The Politics    Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Backflip, split, crash, burn

By Russell Marks

Backflip, split, crash, burn
(This fire at a Dutch university in 2008 resulted in no casualties.)
Tracking the progress of Christopher Pyne’s higher education reforms

On Sunday morning, Education Minister Christopher Pyne appeared on Insiders and confirmed that the government would proceed with its higher education reforms, that he was confident that he could secure the support of enough Senate cross-benchers, and that the best way of securing that support was to threaten 1700 research scientists with the withdrawal of their funding. Because Labor “left us in such a debt and deficit disaster,” Pyne said, the only way of responding to the prospect that the Senate would block his effort to shift more of the cost burden of university education onto students was to find potential savings elsewhere. “That’s how household budgets work,” he said.

It was mostly rubbish. Investing in education is not the same as household spending: the government earns substantial returns, for itself and for society more broadly, from every dollar it “spends” on universities. And yet again, Pyne failed to make the case for his reform beyond re-stating the (highly contestable) idea that neoliberal principles of “user pays” and “competition” should apply to education – whatever that means when the majority of “customers” are 18-year-old school leavers.

So yesterday afternoon, when he finally had to accept that the cross-benchers could not be swayed, Pyne split his bills into two – one would allow universities to set their own fees, while the other would cut funding to universities (from an already low base in comparison with other OECD countries). But both are still very likely to fail, which is unsurprising, because it’s difficult to see how Pyne’s reforms would address some of the main issues surrounding higher education: the economic need to attract greater participation (as identified by the Bradley Review); the growth and consequences of student debt; and the consequences of neoliberal reform inside universities. Although the Labor Party championed the “demand-driven” competition model when it was last in government, it signalled last week that it may move in another policy direction entirely, leaving Pyne’s ideological motives increasing exposed. Pyne has vowed to “never give up”, but to what end?

The Round-up


Latika Bourke reports in Fairfax: “Media companies will not be told if their journalists’ communications records are being accessed via warrant, sparking fears the protections will be no more than a ‘tick and flick formality’ that will have a ‘chilling effect’ on press freedom.”

James Massola and Latika Bourke report in Fairfax: “Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull played a key role in helping [broker a deal] between the Coalition and Labor on proposed data retention laws.”

James Bennett and Louise Yaxley report at ABC News: “The journalists’ union and crossbench senators have criticised a compromise aimed at protecting journalists’ sources from the federal government’s proposed metadata retention laws.”

Seeking refuge

Shalailah Medhora reports at Guardian Australia: “A bill that would increase the risk threshold for asylum seekers claiming refugee status, and lead to their claims being automatically rejected if they did not produce the correct documentation, faces defeat after failing to secure the support of key crossbenchers.”

And another link to the explosive story at New Matilda from late last week that examined the leaked transcripts from the as-yet-unreleased Moss review into various shocking allegations on Nauru – other media has curiously not taken this up.

Budget 2015

Peter Martin comments in Fairfax: “Treasurer Joe Hockey was upstaged and shirtfronted on Q&A, but not by a member of the audience or a political opponent. The man who cut him down to size on questions including negative gearing, tax and infrastructure spending was John Daley, the Melbourne-based research economist who runs the Grattan Institute.”

Ebony Bowden reports at The New Daily: “Joe Hockey accused of ‘Rudd speak’ on Q&A.”

Jochen Andritzky comments at Business Spectator: “A new IMF Working Paper argues that crisis policies geared to provide temporary debt service relief for struggling households, followed by durable loan modifications, can help break the vicious circle of high mortgage debt.”

Peter Martin comments in Fairfax: “Can we give Joe Hockey a break? He says he is prepared to consider allowing us to dip into our super to buy houses. What on earth could be wrong with that? A house is far more useful in retirement than superannuation. Just ask anyone who has tried to survive without one.”

NSW election 2015

Gay Alcorn reports at Guardian Australia: “As divergent communities in north-west NSW delcare themselves ‘gasfield free’, political candidates are lining up to display their anti-CSG credentials.”

Bridie Jabour reports at Guardian Australia: “Abortion will remain a crime in New South Wales after the state election with neither of the major parties committing to reform despite a grassroots campaign by women’s rights groups.”

Andy Beckett asks at Guardian Australia: “Can Lynton Crosby, the ‘Lizard of Oz’, win the election for the conservatives?”


Michelle Grattan reports at The Conversation: “Cabinet’s national security committee last October favoured Australia’s new submarine fleet being mostly constructed overseas with the Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) having only limited work, according to the ABC’s Four Corners.”

Hockey defamation trial

Louise Hall and Michaela Whitbourn report in Fairfax: “The defamation battle between Joe Hockey and Fairfax Media could go as far as the High Court, with the publisher foreshadowing a potential challenge to the legal protections afforded to media outlets.”

Rick Feneley comments in Fairfax: “In their closing submissions, barristers for Mr Hockey and Fairfax Media have arrived at starkly different conclusions to the critical legal test: what would the ‘ordinary reasonable reader’ have thought when they read those headlines and stories. But who is the ordinary reasonable reader?”

Paul Barry’s analysis at Media Watch: “It’s worth asking if it should be so easy for politicians to sue. The Fairfax stories dealt with an important matter of public interest: should political donors be able to buy access to policy makers. And we believe the media should be much freer to report such things, as they are in the USA.”

Industrial relations

Greg Jericho’s analysis at Guardian Australia: “Industrial action is at near record lows, but business will still blame unions.”

Closing the Gap

Louise Yaxley reports at ABC News: “The federal Indigenous affairs minister has promised to boost the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the federal government employs, even if his new policies upset non-Indigenous Australians.”

Chris Sarra comments at Guardian Australia: “The best way to unite all Australians is to encourage the ancient Indigenous connection to the land, not destroy it or label it a ‘lifestyle choice’.”


Neal Woolrich reports at ABC News: “A survey in 2014 by the investment bank HSBC found that just 19 per cent of Australian firms utilised free trade agreements where they were available, with many deterred by the complexity and regulatory hurdles they face to comply with the agreements.”


James Massola reports in Fairfax: “In an embarrassing leak from just the second meeting of the full ministry for 2015, Fairfax has been told Julie Bishop raised her concerns about the sales job of the first budget with Tony Abbott and Mathias Cormann.”

Mark Kenny reports in Fairfax: “Former Howard government minister Amanda Vanstone has warned worried marginal seat Liberals will move against Prime Minister Tony Abbott in an attempt to keep their jobs unless his polling improves substantially.”

Peter Brent asks at Inside Story: “Are the self-appointed consciences of the Liberal Party helping the government?”

Chris Berg comments at The Drum: “The lesson of the last 12 months is surely this: dig in your heels on budget measures you don't like and eventually the government will come around.”

Gregory Melleuish’s analysis at The Conversation: “Canada and Australia share a political culture of conflict.”

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

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