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Notes on the news

30 May 2014

A wink’s as good as a nod (etc)

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 After nearly three weeks, the controversy around the Budget has barely abated. Opinion polls tell us it’s the most unpopular Budget ever, perceived as unfair and littered with broken promises. That’s one thing about opinion polls: politicians can no longer resort to the sanctuary of the Silent Majority; however well informed, the Majority, these days, is loud and clamorous.

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Tony Abbott's wink

 It’s a tricky situation for a first term government delivering its first budget, not helped by the fact that senior ministers, from the prime minister down, are apparently not across the detail. This was most starkly shown by the prime minister’s assertion, between winks, that current fee arrangements would be preserved for currently enrolled university students. This is true for students enrolled on 13 May (Budget Day) but not necessarily for students enrolled after that date, who are subject to whatever universities decide to charge when fee deregulation kicks in on 1 January 2016.

Education minister Christopher Pyne sort of saved the situation, when he challenged universities to grandfather current fees arrangements for currently enrolled students, saying that it will be up to universities what fees they charge students from 2016. True, but that involves a potential cost to universities in that the Commonwealth subsidy per student is to be cut by an average of 20% (is that a broken promise in terms of a fee increase or a cut in funding – or both?).

Deakin University, followed by Griffith and Victoria universities, have since come to the party, to the extent that current fee arrangements will be preserved for students enrolled up to the time that they determine their fee structure. Should the announced Budget measure stand, you would expect that these universities would factor the 20% cut into the equation.

But it’s difficult seeing the measure standing as currently proposed: the government has the problem of getting it through a rancorous Senate, and the good senators will no doubt have noted vice-chancellors lining up to condemn the inequity (or is that iniquity?) of it all. The Group of Eight, whose members will be significant beneficiaries of fee deregulation, was moved to issue a terse statement (129 words) declaring its “unanimous” support, despite mutterings from vice-chancellors of some of its own member universities, albeit the Group acknowledging “there are some aspects of the (reform) package which would benefit from further consultation”. That undoubtedly cheered up Christopher Pyne no end.

Never mind: at least the government has acted decisively to save Peppa Pig.

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