Exclude universities from the legislation
(1) Clause 7, page 9 (lines 6 and 7), omit paragraph (7) (e).
(2) Clause 7, page 9 (after line 12), after paragraph (h), insert:
(ha) a university established by, or under, a law of a State or a Territory; or
(3) Clause 10, page 11 (line 28), omit “paragraph 7(d), (e) or (f)”, substitute “paragraph 7(d) or (f)”.
(4) Clause 50, page 60 (lines 19 and 20), omit “Generally, this Act applies to the Australian National University as if it were a State/Territory entity.”
(5) Division 6, clause 55, page 68 (lines 1 to 12), to be opposed.
This year the government has presided over the complete devastation of universities, with $1 billion of core funding cuts; the doubling of fees for many degrees; international students being left completely abandoned during this time of crisis, having to line up outside food banks to put food in their stomach; and not lifting a finger to stop thousands of uni jobs being cut. The government are actually allowing all of that to happen right under their watch. One day, they want university autonomy and to wash their hands of any responsibility they have for universities; the next day, they come in here wanting to crack the whip on universities.
We side with the university sector, which says that the inclusion of universities in Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 is going to be damaging to them. This bill has extraordinary scope. It is seemingly dressed up, but it is up to the whim of the government as to what they think the national interest is on a particular day. That is how they are going to operate. Nothing that the minister said in response to the questions from Senator Wong or Senator Rice has convinced me that it should be otherwise.
If this bill passes, the government can basically tear up any agreement between Australian universities and overseas organisations or governments, and those agreements could underpin vital research, which is something that the government doesn’t like. It doesn’t have to be international interference. It could be cultural issues or joint degrees-any of that. The attitude is, ‘Trust us; we don’t know what we are going to do with universities yet, but trust us.’ I’m sorry; we don’t really trust you.
I know the Labor Party have stood here over the past four days saying that universities haven’t been consulted. Labor colleagues have waxed lyrical about the importance of consulting and engaging with universities properly. I would plead with you to support these amendments and exclude the universities. Once the government has consulted with the universities, even if you do want them included, maybe think about that later. At this point, we just don’t know what the government is going to do. I commend these amendments to the Senate.
Raise the threshold of applicability to universities
I move Greens amendment (1) on sheet 1118:
(1) Clause 9, page 11 (after line 10), after subclause (1), insert:
(1A) However, if a party to the arrangement is a university within the meaning of subsection 7(e), an arrangement has a value equal to, or more than, the threshold amount per financial year.
(1B) The threshold amount for the financial year starting on 1 July 2020 is $250,000. The amount is to be indexed in accordance with Part 5‑6 (Indexation) of the Higher Education Support Act 2003.
I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to move this amendment, because really universities should be excluded, but now that’s not the case. This amendment really is about at least making sure that the larger projects or agreements are the ones that allow the government’s broad scope to be looked at by the government. This amendment has a threshold amount of $250,000 for the government to be able to do what they want to do. Like I said: sadly, in the absence of universities being excluded from this legislation, at least this will minimise some of the damage and the harm done to universities and the people who work there. I commend the amendment to the Senate.