Australian Higher Education Reforms Put Pyne on Defensive

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Australian Education Minister Christopher Pyne has announced that his plans for reforms to the country’s higher education system would be split into two separate bills in an effort to ensure there are “no distractions” that would delay the deregulation of the sector.

“The 20 per cent reduction to the Commonwealth Grants Scheme funding will be set aside for a separate debate at a later time.  I want the Senate to consider these vital reforms for universities and the great benefits this package brings for students without any further distractions,” Mr Pyne said.  “I hope this will clear away hurdles that were there before.”

Previously, the bill had connected the deregulation of the sector to a $150 million science research funding extension.  If deregulation were not to continue, the funding would be cut.  However, Pyne said the funding would now continue for another year either way.

“This is to remove any distractions or hurdles in the crossbenchers openly considering our agenda,” he said.

Meanwhile, Belinda Robinson from Universities Australia spoke out, asking parliamentarians not to vote down the bills.  “Voting down the bill is not the answer,” she said.  “There is an issue for long term sustainable funding for universities and research.”

Pyne insisted that he had spoken to, or left voicemails with, all of the crossbenchers who had previously expressed concerns with regards to the former structure of the bill.

Pyne had previously been pushed to be fired by Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie for his handling of the universities bill.

Lambie has continued to rally against the bill and stands in opposition to connecting the bill to the $150 million science research funding extension.  “I am absolutely furious,” Senator Lambie said.

She is asking that there be a cabinet reshuffle after the bill’s outcome has been discovered.

Although currently in a hospital bed in her home state due to surgery, Lambie said she would fly to Canberra in order to vote against the legislation.

Glenn Lazarus also stands against the bill and is refusing to meet with Pyne because, as he said, nothing will change his mind.  He went on to say that Pyne was “very persistent” and that his door was always open if he wanted to discuss the bill.  However, he also said, “there’s no real reason for him to come and talk to me.”

The higher education reforms are set to be voted down by Parliament this week with Labor and a number of other crossbenchers.  However, Pyne said that the government will continue its push for reforms in the sector, and could possibly even take the bill to the next election if it is voted down this week.