FRAN KELLY: The Abbott Government is not giving up on its higher education reforms despite last night’s defeat of legislation to deregulate university fees. The Coalition secured just three of the six crossbench votes that it needed to pass this bill, which will now be reintroduced to the Parliament after the budget - possibly providing a trigger for a double dissolution.

Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, is rounding on Labor for ignoring the advice of the university sector, and many from its own side of politics too, in voting down the reforms. Kim Carr is the Shadow Minister for Higher Education and Research. Kim Carr, good morning and welcome to Breakfast.  

SENATOR KIM CARR: Good morning, Fran.

KELLY: Now, Christopher Pyne says the government will not give up, this reform is too important. Have you just put off the inevitable here? We are going to come back to this.

CARR: Well Fran, in January he said that if this matter was not resolved by the end of March, that would be the end of the matter. This is a minister that constantly changes his mind and is totally inconsistent.

Look, this is the time for Christopher Pyne to resign and if he doesn’t resign he should be sacked. This job is just too important for the country, for a minister to be able to behave in the way that Christopher Pyne behaves, he simply knows no boundaries.

KELLY: I understand the politics of what you are saying, but this is just a distraction to the real issue at hand - which is the policy - the university sector by-and-large is telling you this policy is too important to just resign in a sense.

CARR: This is not a distraction. The Minister for Higher Education in this country has to enjoy the confidence of the country. This is beyond humiliation, this goes to competence, it goes to capacity to secure future changes. The relationship with the Senate is poisonous. The relationship across the system has deteriorated so much that this minister’s bluff, his bluster, his bravado simply leaves people cold. And frankly, it is time for him to consider his future and if he doesn’t then he should be sacked.

Let me be clear about this, what he has done is try to impose, by force, through threats and intimidation, things that he cannot provide through persuasions. There is simply no way in which you can persuade the Australian people that doubling or tripling the cost of a university degree is in their interest.

KELLY: That may be so, but what about trying to persuade the Australian people that the university system is not broken, because the Vice-Chancellors are demanding change, Universities Australia say that a no vote is not a solution, the current state of investment in universities is insufficient for maintaining a quality system that they say is broken. What are you going to do about it?

CARR: What we can say is that there is no funding crisis in universities other than that created by a government that is seeking to take 20 per cent of the universities’ money away.

KELLY: Sorry to pick you up on that Senator but the universities are saying already, currently, that the system is over stretched, that it’s just not possible to have a regulated fee structure with a deregulated intake of students, which is what Labor introduced.

CARR: We increased funding very significantly under the Labor Government and the most recent funding review, the quality and funding review, said that base funding put Australia in a position where higher education is internationally competitive in terms of quality and funding. What that review found is that there was a requirement for a modest increase in funding per place, a two per cent increase to meet the cost of learning for new technologies. They had to address the specific issues in regards to specific disciplines, but in general terms, our funding system was not broken, the only crisis is that created by a government trying – despite what they said before the last election – to take 20 per cent of universities’ money.

KELLY: The sector is urging Labor to engage in reform and everybody understands that a bipartisan approach to education reform in this country is really what we need. Senator Xenophon is now calling for a comprehensive review of education policy, and this bill, as we have said, will be reintroduced. If it is reintroduced with new amendments to discourage excessive fee increases and to curb student debt, would that meet your concerns, would you consider this?

CARR: No, we will not be voting for the deregulation of universities. We will not be voting for the tripling, doubling of university fees. We will not be voting for a proposition that puts higher education out of the reach of ordinary Australians.

The $100,000 degree is the end result of this government’s policy and nothing that I have seen or heard demonstrates to the contrary. This government has not walked away from its proposition of reducing university funding and has not walked away from the $100,000 degree.

Their proposals to limit the cost of  increases in fees is all about imposing a great big new tax on students, a tax which will go right across the system, and is not confined to one particular group within the system.

This is a minister that has relied upon chicanery for tricks and manoeuvres rather than engaging in a proper discussion and implementing what this government said it would do prior to the last election.

KELLY: So Senator, let me just stop you there finally and ask you what is your plan? We are hearing it from the universities; we are hearing it from former Labor Education Ministers, including Craig Emerson and John Dawkins that change needs to occur. Brian Schmidt told us yesterday that the current system is “not serving either the students or the universities very well”. What would you change to fix it?

CARR: Well, we have got to ensure that funding is secure, predictable and sustainable. We want to ensure..

KELLY: And adequate?

CARR: And adequate. We want to ensure that universities are funded properly. We do not want to see a situation where increasing numbers of students end up with a debt and no degree. The importance of universities cannot be underestimated. But you don’t secure greatness in this nation by cutting back resources to universities or by making it more difficult for ordinary Australians to get a decent education and a quality access to prosperity.

KELLY: Senator Kim Carr, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.


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