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Pages tagged "Education Training and Skills"

Question: University Rankings

6 June 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:00): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the minister representing the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science on the topic of university rankings.

Leave granted.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Simms, just before you start, I noted your apology to me for your state of undress, and I know that it's not going to be a habit that we are going to have to put up with.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Thank you, Mr President. I have made a rod for my own back, being such a fashion plate in this chamber.

The PRESIDENT: Well, that's the problem, isn't it?

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I acknowledge that. When you set the bar high, it's very hard. It was reported yesterday that UniSA's rankings have dropped in the latest QS World University Rankings from 340 down to 326, putting the university now below Flinders University, which is sitting at 336. Last year, the Joint Committee on the Establishment of Adelaide University heard evidence from the Hon. Chris Schacht, a former federal Labor minister, that there may be a dip in ratings for a few years for the new university. My question therefore to the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science is:

1. Is the government concerned about the potential for a future fall in ratings for the new Adelaide University?

2. In particular, are they concerned about the impact this may have on the capacity of the new university to recruit international students?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:01): I thank the honourable member for his question. I will be happy to pass it along to the Deputy Premier in another place and bring back a reply.


Question: Misogynistic behaviour in schools

2 May 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:09): 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 behaviour in schools.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: An ongoing study by the University of Adelaide has to date found that misogynistic language and behaviour by male school students in Adelaide is heightened and that male students are working in groups to physically intimidate their female teachers and peers. An article published in The Conversation written by a senior lecturer from the University of Adelaide, Samantha Schulz, includes quotes from teachers. One teacher says:

Boys are increasingly using misogynistic language towards female students and teachers, telling them to 'make me a sandwich'.

Another teacher stated:

I find it disconcerting that by the age of 14 or 15, they [the boys] know how to use their presence to menace...if they are behaving like this with me, what are they like with young women their own age or the women in their families?

Last weekend, thousands of people across the country attended rallies against gendered violence and last night, silent vigils were held in memory of the victims of domestic violence. Samantha Schulz's article in The Conversation draws a link between the increase in misogynistic behaviour in schools and the problem of domestic violence. The article calls for a policy of identifying, reporting and responding to gendered violence, abuse and harassment.

My question to the minister representing the Minister for Education is: is the government concerned about the increase of misogynistic language and misogynistic behaviour in schools and what are the government's policies to address this issue?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:11): I am happy to pass on the substance of that question about what programs and efforts there are within our education system, but I might just add that from my point of view, and I know the member for Wright, the Hon. Blair Boyer, the education minister, shares very strongly the view that that type of behaviour, that type of language not just has no place in our schools but has no place anywhere.

As I think men all around Australia are increasingly appreciating, it is not just the behaviours but it is the attitudes of men that drastically need to change to make our society a safer place for women and girls. Some of the things that people have walked past or even tolerated in the past were not acceptable then, and they are certainly not acceptable now, and in all aspects, including our education system, we all, particularly men, have a responsibility to call out such behaviours.


Education and Children's Services (Reporting Requirements) Amendment Bill

7 February 2024

EDUCATION AND CHILDREN'S SERVICES (REPORTING REQUIREMENTS) AMENDMENT BILL

Introduction and First Reading

 

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:32): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Education and Children's Services Act 2019. Read a first time.

 

Second Reading

 

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:33): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill, the Education and Children's Services (Reporting Requirements) Amendment Bill 2024, is an important transparency measure. It seeks to promote equality and accountability between public and private schools, and it subjects our private schools to the same reporting requirements as public schools.

Private schools currently receive $290 million of state government funding here in South Australia—$290 million of state government funding—but unlike public schools there is no requirement for private schools to report on how that money is being spent. Public money is just that: it belongs to the community, and it is only right that private schools that receive public funds are required to report on how public money is spent. This is the demand that is made of our public schools and it is only appropriate that the same demand be made of private educators.

Many private schools receive significant public funds and the public has a right to know how the money is being spent. I am going to use some examples in this speech, and I do not do so to attack or denigrate those institutions. I am more just highlighting some of the inequities that exist within our school system. I want to start with an example from Pembroke, which is currently the most expensive school in the state to send your child to.

We know from publicly available data that Pembroke receives $1,236 per year per student from the state, in addition to $5,340 per year from the commonwealth. Meanwhile, I understand that Pembroke has fundraised more than $6 million for building project, and the school charges $31,000 fees for a year 12 student to attend their institution. Conversely, we have public schools in our state that are crying out for basic infrastructure and resources.

In 2019, the ABC reported on the differences between the poorest and richest schools in Australia. At that time, they reported that Sheidow Park Primary School was one of a thousand schools across Australia that spent $25,000 over a five-year period on new facilities, while the richest private schools were spending roughly $100 million—$25,000 being spent over five years on new facilities in a public primary school, while the richest private schools were spending roughly $100 million. Something is not right there.

