Pages tagged "Education"
01 June 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the minister representing the Minister for Education on the topic of vice-chancellors' salaries.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The Minister for Regional Development will be relieved they are off the hook. Australian vice-chancellors are some of the highest paid vice-chancellors in the world. That is certainly the case here in South Australia. The Australian Financial Review reported last week that 11 vice-chancellors in Australia received over $1 million salaries while making huge cuts internally, slashing staff numbers and putting infrastructure projects on ice as closed borders threatened the international student market.
These $1 million salaries include the vice-chancellors of our local universities, the University of South Australia, Flinders University and Adelaide University. The Financial Review claims that Australia's vice-chancellors are paid considerably more than their peers in Britain and Canada. My question to the minister is: does the government agree that these salaries are excessive, and will the Malinauskas government commit to capping vice-chancellor salaries?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the member for his question. His longstanding interest, I think, is evidenced by legislation put before this place previously on this particular issue. I will refer those matters to the minister responsible in the other place and be sure to bring the honourable member a response back as soon as possible.
01 June 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise today to talk about the Malinauskas government's first budget. Budgets are a statement of priorities. They reflect what a government wants to achieve over the next four years and they reflect the values of the government. We are hoping that this new government will take some real action to reduce skyrocketing inequality in our state. We are hoping that this first budget will be one that is focused on increasing the wellbeing of all South Australians and addressing our climate crisis.
To that end, it is very disappointing to see the announcement of the Malinauskas government today, via the Minister for Energy, Tom Koutsantonis, that they will be axing renewable energy programs in tomorrow's budget. That is a decision to scrap the Home Battery Scheme and to dump the Switch for Solar program in order to save $19 million. That might deliver a quick cash injection into the budget, it might improve the budget bottom line, but it is going to come at a significant cost to the South Australian community and to our environment. It is really disappointing to see those cuts being foreshadowed in the budget today.
The Greens are calling for the Malinauskas government to take some real action in terms of reducing cost-of-living pressures being faced by families. They could do this by putting more money into public housing. We know that South Australia is in the middle of a housing affordability crisis. Adelaide is the second least affordable city in Australia and has a vacancy rate of just 0.2 per cent.
Every week, my office is inundated with calls from South Australians who cannot find a place to live, who cannot break into the housing market in terms of being able to afford to buy a home, who cannot access a rental and who cannot find affordable accommodation. The government needs to take action to address that by building more housing. We know that a meagre investment of 400 new homes is just not going to cut it.
We need to see the government introduce rent capping as a way of keeping rents low. We can look at what has happened in other jurisdictions around the world—places like Ireland, Spain and the US—they have done this and it is time for Adelaide to do the same. But we also need to see this government invest in our education system. We need to see a scrapping of public school fees in recognition of the fact that public education should be free for all South Australians. We know that South Australian public schools are significantly underfunded by millions of dollars each year and it is parents who are forced to pick up the slack through exorbitant school fees. That needs to change.
We need to see an emphasis on the cost of living and bringing that down. That means also trying to increase public sector wages. It is concerning that the government has foreshadowed public sector cuts in this budget. We hope that does not mean we are going to see job losses. We hope that does not mean we are going to see a reduction in salaries for our public sector workers.
The government should also be putting money into our public transport system. That has been neglected by the Liberal Party during their brief period in government, but it was also significantly neglected by the previous Labor government during their 16-year reign. The new government needs to take some action to address that: make it free and improve the infrastructure.
I talked about education. In a state like South Australia, no child should go hungry. That is why in the recent election we called for the government to provide free breakfast and free school lunches. That is something we could do if we ensured that the big end of town paid their fair share of tax. We know that there are 23,000 South Australian children who live in poverty. This state budget should take efforts to address that.
The government was elected on a platform of wanting to create a better future for all South Australians. Tomorrow will be an opportunity for them to demonstrate their commitment to do just that. I hope that they consider some of the ideas that the Greens have put on the table today.
17 November 2021
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:
That the report of the select committee be noted.
Very briefly, the privatisation committee was established back in May and handed down its report earlier this week. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the committee for their efforts: the Hon. John Darley, the Hon. Heidi Girolamo, the Hon. Frank Pangallo and the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos. I also acknowledge the contribution of the former member, the Hon. David Ridgway, who departed the committee in June. I acknowledge the work of Leslie Guy in the Secretariat and I want to thank her for all of her efforts in ensuring that the committee ran so smoothly and that we were able to provide a timely report to this chamber.
In terms of a brief summary, we received 22 submissions and there were six public hearings. The committee heard a range of evidence. In particular, it is clear that privatisation has had adverse impacts on services in South Australia and also on the experience of many staff working in public services that have been privatised.
The report made a range of recommendations for the future that would improve the accountability of private corporations that run public services and safeguard them against the sell-offs of our public services without due consideration of the impact. In terms of some of the key recommendations from the majority report, these include:
- the establishment of an independent regulatory body to provide oversight over services that have been privatised;
- the establishment of a standing parliamentary committee to review existing privatisations and make recommendations on any proposed privatisations prior to government approval;
- subsidiaries of multinationals awarded contracts for delivering public services to publicly report on their domestic and international revenues and tax payments;
- protections of employment standards for those working in government services that are privatised; and
- a moratorium on further privatisations on government services until all recommendations are actioned.
That is just a snapshot of the recommendations. There were 13 recommendations in total, and I certainly think that if these were implemented they would greatly improve the transparency around privatisations in our state. With that, I conclude my remarks.
