Monday, 9th March 2015


It was already known that the Abbott government had effectively forced Australian universities into supporting its higher education reform package, at the heart of which is university fee deregulation. Australian governments are notorious for underfunding higher education, which nevertheless earns a return of $6 for every public dollar invested: as a proportion of GDP, Australia invests less in higher education than New Zealand, Canada, most of Europe and the USA. Realistic about their prospects for future funding increases, the universities had to support the government's attempt to raise students' fees.

What most didn't know until last week was that the Abbott government is also trying to force Australia's scientific research community to support fee deregulation. Christopher Pyne has sought to tie the $150 million of funding to the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), announced during last year's budget, to the passage of his higher education reform bill. The research community understood that the $150 million was all but guaranteed. There is now every prospect that it will fail to materialise if, as is expected, the Senate blocks the fee deregulation bill again.

And if that happens, there are 27 major research facilities across the country that will effectively have no funding after June this year. Hundreds if not thousands of postgraduate and early career researchers depend on the NCRIS - which facilitates research partnerships between industry, government and universities - for their positions, and there are fears many of them will have to seek work overseas. Scientists attended a Senate estimates hearing on Friday to make their case for funding certainty. This is not the first time the government has sought to effectively blackmail researchers into supporting its policy agenda in another area: the new $20 billion medical research fund was initially contingent upon the GP co-payment passing the Senate.

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Seeking refuge

Danuta Kozaki reports at ABC News: "A report by the United Nations has found Australia is breaching the international convention against torture in its treatment of some asylum seekers."

Matt Watson reports at ABC News: "Aid organisation Save the Children says it is frustrated and angry over a 'disturbing' intelligence report that sparked the Moss review into allegations of sexual misconduct at the Nauru detention centre."

Pamela Curr and Brigid Arthur comment at New Matilda: "While the government shoots the messenger over the Forgotten Children report, the abuse continues on Nauru."

Ben Doherty reports at Guardian Australia: "Australia’s multimillion-dollar deal to build boats in Vietnam in which to return asylum seekers to the countries they have left could raise new legal challenges to its controversial forcible return policy."

Health politics

Dan Harrison reports in Fairfax: "Despite declaring its Medicare co-payment ‘dead, buried and cremated’, the Abbott government is considering proposals to give GPs the option of charging gap fees to bulk-billed patients."

Dan Harrison reports in Fairfax: "Health Minister Sussan Ley says Labor has ‘serious questions’ to answer about a $15 billion deal struck with pharmacists under the Rudd government, following an audit which identified several shortcomings in the administration of the agreement."

Prepared to listen?

Susan McDonald reports at ABC News: "The federal government has signalled it is prepared to compromise on contentious changes to the age pension but key crossbench senators say they remain unconvinced."

Dan Harrison reports in Fairfax: "Treasurer Joe Hockey has cast doubt on whether the GST and company tax would exist in 30 years, as online trade and intense competition between countries erode these taxes as revenue sources."

Michael Fletcher's analysis at The Conversation: "Australia should think twice before adopting NZ welfare model."

Lenore Taylor comments at Guardian Australia: "The Treasurer's bid to 'start a conversation' is positive, but it will only work if he is prepared to listen - and tackle some powerful vested interests."

NSW decides

An AAP report at The New Daily: "NSW has followed the ACT in taking up the Abbott government’s asset recycling initiative, securing $2 billion under the deal."

Sarah Gerathy reports at ABC News: "New South Wales Premier Mike Baird and Opposition Leader Luke Foley have faced questions about gay marriage, corruption and their greatest regrets during their second leaders' debate before the upcoming state election."

Adrian Beaumont's poll analysis at The Conversation: "A primary vote gap of over 9% in favour of the Coalition is too wide to be bridged by preference flows."

Legal aid

James Massola, Michaela Whitbourn and Richard Willingham report in Fairfax: "Liberal and Labor state Attorneys-General have banded together to warn federal counterpart George Brandis that a ‘crisis’ in legal assistance funding will hurt the most vulnerable members of the community, and that further cuts to legal services are ‘short-sighted and ill-conceived’."

Larissa Behrendt comments at Guardian Australia: "We won't overcome Indigenous disadvantage by cutting legal services."