Centre Alliance has come under fire from Labor, the Greens and independent crossbenchers including Senator Jacqui Lambie after the party announced it would support the government's higher education changes.
The government said the changes, which were announced earlier this year, were aimed at improving job outcomes for graduates and encouraging students to study degrees in areas where Australia has skills shortages.
The changes accommodate for decreases in fees for units involving teaching, nursing, agriculture, maths, English and languages, environmental science, health, architecture, IT and engineering.
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A two year freeze on funding increases, which was implemented by the previous Liberal government, has also been lifted.
No matter how hard you try @MakeMayoMatter you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. 3500 SA school leavers could be paying $9K-$23K more for their chosen uni course if this bill passes #auspol#FundUniFairly#highered#MakeMayoSmarter#MakeSASmarterhttps://t.co/plM9bMSHAp— Rex Patrick (@Senator_Patrick) October 5, 2020
On Tuesday, Centre Alliance's education spokesperson Senator Rebekha Sharkie announced the party would support the changes in exchange for extra funding for universities in South Australia. Senator Sharkie said the bill was not perfect but it did secure funding certainty for universities which were facing financial hardship.
"Another positive outcome of these reforms will hopefully be a strengthened focus on domestic students, particularly domestic students from the regions who have under-represented in our universities," she said.
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Senator Lambie said it was impossible to amend a bad bill into a good bill. She said this bill would let rich kids pick whatever course they want while poor kids will be forced to pick the cheapest option.
"Centre Alliance can line up as many Vice-Chancellors as they want. It doesn't make a jot of difference. I don't care how many blokes earning a million dollars a year you can find who think what you're doing is tops. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what shade of lipstick you put on the pig, it's still a bloody pig," senator Lambie said.
The Vice-Chancellors from South Australia's three universities were quoted in Centre Alliances announcement on Tuesday.
It's a bill that creates no new uni places, makes them more expensive, gives 10% off coupons to rich kids and tells poor kids to go dream elsewhere. Every uni in SA loses, every student in SA loses. Not perfect? My word. #auspolpic.twitter.com/D6M2w7hvJN— Jacqui Lambie (@JacquiLambie) October 5, 2020
Tasmanian Students Against Fee Hikes founder Miranda Bennett said the changes will mean Tasmanian students get a worse quality education. She said students are changing what they planned to study because it will be too expensive.
Labor Lyons MHR Brian Mitchell said it was deeply disappointing that Centre Alliance had decided to support the bill. He said the decision amounted to a South Australian party looking after their own political interests and not the interests of students elsewhere.
"It is a bad bill and I am deeply disappointed that Centre Alliance is backing it ... at its core this bill does not progress the interests of higher education," Mr Mitchell said.
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