25 August 2021
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:27): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Flinders University Act 1966, the University of Adelaide Act 1971 and the University of South Australia Act 1990. Read a first time.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:28): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
This bill is seeking to cap the salaries of vice-chancellors in our state universities. It is a really timely bill because our universities are in crisis and it is important that those in leadership positions are seen to actually lead when it comes to their own salaries. Over the course of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic saw South Australians hard hit, with an estimated 40,000 job losses across our state. Our three universities saw over 350 staff members lose their jobs, and this is on top of the 157 staff at the University of Adelaide who took so-called voluntary separation packages.
In 2021, we look set to repeat this trend, with the University of Adelaide forecasting that they intend to axe a further 130 jobs in the wake of their decision to merge five faculties into three as part of what they refer to as a rationalisation process.
There is nothing rational about this decision. This is not merely a statistic or an abstract number. This is 130 individuals, all of whom will be put out of work. It is 130 families that will lose a source of income during one of the most uncertain times in our history. The human impact of this decision cannot be underestimated.
This decision is particularly galling when one considers it is being made by someone who is being paid just under $1 million a year. By contrast, the South Australian Premier, the Hon. Steven Marshall, will be paid less than half that. What this bill seeks to do is to tie the salaries of our vice-chancellors to that of the Premier. It is unacceptable that during a time of extreme financial uncertainty for so many, South Australian university bosses continue to rake in exorbitant salaries while presiding over the dismissal of hundreds of employees, ongoing rationalisation of staff, ongoing casualisation of staff.
How can we justify paying an employee of a publicly funded institution a salary of well in excess of $1 million? Indeed, those are the salaries that are being paid to the vice-chancellors at Flinders University and the University of South Australia. While our universities continue to take a hatchet to people's livelihoods, it is only fair that these top executives start to actually feel the pinch where it hurts, start to see a reduction in their own salaries.
Conversely, we have seen this crazy situation where the more these vice-chancellors are being paid, the less quality that seems to be offered in our state's institutions. We have seen the quality of our universities decline over the last few decades. With rising class sizes, fewer assessment markers and an amalgamation of roles and departments, all of this has meant that staff are completely overworked. Indeed, having worked in the university sector myself previously prior to coming into this place, I can attest to the fact that staff in our state's universities face significant pressure.
Our federal government has done nothing to ease these concerns, and instead what it has done has made degrees more expensive for students. I want to put on record my outrage at the decision of the federal Liberal government to hike up the HECS fees for students who dare to study the humanities. Anybody would think that the Liberals do not want people to learn about history or the arts. I cannot imagine why they would be afraid of teaching young people such things. It is an appalling, short-sighted decision that the federal Liberals have taken in hiking up HECS fees in that way.
That has been really a bipartisan project started by the Labor Party when they implemented HECS back in the 1990s. Since then, we have seen the HECS scheme become a user pays, pays, pays system. We have seen and lack of investment in universities. As a result, these institutions have become reliant on international students, who are treated as cash cows and who are basically forced through fee-paying places to bankroll our university system. This is not an acceptable way for our universities to be run.
The current structure of our universities as part of this corporate governance model treats vice-chancellors like they are CEOs of multinational corporations. CEOs are chosen for their ability to turn a profit and to make money. That should not be the focus of our universities. I ask members of this place: why are we treating our universities like corporations? Why are we putting profits ahead of students? Why are we paying our vice-chancellors such obscene salaries, particularly in the middle of this economic crisis?
This bill will change that. It is a simple bill. As I said, it will cap the salaries of our vice-chancellors and put them to be at the same level as the Premier. Australian vice-chancellors are some of the highest paid in the world, doubling and sometimes tripling the salaries of their US and UK counterparts. In times of economic downturn, reduced student enrolments and further federal cuts to higher education, we can no longer justify paying such extravagant salaries. Might I say that such salaries were never justified.
Higher education has been under continual attack from our federal government and there is no relief in sight. They have effectively forced our universities to shift their priorities away from learning and on to earning—and that is an outrage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the decaying structures that support modern universities in Australia, our universities are built on the exploitation of international students, and I note that students are facing spiralling classes and many are getting a less than satisfactory service as a result of learning online as part of COVID-19.
Staff and students deserve so much better. This bill is not going to solve all the problems faced within our university sector and, indeed, the payment of these vice-chancellors is a symptom of a much broader problem, that of the corporatisation of our universities, but reducing the salaries of our vice-chancellors will go some small way towards changing this system. There are other reforms that are required, too. We need more money from the federal government, and the Greens are going to continue to advocate for that, but we also need to reverse the changes that were made to the governance of our universities back in 2016, when we saw the previous Labor government strip staff and students from university councils.
We are seeing now what happens when you reduce the influence of staff and students on these committees. We have seen that at the University of Adelaide, where the merger plan has been given the green light, but we have seen that across the sector over many, many years. It is part of this model that runs our universities like corporate boards rather than institutions that should operate for the public good. We cannot continue to allow this corporate greed to run rampant in our institutions. These institutions of higher learning should be treated as such. They should operate in the public good.
We cannot continue to pay six and seven figure sums to lone individuals while they preside over the sacking of hundreds of staff in the middle of a global pandemic. That really is outrageous and it is a slap in the face to all of those staff who are losing their jobs, to all of those staff who face increased casualisation, and to all of those staff who face uncertainty the moment that these decisions are made by the millionaire class.
There is a great deal more work that we must do to reform our universities. We must continue to promote them as places of higher education, not simply degree factories and money makers. I hope that members on both sides of this chamber will support this bill because I believe that it will go some small way towards putting our universities back on track. There is significant community support for this. Indeed, there have been 1,300 signatures on a petition circulating online in support of the bill. It has had a lot of support from the NTEU and student groups, and I look forward to the Labor and Liberal parties and SA-Best and Advance SA coming on board so that we can achieve this reform.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.E. Hanson.