Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Chris Hayes MP – Private Members’ Business - COVID-19: Higher Education

June 10, 2020

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (10:30): by leave—On behalf of the Member for Sydney, I move:

That this House acknowledges that:

(1) during the COVID-19 crisis, Labor has been urging the Government to act to help universities and save jobs, while:

(a) the Prime Minister has done nothing, and now jobs are being lost; and

(b) it has been reported that hundreds of jobs will go at universities in Rockhampton, Geelong, and suburban Melbourne;

(2) without serious Government help, universities have predicted 21,000 jobs will be lost in the next six months alone, meaning:

(a) tens of thousands of livelihoods could be destroyed, including those of academics, tutors, administrative staff, library staff, catering staff, grounds staff, cleaners, security and many others—all with families, trying to make ends meet; and

(b) the impact on regional communities will be devastating (universities support 14,000 jobs in country Australia);

(3) to save university jobs, the Government must take serious action now, and that the Treasurer could have acted to solve this problem, but hasn't—instead, the Treasurer has been deliberately moving the goal posts to ensure universities are excluded from government support;

(4) the Government cannot explain why a university student working a $100 shift per week receives the full $1500 JobKeeper wage subsidy, while their full-time university tutor, with three kids to support, is not eligible; and

(5) Labor believes it is a big mistake for the Prime Minister to abandon university staff during the COVID-19 crisis.


I thank the Member for Sydney for her motion highlighting both the challenges faced by our universities as they work through the coronavirus and the continuing role that
our tertiary sector plays not only in education and research but in the transformation of our respective communities.

Extra support for our universities is essential. University education is one of the largest enterprises in our country and certainly one of our biggest employers. Universities support around 260,000 jobs, including 14,000 jobs in regional areas. The government must take serious action to help universities to save these jobs. If the government fails to deliver on this now, the prediction is that 21,000 jobs will be lost in this sector over the next six months. To put this into context, there are thousands of livelihoods that could be in jeopardy, including those of academics, tutors, administrative staff, library staff, catering staff, ground staff, security officers and many others, all of whom, together with their families, are trying to make ends meet. We know the Treasurer could have fixed this issue but, rather, has been deliberately working to ensure that universities are excluded from the government's support, including through his ongoing refusal to extend JobKeeper eligibility to our tertiary sector.

For electorates such as mine in Western Sydney, the economic impact of the coronavirus has been devastating. The region is experiencing wide-scale job losses related to social and economic hardship, heightened levels of youth unemployment and significant supply chain disruptions, and this is as employers and businesses seek to secure their financial viability. Denying support to our universities at a time when they have been hit so hard by the coronavirus not only is disappointing; it is absolutely irresponsible. It fails to take into account the multifaceted role our universities play in promoting the development and growth of our communities.

Professor Barney Glover, the Vice Chancellor of Western Sydney University, succinctly put this issue in perspective when he said:

For Western Sydney, the University is part of its fabric. Alongside one another, the community, business and the University have transformed the region. This has changed the narrative from one of disadvantage, to one of promise. That regional compact is vitally important, but the work is far from done. The current financial position of the University now puts that progress at risk.

Far from being just a major institution, Western Sydney University, and its success, is integrally related to the sustainable development of Western Sydney itself.

This ongoing commitment is not just an investment in bricks and mortar, the expansion of campuses; it is also the provision of pathways for many of our young people to be ready for the jobs of the future. Whether through its association with the development of the Badgerys Creek Airport, the Aerotropolis and the Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research or through serving the growing needs of our health and hospital sector, it is clear that Western Sydney University has a significant role to play in our region.

Through its industry-partnered programs of educational infrastructure, the university has provided positive changes in key centres like Parramatta, Liverpool, Westmead,
Campbelltown and Bankstown. In 2018, I had the privilege of attending the opening of the Liverpool campus of Western Sydney University. This facility is now providing
many of the graduate nurses who are choosing to stay to live and work in our region. In fact, this university is now hosting the largest nursing education program in the
country. We are putting at risk not only programs but also the regional transformation itself if the university's financial position is left in doubt.

In order to address the pressures facing our communities and ensure regional growth, there is an urgent need to lift the cap on Commonwealth funding for domestic students. As Professor Glover notes:

This would allow the university to work hand in hand with our TAFE sector and industry partners to rapidly strengthen the skills within our region and enhance productivity at a time when it is most needed.

On behalf of our tertiary education sector and, indeed, the Western Sydney community as a whole—we are grappling with the economic impact of COVID-19—I call on this government to take urgent and serious action to support our universities. In turn, that will secure not only the future of Western Sydney but our future as a whole.