THE WORLD TODAY
WEDNESDAY, 4 MARCH 2014
SUBJECT/S: GREAT BIG NEW STUDENT TAX.
ELEANOR HALL: The Federal Government is intensifying its efforts to convince the Senate to pass its higher education changes.
Labor and the Greens remain opposed to the plan that the Education Minister has been arguing for since last year's budget.
That leaves the remaining crossbench senators with the key votes and they're waiting for the Government to spell out its latest position.
One element of that is a proposal from the architect of the HECS system, Bruce Chapman, which could see fee increases contained.
Political correspondent Louise Yaxley reports.
LOUISE YAXLEY: As the Government continues to ditch unpopular budget plans from last May, it's sticking with the policy to deregulate higher education.
But it's been rejected already by the Senate and the numbers don't look good for the Minister Christopher Pyne as he tries again.
Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer is definitive.
CLIVE PALMER: No. The answer for Christopher Pyne is no, no, no and no again.
YAXLEY: Mr Palmer's tried to hose down newspaper suggestions that his West Australian Senator Dio Wang may back the Government's plan.
PALMER: Senator Wang tody is quoted by saying that he may support the education… will you support… where are you Dio?
DIO WANG: I'm here.
PALMER: Will you support the education reforms?
WANG: No. No.
PALMER: No he won't. Take a photo of that, record it.
WANG: Obviously I toe the party line and I fully support our party's stance on higher education.
REPORTER: But personally do you still support deregulation?
WANG: My personal opinion doesn't really matter.
REPORTER: But you're a Senator, you have a say.
WANG: I'm only one of 30 in a party room.
YAXLEY: But in insisting he and his senators won't vote for the university changes, Mr Palmer made this extraordinary statement.
PALMER: You know there's a million students going to tertiary education in this country, there's a million more about to go and a million more that's just left.
They've all got parents so commit suicide Tony Abbott, you know (laughs).
YAXLEY: Clive Palmer was immediately challenged about whether it was responsible to use such a phrase.
PALMER: I would raise it because it's suicide - political suicide - to go against the will of what's good for the Australian people.
And it's quite clear that we're number one in the world in education, we're number one in secondary education, we're number one in tertiary education entries.
What's the policy of our education? Not to make money but to educate our children.
So if it's not broke we don't want to fix it. If you want to carve it up, cut it up, sell it to an overseas corporation, make some money, get a bigger donation for the Liberal Party, I couldn't give a stuff.
YAXLEY: The Government is still trying to cajole the crossbench and is discussing an idea from economist Bruce Chapman.
He is an expert on the system and designer of the original HECS loan system.
Professor Chapman's put up a new submission aimed at protecting students from skyrocketing fees.
His plan is that the Government could decide to withdraw some funding from universities if they increased their fees above a certain level.
BRUCE CHAPMAN: In other words, there'd be a trade off going on.
So if the institution decided to set higher fees then there would be a cost and that is designed to mitigate against there being very harsh fees.
At the moment, of course there seems to be one or the other - price capped or full deregulation.
Well, there is a middle ground and this is kind of a middle ground and I can't assess how good or bad it will work until we see the parameters.
But price caps have the advantage of certainty and of keeping the prices low and have the advantage of institutions not being able to make decisions about their pricing that suits their particular environment.
But full deregulation I think, while it give the institutions great discretion, I think would be associated with prices that are beyond ethical.
YAXLEY: It's designed to act as a break on fee increases, but Labor's higher education spokesman Kim Carr has attacked the idea.
KIM CARR: What the British government found was a proposal such as this would actually lead to increasing fees.
What the Government's doing here is slugging the universities by withdrawing the Government subsidy and now saying to them we want you to pay and you can't increase your fees, which the universities say they must, just to make up for the budget cuts.
Now the budget cuts for instance in engineering and science would be about 58 per cent on top of the fees the Government was requiring universities to charge for scholarships, for research and a number of other things.
So we can see why the hundred thousand dollar degree becomes a reality.
Now the Government says you can't increase your fees without having to pay a tax on top of the HECS.
Now what we do know is inevitably universities will be forced to raise fees and students will be forced to pay for that and we'll see further cuts as a consequence as the Government withdraws further monies from universities.
YAXLEY: While Senator Carr attributes it to the Government, a spokesman for Mr Pyne says it's one of a number of ideas being discussed with cross-benchers.
HALL: That's political correspondent Louise Yaxley.