Election win for universities

A Labor Government that needs votes in parliament is a good result for HE lobbies

Education all-over had two wins on Saturday.

One is Tanya Plibersek being, as is widely expected, education minister. Ms Plibersek knows more about her former shadow portfolio than any other starting minister since Craig Emerson a decade back and more than every minister since at the end of their term.

The other is the power of the crossbench. Although Labor will have a majority in the Reps, the expected presence of four Greens, six Teals and half a dozen other independents mean there will be many, many opportunities for HE lobbies and individual institutions with cases to make.

And then there is the Senate, where Labor will need cross-bench votes to pass legislation, which means the 12 Greens will have the ability to assist university staff, a core constituency for the party. This is not necessarily good for university management – the Greens Mehreen Faruqi is strong in her support for casual staff underpaid by university managements. But overall a Labor-Green de facto coalition on higher education issues means university communities will spend the next three years focused on winning more resources.

It is an article of faith with many in HE that Labor always governs better for universities – perhaps because the $2.3bn “efficiency dividend” announced by Craig Emerson in  April 2013 ended up being legislated by Chris Pyne. But even if economic ministers in the new government come to have any such in mind, cuts that require legislation this term would be hard to come by – the Greens would see to that.

reaction:  Universities Australia recognised the new reality in congratulating Labor yesterday, “Universities look forward to working with the government, and across the entire parliament.” So did Science and Technology Australia, “which looks forward to working with every MP and senator across the parliament to advance the sector’s key policy priorities.”

The Innovative Research Universities group went further, supporting via Labor’s proposed Accord, which “will support coherent long-term policy for higher education and research and we look forward to being involved.”

The National Tertiary Education Union anticipated, “working closely with the government and crossbench to implement important policies.”  The comrades also specified what they want, including, “measures to ensure” the conversion of casual to continuing employment and to deal with university managements underpaying staff.

As did the Group of Eight, which summarised policies it wants to see and added its members, “ stand ready to  partner with the  incoming Albanese Government to ensure the nation can reach its full potential.”