Dissenting Report from the Australian Greens

The committee report does not reflect the views of the Australian Greens. The bill is irredeemably flawed. It should be rejected.
The inquiry process has been highly problematic, for various reasons:
The inquiry was referred to the committee on 3 September 2020 with a reporting date of 25 September, allowing only 22 days to consider a complex and highly controversial bill that will have substantial impacts on university fees and funding.
Opposition parties including the Greens had supported a 30 November reporting date, but this was rejected by the Government on multiple occasions, including through its rejection of a referral motion in the Senate which I moved on 2 September.
Only two days of hearings were allowed for, which resulted in many key stakeholders not being invited to appear as witnesses. Most of those who appeared as witnesses were given only 30 minutes to provide evidence.
During consideration of the draft committee report, no time was allowed for discussion of proposed Greens amendments to the report. It was pushed through without debate.
The committee report does not fairly or accurately convey the level of dissent to the bill heard by the committee. The report leans heavily on the approving comments of some stakeholders while failing to fairly include the more critical comments of others. For example, both the University of Tasmania (UTAS) and the University of Sydney made substantial written submissions. Both were allowed 30 minutes to provide evidence. The report refers to the more positive UTAS evidence on six occasions. It refers to the more critical Sydney evidence at only three points.
The report does not acknowledge that numerous key organisations did not support the passage of the bill, or only gave their support contingent on substantial amendments. Such organisations include the Group of Eight, Australian Technology Network of Universities, University of Sydney, University of South Australia, Flinders University, University of Adelaide, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Students and the Australian Academy of the Humanities.
The legislation is deeply flawed. It will raise student fees and cut billions from Commonwealth contributions to teaching and learning. It will not have the desired effect of encouraging more enrolments in ‘priority’ courses such as science, engineering and mathematics. It will, however, burden many hundreds of thousands of students with billions in additional collective debt, and shift the overall costs of university education away from the Commonwealth and onto students.
The committee heard from many witnesses about the unfair and disproportionate impacts that the legislation will have on students who may already be marginalised, subject to structural discrimination, or at greater risk of dropping out, including women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, low-SES students, first-in-family students, and students who live in regional areas. The bill entrenches pre-existing inequalities.
The ‘selling point’ of the legislation for many universities has been that the package will provide for 39 000 additional funded places at university over the next three years and 100 000 places over the next decade. However, these places are not guaranteed within the legislation. Numerous expert and university witnesses questioned whether the package will create any new places at all. The places will theoretically be funded not through fresh investment in higher education, but by slashing Commonwealth contributions to a range of courses, which will result in worse course quality and bigger classes.
Many witnesses and submissions reflected on the impacts of the legislation for research funding. The bill guts research funding by rejecting the long-held notion that base funding (student fees plus Commonwealth contribution) is meant to provide for teaching, scholarship and base research capability. Instead, the bill assumes that base funding should only cover the costs of course delivery. Witnesses were alarmed that the Government would allow the bill to pass before the Research Sustainability Working Group, established by the Government, concludes its work.
The legislation contains a schedule on ‘student protection’ that was not announced as part of the Job-ready Graduates package in June. Many university witnesses were caught off-guard by this schedule, which appears to have been added onto the package at a late stage. One highly concerning aspect, which was widely criticised by witnesses, is a measure which will force students out of Commonwealth Supported Places if they fail a certain number of subjects. Staff, students and universities all rejected this measure as unfair, unnecessary and damaging.
University education should be well-funded and fee-free. The Job-ready Graduates legislation will take us in the opposite direction. It will push students into decades of debt, and starve universities of much-needed funding. If passed, the legislation will damage higher education in Australia, possibly irreparably.
Senator Mehreen Faruqi
Australian Greens

 |  Contents  |