23 May 2017

In Committee

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE ( 15:26 ): Labor is not inherently opposed to the Universities Legislation Amendment (Planning Agreements) Bill 2017, but the Government has not gone about this in a sensible way. First of all, it was included in a Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 as some kind of minor technical tidying up. But obviously it is a little more substantial than that, and Mr David Shoebridge has raised a number of significant issues. Having said that, the Opposition does not want to stand in the way of the universities having proper autonomy over their affairs. The Parliamentary Secretary with carriage of the legislation talked about discussions between the vice‑chancellors’ group and the Government. However, the Government has failed to take the Parliament into its confidence. So, as Leader of the Opposition in this place, I am not in a position to endorse this legislation without understanding properly exactly how it came about, the reasons in support of it and the consequences of its enactment.

That is not to say that we oppose the provisions in the bill as a matter of principle, but we are not convinced of the need for the bill or its purpose. That is down to the failure of the Government. So we invite the Government to consider sharing with the Parliament the information received by the vice-chancellors or from the vice-chancellors and the arguments as to why they believe these legislative changes are needed. I am not the relevant shadow Minister and we are not inherently opposed to these measures, but when we change the law we need to be properly conscious about why we are doing it, for whom we are doing it and what the fallout is going to be. In this circumstance, we are not yet persuaded of the need for the bill simply because, having started as a sliver of a statute law revision measure, it is now clearly of more substance and moment.

It may be perfectly fine; some members might be jumping at shadows. If I am to vote and cause my party to vote for a measure I would like to be confident of the reasons and the consequences. The Labor Party is not in a position to support this legislation.

The Hon. PAUL GREEN ( 15:29 ): The Opposition and The Greens have presented valid points but in the real world we do not have affordable housing. This initiative will give universities autonomy over affordable accommodation. It might result in less floor space but it will still enable people to be educated. I listened to the concerns of the Labor Party and The Greens but, at the end of the day, the academics are in charge of making the decisions. I acknowledge the concerns expressed by Opposition members. The measure of these people is to be found in what they are doing, why they are doing it and how it will advantage the community. The Christian Democratic Party supports the Government and will vote accordingly.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE ( 15:30 ): The Labor Party has no problem with measures that will enable universities to provide more accommodation and support for their students. Labor supports and welcomes that. Due to the way in which this bill was formulated the Opposition is not sure whether that will be the only outcome or whether there will be other outcomes of which we are not aware.

The Hon. Duncan Gay: You do not trust Egan.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: That is not true; I have always trusted the member.

The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: You are misleading the Committee.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I am not misleading the Committee.

The CHAIR: Order! I remind members that interjections are disorderly at all times.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I remember when the Hon. Michael Egan was escorted from this place by the Usher of the Black Rod. It led to useful case law. The Opposition does not say this with rancour but the Government has not shared its interactions with vice-chancellors. As Labor does not understand the consequence of these amendments it would not be responsible to vote for them. If there are letters they should be produced in the Parliament. I do not know why the Government has gone about it in this way. If there is a dark secret the Government will keep that to itself and if there is not it creates mistrust when there should not be any. A way to resolve this matter would be to adjourn debate on the bill and to share with Opposition members the material to which I referred earlier.