Speech: Higher Education
Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (16:25): The Greens support today's matter of public importance on the Abbott government's shameful attempt to link the job security and research of 1,700 scientific workers with the government's attempt to push through very dangerous university deregulation. We now know that Minister Pyne has been lying to the Australian people-
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): Senator Rhiannon, I would ask that you choose your words carefully and I would ask you to withdraw.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Acting Deputy President Sterle, I withdraw that statement. Clearly there have been attempts by the minister to embarrass, to intimidate, to blackmail the members of this place, particularly the crossbenches-
Senator O'Sullivan: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I do not think you could make a more serious assertion on the character than blackmail. I would ask that you ask the senator to withdraw that and to be careful with her language.
Senator Moore: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. There has been a long history in this place of fairly dynamic debate and the word 'blackmail' has been used in numerous debates in this place. In fact, if we had a chance to call upon the Hansard, there would probably be so many times that term has been used that we could not even begin to count them. I do not accept that there is a real point of order in this case.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: As we are entering this new world of sharing all this love, Senator Rhiannon, I would ask that you do withdraw the word 'blackmail' because it was pretty direct. I would ask that you withdraw, Senator Rhiannon.
Senator RHIANNON: I understand that I do not have to withdraw the word because I have sat in this chamber many times hearing that word. I withdrew the word 'lying' but not the word 'blackmail'. I have used that myself and I have heard it in debate many times.
Senator Birmingham: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Rhiannon was making a direct reflection on a member of the other place. That direct reflection should be withdrawn.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Birmingham, it is not very often you and I are on the same page but on this we are. Senator Rhiannon, I have ruled and I would ask that you withdraw.
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Acting Deputy President, could you explain the consequences if I do not withdraw because it seems there is an inconsistency with your ruling compared with the rulings that I have heard in this place at other times.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Rhiannon, quite simply, you will be defying my ruling as the chair.
Senator RHIANNON: What are the consequences of that, please?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Rhiannon, the consequences are that I have ruled. It was a direct aspersion upon a minister. Somebody could move the motion that you could be removed from the chamber.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for your advice, Mr Acting Deputy President. I withdraw that remark. Minister Pyne has shown some very concerning behaviour. Many of his actions could be seen to be similar to attempts to blackmail crossbenchers in this place. Why we know this-
Senator O'Sullivan: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. The senator's continued reference has the same strength as-
Senator Moore interjecting-
Senator O'Sullivan: Well, I have a point of order. You will be able to-
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O'Sullivan, ignore the interjection.
Senator O'Sullivan: It has the same strength, it is an insidious assertion and she should withdraw it as she did with the direct assertion.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O'Sullivan, as I was talking to the Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate I did not hear it. I will check the record. There is no point of order at this stage.
Senator RHIANNON: We know this is consistent with the minister's behaviour because of what has happened today. Now we have learnt that there is no link with the $150 million allocated for the NCRIS-the national collaborative research infrastructure. Now that money is secure-only secure for one year. We have heard Senator Birmingham use the word 'decouple'-that is their word today-to make out that there is a separation here and trying to make out that there is a change to the higher education bill. There is no change. It is the same legislation, just split into two parts. University deregulation, with all the dangers and all the problems, is still alive before this chamber-as are the other measures with regard to the cuts to the community grants scheme.
So, we should not be conned by what this minister is doing. Minister Pyne has clearly taken up his place within the Abbott government bunker, really trying to ensure that they protect this government. Why has the minister done this today? Because this bill was at the point of being defeated for a second time. And it could have been an even more decisive defeat, with more crossbenchers voting with the Greens and Labor against this legislation that would have such a far-reaching and damaging impact on our higher education system. So the minister has come into play today, making out that something has changed and, again, misleading the public and people in this place when in fact he is still on the same tack, trying to avoid a decisive vote. He actually promised that as recently as Sunday, saying that the vote would occur on Wednesday when we could deal with this bill. But, again, clearly that would be embarrassing for this government and they have tried to change that.
So let us remind ourselves of why we need to have this debate today. The research that is undertaken by these scientists at the 27 research centres across this country is absolutely critical. It should never have been used by the minister in this way. This is not just something that can be funded on a yearly basis. What we should have seen from the minister when he made his statement today about this so-called-to use his word-'decoupling', where he said, 'Yes, that funding is assured,' was that the funding was for the long term. It should have been consistent with what is needed to ensure that this research can go ahead, with the confidence that it will be there for the long term.
Again, I am pleased to be able to participate in this debate that really does detail the damaging policies of this government to the higher education sector. (Time expired)