Doorstop interview, Parliament House


SUBJECT/S: Vice-chancellors meeting with Minister for Education; threats to cut university research funding; attempted blackmail of the Senate; fee deregulation; broken promises on higher education funding; polling.

SENATOR KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, RESEARCH, INNOVATION AND INDUSTRY: The Group of Eight Vice-Chancellors are visiting the Minister for Education to express their profound anger at the Government’s extortion, the Government’s attempted blackmail of the Senate in regard to the threats to cut research funding from universities. These Vice-Chancellors represent the research-intensive universities. These are the Vice-Chancellors that we look to to get our international ratings that the minister claims to be the source of his inspiration for these unfair university changes.

Our international ratings are dependent upon our research effort, and this is a Government that so little understands the education system that it’s now threatening to cut the research effort of this country, to cut the potential for future prosperity for our nation, to cut our capacity to fix the big problems that we face in this country, to deal with the big issues in regard to climate change, to deal with the big issues in regard to health, to deal with the big issues in regard to being able to feed the peoples of the world. These are the types of issues that this incompetent, arrogant Government has failed to appreciate in this crass attempt to blackmail the Australian Senate.

Now it’s a proposition that will not work, because at its core the Government’s education program is essentially immoral. It’s immoral because it’s seeking to strip away from Australians the opportunity of a fair go, to get a decent education, and for that education to be affordable for ordinary Australians. A proposition that this country will never accept, and the Australian Labor Party will never accept, and we will be doing all within our power to block these measures.

We say to Mr Pyne, and we ask the Vice-Chancellors today to put to Mr Pyne: “Go back to scratch.” This is a proposition that will not fly and we ought to reject it, go back to the drawing board, and talk to the Australian people, rather than lie to the Australian people as he did before the last election.

REPORTER: But universities in general don’t seem particularly upset about the deregulation of fees though, I mean, do you still expect them to go back to the drawing board even though unis like [inaudible]?

CARR: Well, there is not a Vice-Chancellor in the country that supports this package in total. Clearly, the deregulation of university fees is fundamentally unfair at its core. What it’s saying is that universities should be able to charge whatever fees they like. Now, we know who will be grossly disadvantaged by that. It’s people in rural and regional areas, it’s people from poorer backgrounds, it’s mature-age students, particularly women, people who of course want to have a second chance at education. These are the people that simply can’t afford the $100,000 degrees that Mr Pyne is seeking to impose upon the Australian university system.

REPORTER: Just to follow up on Frank’s question – the Vice-Chancellors don’t seem to have a problem at all with the actual deregulation.

CARR: Well, they do. There’s a variety of opinions. You’ll get three Vice-Chancellors in the room and you’ll get four opinions. The Vice-Chancellors, and this is what the Government’s now seeking to do, of course, is to exploit the differences between the Vice-Chancellors.  Let me put it this way. The Australian Labor Party will not be supporting these measures, because they are fundamentally unfair, they are immoral, in the attempt to lay down burdens upon future generations, debt levels, crippling debt levels and fee increases which will take away the opportunity for hard-working students to actually get a decent education. It’s simply immoral to impose these sorts of charges on the Australian people, on Australian students, on Australian families.

We will have a situation where families will have to choose, as they did under the Menzies period, which child they actually help at university. We will find families are required to take out second mortgages to help their kids get through university. It simply will be a huge disincentive for people from poorer backgrounds. So these measures are immoral, we won’t be supporting it, and frankly the Australian people will not be supporting it.

REPORTER: Despite the concerns about these budget measures the Government’s performance has gone up in the polls since the budget. Is that frustrating?

CARR: I wouldn’t get too carried away about the polls, it’s far from being a spectacular poll. Have a good look at the numbers, have a look at the numbers, look at the general situation: this is a Government that has the most unpopular budget in the history of the Commonwealth. Its political problems are predominantly of its own making; it lied to the Australian people prior to the election, it lied that there would be no cuts to education, it lied when it said there’d be no cuts to health, it lied when it said there’d be no cuts to pensions, it lied when it said there’d be no increases in taxes. You simply can’t do all those things, and that’s what the Government has discovered. The Australian people have woken up to it. This is the most unpopular Budget any Commonwealth government has ever brought down in the history of this nation.

REPORTER: It might be unpopular, but their primary vote is still higher than Labor’s.

CARR: Well, the primary vote might be where it is; the reality is, simply, Australian people are rejecting these measures because they are fundamentally unfair. The Australian people were lied to and they don’t like it, and they are holding this government to account.

Thank you.


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