an argument like the one we have just heard from Senator Lines. It was absurd and ridiculous. I want to go to some of the most ridiculous parts of it, because it encapsulates what is going on here. We have Senator Lines saying, 'There is no-one supporting this reform.' Her evidence is to trot out the views of the National Union of Students. The NUS is against it and therefore it must be a bad idea.

Let's go through some of the supporters of this reform, who, I think, have a fair degree more credibility than the National Union of Students—on which the Labor Party is basing their opposition. On the one hand, on the 'no' side, we have the National Union of Students and on the 'yes' side we have Universities Australia, the Innovative Research Universities, the Regional Universities Network, the Australian Technology Network, the Group of Eight, the TAFE Directors Association, the Council of Private Higher Education, various university leaders and 40 out of 41 vice chancellors.

Senator Cameron: The students still come out on top!

Senator SESELJA: You say the students, Senator Cameron, but the National Union of Students—the far left union organisation—does not represent most students. I do not know when you last went to university, but when I was at the ANU—

Senator Cameron: I was too busy to go to university.

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left!

Senator SESELJA: its left-wing student union refused for years to join the NUS because it was so far left. You can rely on the National Union of Students, but we will listen to expert after expert who is saying—

Senator Rhiannon interjecting—

Senator SESELJA: Senator Rhiannon, who takes her advice from the National Union of Students and the Green Left Weekly, is shouting across the chamber and saying that there are some other voices. I have not heard the views of the Green Left Weekly. I suspect the Green Left Weekly is against the reform. I do not know, Senator Payne, whether you are aware of the Green Left Weekly's views, but Senator Milne is speaking next and so we can look forward to hearing them.

The Business Council, ACCI, the list goes on and on. There is a good reason that you have the NUS on the one side and all these experts on the other and that is: all these experts have considered the issue. What is even more concerning about the contribution of Senator Lines in this debate is that she was saying: 'There really isn't any problem. We don't have to fix anything, because we have a perfect system and we don't need to reform it.' That is absolute rubbish, and Senator Lines knows that it is rubbish; the Labor Party knows that it is rubbish; 40 out of 41 vice chancellors know that it is rubbish; every peak body knows that it is rubbish. There is a simple reason that it is absolute rubbish. We have seen a deregulation of student numbers, so the numbers are no longer capped and we are going to see a significant growth in student numbers. That is something we can celebrate; we are going to see more people have access to higher education. Yet the former government, as well as this government, recognised that there is no blank cheque; there is not an unlimited amount of public money that can go in, as those student numbers rise.

Unless you acknowledge and unless you are going to take the Kim Carr approach and look to cap student numbers, you need to acknowledge that there will be a significant rise in people accessing our universities and that there is a limit to the amount that taxpayers can subsidise those students, and then you have to reform. You have to ask for a greater private contribution, and that is at the heart of this reform. If you deny it, as Senator Lines just did, you are putting your head in the sand and pretending that there is not a problem, when blind Freddie could see that there is. To go further than that, the likes of Senator Lines and the Labor Party are effectively calling all of these people liars. When they talk about the $100,000 degrees, they are calling the university vice chancellors liars. They are saying that the whole sector cannot be trusted, even when they announce what their fee structure is going to be. Some universities have already put out their fee structures, which makes a lie of the Labor Party's scare campaign, yet those opposite pretend either that they did not hear or that the whole sector is simply telling lies. This is a serious debate, and it deserves better contributions than what we have heard to date.—

Senator Kim Carr: You will have to sit down, then!

Senator SESELJA: It does not deserve contributions from the likes of Senator Carr who now wants to cap student numbers. That is the Senator Carr policy—the new Labor Party policy is to put a cap on student numbers—

Senator Kim Carr: We will put a cap on you. Put your D cap on!

The PRESIDENT: On my left!

Senator SESELJA: If you are not going put a cap on student numbers, Senator Carr, then you are not going to be able to afford it. What we will see is an ever-declining university sector. The modern Labor Party, with its head in the sand and ignoring all of the experts, is now saying that they stand for a cap on student numbers or a decline in the quality of higher education in this country. We happen to take a different view, and that is why this legislation is important—

Senator Cameron: Why did the Liberals lie before the election? Just answer the question.

Senator SESELJA: Senator Cameron, NUS might be very important to you, but we believe that 40 out 41 vice chancellors, all the peak bodies that represent higher education, the Business Council of Australia, the Regional Universities Network—all of these groups we take more seriously than the National Union of Students. Senator Lines informed the chamber today that there is nothing to see here—there is no problem to fix in our university sector. We can all walk away; not worry about it; leave it as it is; she'll be right. Well, Mr President, we happen to have a very different view. The facts happen to support a very different case. We certainly will not be taking the advice that Senator Lines and the Labor Party do from the National Union of Students.

Debate interrupted.