In Education, Senate Speeches

Senator RENNICK (Queensland) (18:06, 3 August 2021): I rise in support of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Charges) Bill 2021 and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2021. The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, TEQSA, as the national regulator of our universities, plays a very important role in maintaining the quality of our nation’s higher education. Australia has world-class universities, thanks in no small part to the regulating work that TEQSA does. These bills will continue to support this work by enabling TEQSA to charge universities an annual fee for the work that it does. This will take the monetary burden off the taxpayer and create a self-sustaining system between universities and their regulator to keep higher education in Australia strong.

The importance of having high-quality and robust universities cannot be overstated. Higher education shapes the minds of young people and prepares them to be productive and contributing members of society. University students get the opportunity to expand their minds and learn to think critically, which is very important to being a good citizen of the world. Education is often the difference between developed and undeveloped countries. This is why keeping universities operating at a high standard remains a priority for this government. The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency is the government’s authority for doing this and ensuring continuing high standards at our universities.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency does the work of registering higher education providers, accrediting courses where self-accreditation has not been given and regulating providers to ensure they are delivering best practice. Any new provider of higher education must first register and then renew their registration once every seven years. Throughout that time TEQSA conducts regular compliance and quality assessments and also collects and disseminates information relating to higher education and best practice.

Because of the essential work that happens it’s important that TEQSA gets the money it needs to function. At the moment this money is coming from the taxpayer. The purpose of these bills is to transition TEQSA’s cost recovery to come from universities, as the beneficiaries of its services. At the moment only 15 per cent of total cost is being recovered from the sector. Over the next three years this will transition to 100 per cent so that TEQSA can become a self-sustaining system. It makes sense for universities to pay for the services that they are benefiting from and which they need for their industry to remain strong. In addition, it’s government policy that regulators be able to recover the full cost of what it takes to deliver their services, so these bills will see the higher education sector come into line with this.

An example of the important work being done is when TEQSA identified and improved the transparency of the admissions process of universities. There was way too much variety and confusing application pathways, which made it difficult and confusing for potential students to apply. TEQSA was able to address the problem by creating an implementation plan that universities adopted which included standardising admissions information, terminology and thresholds, which streamlined the process. This means that potential students can now easily see the admission requirements and compare universities in order to make an informed choice about where they go and whether they can get in. This is just one example of the important regulatory work that TEQSA does and why it needs adequate funding to be able to fulfil its purpose of protecting student interests and the reputation of Australian higher education.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for the higher education sector because of the loss—

Senator Farrell: Point of order, Deputy President: the senator is in breach of standing order 187. You are not permitted to read your speeches in this place.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Farrell, I think we’re fairly lenient on that standing order, but I do remind senators it is a standing order and I would ask you to speak to your speeches.

Senator RENNICK: That’s fine, thanks, Madam Deputy President. I don’t need to read a speech to talk about education in this country and what the Labor Party did to education in 1990, with the Dawkins plan. If you want me to go off script, Senator Farrell, I’ll do that any time, because I well remember what the Hawke-Keating government did to education in this country. They commoditised degrees in this country and treated our children like commodities. They introduced the HECS debt, basically enslaving our children to debt, just like Paul Keating did when he brought in the foreign banks to this country and let the RBA off their leash and inflated house prices. And now our students go to university and they end up with a massive HECS debt. They’ve got very little chance of getting jobs because everyone had to get a degree rather than stick with TAFE, and now they’re in big trouble because the Button plan destroyed manufacturing. That was the perfect combination. ‘Let’s destroy manufacturing. Let’s prop up the finance industry by giving unmitigated control to the superannuation industry, letting in the foreign banks and letting in foreign debt.’ And what have our children got? Nothing. We’ve privatised all the infrastructure in this country. They’ve got degrees that don’t get them jobs. And now they’ve got to give up 10 per cent of their incomes, which I spoke about earlier today—and Paul Keating himself admitted it came out of their wages. So I don’t need a lesson from you, Senator Farrell, as to how destructive your party—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Rennick, I remind you not to reference other senators directly.

Senator RENNICK: Thank you, Madam Deputy President. I don’t need a lesson from Senator Farrell as to the destructive nature of what Labor has done to this country. There isn’t an industry in this country that hasn’t been destroyed by the Labor Party. It’s interesting. They talk about casualisation and how wages are casual. I was just reading about how, under the 1983 Prices and Incomes Accord, casualisation went from single digits to up to 25 per cent—thanks to the Hawke-Keating government. And they’ve got the hide to come in here and talk about casualisation rates in this country. There isn’t a thing the Hawke-Keating government didn’t destroy. And the little bit that was left when the Rudd-Gillard government got in—what a mess they made with the boat people!

I’m not going to bother talking about this bill, because this bill is all about trying to get education back on track in this country.

Senator Kim Carr: Madam Deputy President, we do appreciate that in a second reading debate we range widely, but there is no relevance whatsoever in this senator’s remarks to the terms of this bill. We have got onto boat people and various other things which I suggest you are not contained anywhere in the bill. Perhaps he could draw his attention back to the terms of the bill.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Carr. I have been listening carefully and I was waiting for Senator Rennick to get back onto the bill. But it is a broad-ranging debate and he was speaking mostly about education.

Senator RENNICK: Thank you, Madam Deputy President. I was actually coming back because this bill is a part of the many things that we’re doing in the Morrison government to get education back on track in this country so that our children, when they graduate from tertiary education, whether it be from university or TAFE, can get a job. At the end of the day, higher education is a means to an end; it is not an end in itself. It is not about propping up academics to write research publications that basically create alarmist theories about the Great Barrier Reef and all that stuff. No, no, no. It is about delivering outcomes—that is, a higher standard of living for our children to make sure that they can stand on their own two feet. I want to acknowledge the great work that Senator Cash has been doing in giving a 50 per cent incentive to the apprenticeship scheme. That’s been totally booked out, I understand, totally filled; I think we’re extending that. It’s great to see that the Morrison government are trying to get people back into apprenticeships. We openly acknowledge we don’t want to rely on too much immigration for the sake of filling jobs.

I’m glad to commend this bill to the Senate because I know that this bill is another step that the Morrison government has been taking to clean up higher education in this country. The mess left behind by prior Labor governments, we’re still cleaning up, after those horrid neo-liberal years under the Hawke-Keating government that left our country desolate. A lot of this stuff, we’re only seeing it now, of course. It’s very important that we stand up to that. I will leave it at that. Senator Farrell, any time you want me to go off script, you just let me know. I’m happy to talk to you in here about this or about any topic, any time, any place.

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