The Senate has rejected the Federal Government’s push to deregulate universities, which would have allowed them to set their own fees.
Despite a last-ditch plea from the Government and the promise of several last-minute amendments to woo the crossbenches, the Senate voted down the bill 33 to 31.
The fate of the bill was sealed when the Government failed to gain the support of the Palmer United Party (PUP) and independent senators Jacqui Lambie and Nick Xenophon.
In the minutes leading up to the vote, PUP senator Glenn Lazarus made his feelings clear.
“No amount of texting, chocolates and red roses from Christopher Pyne is going to change my mind, or the mind of my fellow colleague, Senator Dio Wang,” he said.
The Greens and Labor have welcomed the bill’s defeat, but the Government has already pledged to push on with its plans.
The Senate has just defeated Abbott bill for uni cuts and higher fees! Congrats to the community & unions who stood up for what matters 🙂
— Adam Bandt (@AdamBandt) December 2, 2014
In his first interview after the defeat of the bill he had spent six months trying to get through the Parliament, Mr Pyne vowed to reintroduce higher education legislation.
He said “great reform takes time”.
“I don’t think the Australian public ever marks anyone down for having a go,” he told the ABC’s 7.30 program.
“Tomorrow I’ll be introducing a new reform bill which picks up nine of the 10 elements of the previous bill.”
Mr Pyne said the new legislation would contain many of the changes requested by crossbench senators.
“It drops the indexation at the 10-year government bond rate and picks up a number of the amendments that Universities Australia and some of the crossbenchers have wanted, and I’ll represent that bill tomorrow and debate it in February,” he said.
“As far as I’m concerned, round one is over, round two begins tonight.”
Mr Pyne said he had been working hard since May to get the reforms through the Upper House.
“In no way [was there] any shamefulness that the vote was not carried, 33 to 31, and I’ll be back at it again,” he said.
“It’s a vital reform for Australia, for our universities, and for our students.”
I could only communicate with Lazarus via SMS: Pyne
Senator Lazarus had earlier told Mr Pyne to “stop harassing” him over the contentious bill, saying it was “bad to the core”.
Mr Pyne said he had sent Senator Lazarus “seven or eight texts” and is “happy to send him more texts”.
“He’s the only crossbench senator who has refused to meet with me to discuss these reforms,” Mr Pyne said.
“The only avenue he’s left to communicate with him has been SMS.
“Once I saw that report, I hope he didn’t mind the fact that I sent him a Christmas card today.
“I’m sure he won’t but I’m happy to keep talking to Senator Lazarus because these reforms are important.”
Mr Pyne condemned Labor and the Greens for not supporting the bill.
Reform Bill defeated 33:31. Thank you Senators Madigan; Muir; Day and Leyonhjelm. Tomorrow, I will introduce a New Reform Bill. — Christopher Pyne (@cpyne) December 2, 2014
“The Government’s bill has received the historic consensus support of the higher education sector, particularly through Universities Australia, however Labor and the Greens continue to ignore their repeated calls to support reform,” he said.
“Bill Shorten and Labor have failed in their responsibilities as a credible alternative government to act responsibly and in the best interests of Australia’s higher education sector and they know it.”
Labor’s Higher Education spokesman Kim Carr said the Coalition’s plans were not about reform.
“It’s a blatant attempt to take large sums of money away from public universities,” he said.
“They believe that you can rip money out, that you can gouge students to make students pay more.
“The Government is seeking to cut the guts out of universities and make families pay for it.”