I had the opportunity the year before last to visit my old school, Aberfoyle Park High School and, whilst it has had some significant upgrades, it was disappointing to me to see that much of the school remained unchanged from when I was there. That was not very long ago, of course, but not much had changed in such a short window of time. It is disappointing and more money should be put on the table to support our public schools.

The My School website shows data on where schools are getting their funds and demonstrates capital expenditure, but the public are not getting clear information on where their funds are being spent. We cannot see, for example, whether or not public money is being used by private schools to support advertising activities, whether public money is being used to support luxury facilities such as swimming pools, or on courting donors.

Taxpayers have a right to know what activities they are subsidising. Is public money being used to support advertising campaigns by private schools? Is public money being used to employ fundraisers within our private schools? Many South Australians, I think, would question whether that is a legitimate use of public money.

Professor Piccoli, who was previously the director of the University of New South Wales' Gonski Institute for Education, and also a New South Wales education minister, has stated that:

The public do have a right to know where public money is going and why…and until we know that in any kind of detail, you can't be confident that they're not using it for capital [expenditure].

In December last year, the Review to Inform a Better and Fairer Education System Report was published. The report discusses the need for greater funding transparency and accountability. On page 20, it states:

The Panel heard from stakeholders about a desire for greater transparency and accountability, including from families and communities seeking more access to information on the allocation and the use of school funding.

Recommendation 6A from that report was:

Approved Authorities improve transparency by annually publishing their school funding allocation models, actual allocations, and more information on what the funds get spent on.

This bill will address that recommendation by improving expenditure transparency and requiring private schools to publicly release their income and expenditure as part of their annual report.

Public schools are already required to report more than just expenditure. This bill would ensure that private schools are subject to the same reporting requirements. Public schools, for instance, are already required to disclose information on student behaviour, including data on suspensions, exclusions, expulsions, and all of that information is uploaded to the Data.SA website.

All we are proposing is that our state's private schools be required to do the same and that this information be reported in their annual reports. This means that the information is available to the whole community, including parents, many of whom are spending a lot of money to send their children to these schools. I would argue that they also have a right to that information.

The bill will also require private schools to be transparent about the number of complaints that are being made, to provide workforce information, such as the number of casual, contract and permanent staff and the proportion of teaching staff versus non-teaching staff, as well as the number of work health and safety incidents that occur at a school. Again, that is really important information, I think, for parents.

The data would be captured in the school's annual report, which is then made available on their website. This would give parents a holistic picture when making a choice about schools, but would also ensure that there is the same level of transparency applying to both our public and our private schools, because both are getting public money.

There is a transitional provision in the bill that ensures that this would only apply to a full financial year after commencement. That would give private schools an opportunity to collate the information and adjust some of their reporting requirements. The United Nations global education monitoring report on accountability in education back in 2017 found that:

Far stricter regulation of private sector involvement is needed to ensure that profitability does not trump equity and quality.

While public schools are underfunded and non-government schools are being handed public money, it is important that we hold the private sector to the same scrutiny as public schools. This would ensure that we have clear data and that it is publicly available for parents, funding authorities and the community as a whole to understand the private education sector.

The Greens believe that when we are talking about public money there should be a maximum level of transparency and accountability. This is a simple reform, but one that I think would be welcomed by parents who send their children to private schools and also by the South Australian taxpayer more broadly, as the taxpayer collectively has an interest in how their money is being spent.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.E. Hanson.


Motion: World Teachers' Day

30 November 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:08): I rise also to support the motion on behalf of the Greens and want to start by thanking the Hon. Reggie Martin for putting this forward and giving this chamber an opportunity to recognise the important role that teachers play in our society.

As has been observed by the Hon. Jing Lee, World Teachers' Day is held annually on 5 October, but it is observed here in South Australia on 27 October. It is held annually around the globe, and I quote from the UNESCO website:

It commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers, which sets benchmarks regarding the rights and responsibilities of teachers, and standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, and teaching and learning conditions. The Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel was adopted in 1997 to complement the 1966 Recommendation by covering teaching personnel in higher education. World Teachers’ Day has been celebrated since 1994.

UNESCO goes on to note that the day is a time to:

…celebrate how teachers are transforming education but also to reflect on the support they need to fully deploy their talent and vocation, and to rethink the way ahead for the profession globally.

I think we all had cause to reflect on the important role that teachers play in our society during the pandemic, when parents were forced to teach their children at home—or work with teachers, rather, in supporting them in the home environment. From the discussions I have had with many of my friends who had kids at home during the pandemic, I know how challenging that was, and the appreciation that that gave them for the remarkable work that teachers do and the vital role that they play in our society.

