Reform by March: Pyne throws down gauntlet

Reform by March: Pyne throws down gauntlet

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has issued an ultimatum to the Senate:

Pass the Government’s education reforms within two months or funding for crucial research programs will be scrapped.

Pyne warned the Senate that voting down the bill would force the Government to cut funding for the Future Fellowships scheme and National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy.

Others who stand to lose Government support are TAFE students, private colleges and students in sub-bachelor degree programs.

"It's a high stakes game," Pyne cautioned.

Minister Pyne will write to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten today requesting that a compromise be made on higher education policy; however, it is unlikely that Shorten, who has called the offer a “desperate stunt”, will comply.

“The Minister is doing everything he can to divert attention from the fact his Prime Minister is now a laughing stock,” Shorten said.

Despite this brinkmanship, Pyne said he is open to negotiation on the deregulation of university fees, which the Minister said remains the “heart” of the Government’s education reforms.

"We will consider every suggestion by the crossbenchers because the fundamental core of this reform is the deregulation of universities," Pyne said.

Key Senators from the Liberal Democratic Party and Family First have indicated they will support the policy if the Government avoids making too many concessions to Senate crossbenchers.

Another key Senator, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, has already vowed to vote against fee deregulation.

"The government, I think, needs to step back, have a considered approach to this because right now their package is in a whole lot of trouble,” Xenophon said.

"Getting rid of the cuts might seem attractive in the short term but in the long term if you have deregulation there will be a spike in fees. I am just worried about what's on the table now. These are radical changes that need to be thought through."