Public higher education needs defenders made of sterner stuff.
Another parliamentary term, another broadside against the shaky foundations of the Australian welfare state. Following its humiliations over Medicare and the travesty of the Philip knighthood, there would seem to be few other measures left for the government to stake its credibility on than its plans to deregulate universities. Having previously declared his readiness to do ‘whatever needs to be done to ensure that our universities are the best they can be’, education minister Christopher Pyne is now insisting that there are limits: he will not permit the basic deregulation principle to be ‘adulterated’ by cross-bench demands, and he will allow the package to lapse rather than compromise its vision. Such chest-beating is artfully ambiguous: on the one hand, it is designed to reassure ghoulish crossbenchers David Leyonhjelm and Bob Day, who have threatened to withdraw their support if the package’s market-fundamentalism is weakened even an iota, while, on the other, it serves as a face-saving indication that, caught between the Leyonhjelm-Day and Greens-Labor positions, the government does not intend to keep the issue in play for ever.
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