Given we are talking about the important role of teachers, I do want to use this opportunity also to urge the government to resolve the dispute with teachers. It is concerning that we have seen such significant underinvestment in the public education sector in our state over many years. I recognise that is not just a fault of this government; it has been a long-term challenge, and there has not been appropriate investment in public education from governments of either persuasion over the years. It is something I really urge the Malinauskas government to remedy.

I understand the Australian Education Union has revised its position for a salary increase of 8.64 per cent up-front and a 5.4 per cent increase in the following two years, down to 6 per cent in the first year followed by 5 per cent in the second year and 4 per cent in the third year. This would represent an increase of 15 per cent over three years, and would take SA educators from Australia's lowest paid to a level closer to the national midpoint. They are also requesting additional resources be made available to their schools so that they can better support students.

I urge the government to find a solution here. I know the Minister for Education, the Hon. Blair Boyer, is someone who is really passionate about education. In my dealings with him I have found him to be someone who really wants to deliver good outcomes for education in our state, but I really do urge the government to pay teachers what they are worth and to ensure that our public schools are appropriately resourced so that they can meet the needs of students, parents and our communities. With that, I conclude my remarks and indicate that the Greens will be supporting the motion.


Question: Public School Teachers

16 November 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:35): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Public Sector on the topic of public school teachers.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I was concerned the Attorney-General was missing out, so I thought I had better ask him a question. Yesterday, The Advertiser reported that public school teachers may strike again in week 9 of the school term if the government does not accept their request by the start of December. The Australian Education Union President, Andrew Gohl, was quoted in the article as saying, and I quote:

Industrial action is certainly part of what we are considering, all we've got as leverage is our labour. So there are two options really, either…strike in week nine or strike in the upcoming year…We're trying to increase salaries to attract and retain…and it's important for the [government] to understand that unless we have those measures, we will continue to lose teachers.

My question to the minister therefore is: can the minister update the chamber on the progress of negotiations with the Australian Education Union? Will the government commit to meeting the teachers' demands to reduce the pressure on teachers and ensure we can retain the skilled workforce we need in our public schools?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:37): I thank the honourable member for his question and his interest in this area. I can absolutely assure the member that the government will continue talking, negotiating and bargaining in good faith. There have been meetings as recently as this week between representatives of the government and representatives of the union that represents teachers in this state.

I think I have outlined in this chamber before, and certainly it has been publicly reported, that the government has to date put forward three offers to the teachers' union, each offer being in totality of greater value than the last. I think all three offers are of escalating value, having been in totality the biggest offers that have ever been made as part of an enterprise bargaining negotiation with the teachers' union.

I think the third offer that was put—and I can't remember exactly how long ago it was, but I think it was early last week, Monday afternoon last week, so a week and a half ago—has sunk in value to somewhere between $1.4 billion and $1.5 billion of additional funding, comprised of a number of factors. It partly comprised increased pay but also comprised other things that the teachers' union had put forward as important to them, particularly non-instructional time.

One of the issues that the teachers' union has raised, and that the government has given in principle support for in the negotiations, pending a final resolution, is a reduction of one hour per week of non-instructional time. There is a discussion underway about how quickly that escalates under the government's third offer that would be introduced over seven years—the seven different categories of schools, with the most needy schools being the first ones to be introduced in the first year for that one hour less of non-instructional time.

Simply as a matter of practicality, it would be difficult to do it much sooner than in seven years. I know the teachers' union and most people wish we could do it a lot quicker, but, given the head of the teachers' union, Andrew Gohl, talks about a teacher shortage not just in South Australia but right around Australia, to have one less hour of non-instructional time a week there would be one less hour of teaching children, which is something that I don't think either the union or the government or any South Australian would like to see. Less time of children being taught in schools would mean extra teachers. To have that one extra hour a week, you would need I think it is 502 or 503 additional teachers being employed.

That, of course, would cost a substantial sum, but given the views expressed that there is a teacher shortage crisis around the country, it would be almost impossible to fill those positions. We are continuing to negotiate, and we will continue to negotiate, bearing in mind all the competing factors that weigh in industrial negotiations.

As I have said, we have successfully completed negotiations with a number of public sector unions, the first one I think being the ambulance officers that are employed in South Australia that for the whole of the term of the last government did not have a single pay rise. They were four years without a pay rise. Early on in the term of this government, we resolved that enterprise bargain and gave back pay for all of the years that were missed out. We have concluded negotiations since then with the firefighters and with the nurses in the public sector.

These things do take some time sometimes, but I am pleased that everyone is back around the negotiating table and hopefully we will have a resolution as soon as we possibly can, weighing up all the factors and needing to be a government that is responsible with taxpayers' money but looking to make sure we are appropriately paying and appropriately taking into consideration our teachers' workloads.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:40): Supplementary: can the minister commit to resolving the matter by Christmas?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:41): I thank the honourable member for his question. I am not going to put an artificial deadline on exactly when things will be resolved. Often, particularly with something as complicated as the teaching profession, it typically has taken many, many months. As I say, I am pleased that everybody is back around the negotiating table this week and I think everybody wishes it to be resolved as quickly as possible, but it needs to be resolved not just responsibly but in a way that can practically work.


