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It's just unthinkable -- Higher Education Bill 2020

I rise to speak in opposition to this terrible piece of legislation, the Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-Ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill 2020.

Firstly, I'd like to associate myself with the comments made by my colleague Senator Faruqi, who leads this area for the Australian Greens.

I am just gobsmacked at the dodgy deal done this week by Centre Alliance—Senator Griff and the member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie. After months of telling the South Australian people that they had problems with this bill, that they knew this piece of legislation was bad—bad for students, bad for the economy and bad for education—we have seen the most significant backflip Centre Alliance has done since Nick Xenophon left this building. They have sold out South Australian students. They have sold out families. They have sold out our university sector. They are going to make our South Australian economy suffer even more.

In our state we have the highest youth unemployment rate in the country. Under this dodgy deal between Scott Morrison and Rebekha Sharkie, life will be made even harder for young people. If there are no jobs for them or if there's nowhere to go after they finish school, we want young people to go to university and study—if, indeed, that is what their aspiration is. This piece of legislation makes that near impossible for some of these young people.

We heard the platitudes from the Centre Alliance senator, Senator Griff, this morning. After hiding for the last 24 hours from the Australian media, from the Australian people, we've finally had some type of explanation. I tell you what: it's rubbish. They have been sold a pup. They have been hoodwinked by the government and they are now passing a piece of legislation that is going to undermine our university sector for decades. It is going to throw young people under the bus and lock them out of future career opportunities forever.

Let's just be clear: the coalition government, Centre Alliance and Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party are all voting today to cut funding to universities and to make it more expensive for students who are studying things like arts and humanities. Do you know who that disproportionately affects? Women. Who has been the hardest hit in the middle of this economic crisis and this recession? Women. Who has been the most hit by the loss of jobs, loss of hours and cuts to wages in this country because of this pandemic and this recession? Young women. And who is now going to carry the burden of the changes and cuts to universities and the hike in fees that is going to pass this parliament because of this grubby deal that's been done? Young women. Women are the sacrificial lamb of this deal being done today by Scott Morrison and Rebekha Sharkie. 

It's just unthinkable.

There is actually the ability in this place sometimes to make a real difference, to protect people from bad decisions that government try to make, to make sure that decisions don't disproportionately affect one group in the community. Centre Alliance had an opportunity to do something and they've stuffed it. This government has had it in for universities since day dot, and now they've been handed the ability to follow through. Let's remember, Tony Abbott when he was Prime Minister took an axe to the university sector. Let's remember, this government has never thought that students who choose courses like arts, humanities and the creative industries should be supported by government. They've had it in for them forever, and now they've just been given the green light by crossbenchers in this place.

I think South Australians will be very, very angry that their senator Stirling Griff is voting with Pauline Hanson today to make it harder for a young woman to study humanities at Adelaide university. That is what is happening today. Senator Griff will be voting with Pauline Hanson to make it harder for students to study an arts degree, a humanities degree. Stirling Griff is voting with Pauline Hanson today to make life harder for young South Australian women. It's appalling, and Centre Alliance need to be called out for this. What did they get for this grubby deal? A couple of million dollars for a road in Hahndorf. How do we know that? The member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie, stood in the House yesterday and asked a dorothy dixer of the government: 'Please, Deputy Prime Minister, tell me how good I am!'.

And just so know one would miss it, she issued a media release saying exactly the same thing. Senator Griff had a slip of a tongue earlier when he referred to the member for Mayo as 'the minister for Mayo'. Is that what's going on here? Is this all part of some deal to get the member for Mayo into the government: throw young South Australians under the bus, throw our universities under the bus, sell out the future generation of workers and educated professionals so that the member for Mayo can get a cosy job with the government? This isn't Centre Alliance anymore, folks; this is Liberal Alliance. It is absolutely appalling that, after knowing all the facts, after tweeting about all of the problems that this legislation has, you would then turn around and expect people to believe that this is a good deal for students. It is not. It's bad for students, it's bad for universities, it's bad for our economy and overwhelmingly it is bad for women.

Last night we had an extraordinary budget handed down. Billions of dollars was put on the table. Who continues to miss out under this government? Women. Credit where credit's due, the Prime Minister had a paragraph in the budget about the impact on women—$250 million over five years. It's like they got to the end of the budget and went: 'Damn, there's a whole other—who did we forget here? Oh, women! We'd better write the word in there somewhere.'

Time and time and time again, it is women in this country who miss out under this government. This is the pink recession and yet nothing of substance has been put on the table to help them. In fact we're now going to see the situation get worse, because, while the majority of people who have lost their jobs, or lost their hours or lost their income in the midst of this are women, this particular piece of legislation is going to make life even harder—harder for them and harder for the next generation of women coming through, and condemning young women across this country. Why bother studying hard at school if you can't even get into the course you want to get into because the government decides it's not good enough? The message that Scott Morrison is sending to young women today is: 'We don't value you. We don't really care. We know you're there, but we don't value you.' That's what his budget said last night, that's what this piece of legislation says and that is what Scott Morrison is doing. Seen but not heard: that's this government's response to young women in this country. It is not good enough.

The fact that this has been shepherded through the parliament by two so-called Independents is disgusting. I know the electorate of Mayo quite well. A lot of progressive voters in Mayo right now are shaking their heads and thinking: 'Who did we vote for? This isn't that what we were promised!' People are disappointed in the member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie, because she has let them down. She has let them down! She is cosying up to the Liberal government; she is flicking through the most fundamental, controversial changes to our education system we've seen in decades, locking out young women and their ability to study and get those skills and training they need to get a job. Voters in Mayo are disappointed and they're going to remain disappointed for a very long time. No wonder the member for Mayo is hiding from the media today. No wonder she refuses to take and answer those calls from journalists. It's because she knows she's done the wrong thing.

The new 'Liberal Alliance' in South Australia are showing their true colours—Liberal lite, now flag bearers of the coalition government—and South Australians are going to be pretty disappointed. They don't like being lied to, they don't like being tricked and they don't like being treated as mugs. And yet today, that's what Rebekha Sharkie and Stirling Griff expect can happen—that people won't ask questions, that under the cover of the budget no-one will know what's going on. Well, people are smarter than that.

These reforms are devastating to our university sector. They're devastating to young people, devastating for young women, devastating for families and bad for our economy. They should be voted down. I'm so thankful that the opposition, Senator Lambie, Senator Patrick and all my Greens colleagues see sense, that setting young people up to fail like this in the middle of this terrible recession is not the right way to go—it's the exact opposite. I am disappointed that those on the other side continue their ideological attack on education, on young people and women. That's why I'm voting no to this bill.


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