June 10, 2020

I'm very pleased to support the motion today. My seat of Cooper takes in La Trobe University's Bundoora campus. It is a powerhouse of employment, academia and community in the northern suburbs. Yet because of this government's pig-headedness the uni is under severe financial distress and thousands of jobs are at risk. Let me be clear: the government has deliberately shifted the goalposts to exclude universities from accessing JobKeeper. JobKeeper is the crucial wage subsidy which would allow unis to keep staff employed while they worked through the disastrous effect that coronavirus is having through no fault of their own. According to La Trobe, JobKeeper payments would have provided them with $50 million to mitigate the impact of the current crisis on the jobs and livelihoods of their staff. The government's response? 'You lot work it out. You're getting nothing from us.' As a result, La Trobe has already started a voluntary redundancy program, and now staff are being asked to choose between pay cuts or further redundancies. These redundancies are due to the Morrison government's inaction. This makes me furious! Workers should not have to take all the responsibility of saving the sector. The government can and should step in. It has an extra $60 billion sitting in the bank because of its JobKeeper bungle. While the government continues to withhold support, people are losing their livelihoods: academics, tutors, administration staff, library staff, catering staff, groundspeople, cleaners, and many others—all with families, all trying to make ends meet. I've heard from so many workers at La Trobe who are incredibly anxious about what the future holds for them. All the indicators are bleak, and they are hearing nothing from this government. Nothing at all. They have left the sector and its workers to fend for themselves.

I want to say to those at La Trobe University: I am so sorry that you are going through this. I see your anger and your anxiety, and I will keep fighting for your jobs, your livelihoods and your community. Honestly, if I was one of those hundreds of people who have already lost their jobs, I would be saying: 'Why doesn't my job matter? Why doesn't my livelihood matter? Why doesn't my family matter? Why doesn't my community matter? And why don't I rate the sort of help that everybody else is getting from this government?'

These job losses will have a terrible impact on Melbourne's northern suburbs, and in regional cities like Bendigo, where La Trobe is a key employer. The flow-on effect of large-scale job losses will be huge. Think of the small businesses that are supported by having a university nearby: landlords who house university students and workers; cafes, bars and restaurants who are filled by La Trobe workers and students. You must wonder how a government, who so recently were touting innovation as the path ahead for Australia, and who were more than happy to see international education support Australia's economic growth for the past decade, could stomach the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

Education, including universities, is Australia's third-biggest export industry. What is the government thinking to risk an industry that size? Universities and the industries that surround them are the source of 260,000 full-time jobs. What university workers are telling me is that this government likes to portray them as out of touch, as elitist and even as overpaid. I can tell this government that when you attack university workers, you attack workers in one of the most casualised and vulnerable industries in the country. You're attacking people who often have to fight for secure workplace arrangements, who all too often are struggling to get enough hours to cover their bills and who often have to pick up additional work to make ends meet. And when you attack a university like La Trobe, you attack the rural and regional communities that some on that side of the House have claimed are the heart and soul of their voter base.

Universities support 14,000 jobs in regional Australia, all at risk due to incompetence and government inaction—and I haven't even touched on the educational impacts of these decisions. With fewer staff at our universities, we will undoubtedly see reductions in the quality of teaching and learning outcomes. We'll see fewer courses offered at campuses and we'll see fewer students able to take up places at universities, and this will absolutely have an impact on a greater proportion of regional and rural students. I say this to the government: take a long, hard look at your decisions here and think of the far-reaching consequences they will have. Think of the tens of thousands of people you will put out of work and the communities you will destabilise. Think of the educational outcomes you will diminish and the research outputs you will destroy. And think of the staff and families who will go along with that. You can fix that. Do it now.