Establishment of Adelaide University

15 November 2023

In reply to the Hon. R.A. SIMMS MLC (18 October 2023):

  1. Can the government clarify whether the One Nation education policy was considered as part of its negotiations with One Nation with regard to the university merger?
  2. Will the government rule out inclusion of a One Nation freedom of speech clause similar to that that the party proposed at a federal level in any state university act?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): The Minister for Innovation and Skills has advised:

  1. The One Nation education policy was not considered as part of its negotiations with One Nation with regard to the university merger; and

  2. The federal Higher Education Support Act 2003 includes a definition of academic freedom. All table A providers, including South Australia's three public universities, are subject to this legislation. Following appropriate approvals, the new Adelaide University will be a table A provider and will be subject to the Higher Education Support Act. Given the definition exists in federal legislation, the government sees no reason to include any additional requirements for free speech or academic freedom in university establishing legislation.

Establishment of Adelaide University Third Reading

1 November 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (21:19): I want to make a few very brief remarks, given we have come to the end of this bill. I think it is appropriate to recognise that this has been one of those difficult political debates for the chamber and certainly one of the more difficult ones over the last six months. I do want to acknowledge that, whilst it has been disappointing from the Greens' perspective that a number of our amendments have been unsuccessful—indeed, all of the amendments bar one—it is our hope that this new institution is successful.

Universities play a very important role in our state and whilst we have not been supportive of the approach that the government, and indeed the parliament, has taken, it is my sincere hope that the new university is a success. I want to take this opportunity to wish the staff and the students of the university well as they transition into this next phase, and also to make a few remarks about my relationship with the government in terms of dealing with this matter.

I have known the higher education minister for many years. I have known her to be a good person and someone who cares a lot about the university sector. Whilst we have differed on this issue, I am sure we will work together on different issues. We have had some very intense debates in this chamber over the last few days on this issue, but I think everybody has tried to engage with this with the best of intentions. I look forward to us working together on other matters in the future.

Bill read a third time and passed.


Motion: Establishment of Adelaide University

1 November 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:34): What a debate it has been. I had no idea when I proposed this motion that it would set off such a cacophony of criticism from one side of the chamber. I am perplexed because what we are seeing, of course, is the Labor Party opposing this and their Praetorian Guard, the Hon. Connie Bonaros and the Hon. Sarah Game, leaping to the government's defence to try—

The Hon. C. Bonaros interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order!

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: —to aid the government with a political problem. I am not trying to play politics with this, but I am a politician. The role of a politician is actually to engage in political work and, quite frankly, if you do not want to engage in political work, do not be a politician.

This motion is responding to the concerns of the community. This is not a debate about what the committee has or has not seen; this is about what the people of South Australia have seen who do not have the benefit of being in the committee room and getting access to whatever information may have been presented to the committee. That is not what this is about. This is about getting information to the people of South Australia so they can form a view so they can form an informed judgement around the proposal.

The motion references some opinion polling that demonstrates there is strong community support for that proposition, particularly in the regions and across supporters of all political parties. The amendments that the opposition are putting forward I think dilute the motion a little way; however, I am happy to live with those amendments and I am happy to support them. I think the additions they have added in terms of improving processes and practices are good.

So I am happy to support this amendment and, of course, advocate supporting the motion overall. There is no reason why, particularly with the opposition's amendment, which notes that redactions may be necessary, that this motion could not pass this chamber, notwithstanding the concerns of some of the members opposite and their supporters on the crossbench.

The PRESIDENT: The first question I am going to put is that paragraph 2 as proposed to be struck out by the Hon. J.S. Lee stand part of the motion.

The council divided on the question:

Ayes 9

Noes 8

Majority 1

AYES

Bonaros, C. Bourke, E.S. El Dannawi, M.
Game, S.L. Hanson, J.E. Hunter, I.K.
Martin, R.B. (teller) Ngo, T.T. Scriven, C.M.

NOES

Centofanti, N.J. Franks, T.A. Girolamo, H.M.
Hood, B.R. Lee, J.S. (teller) Lensink, J.M.A.
Pangallo, F. Simms, R.A.  

PAIRS

Wortley, R.P. Henderson, L.A. Maher, K.J.
Hood, D.G.E.    

Question thus agreed to.

 

The PRESIDENT: The next question is that new paragraph 3 as proposed to be inserted by the Hon. J.S. Lee be so inserted.

The council divided on the question:

Ayes 8

Noes 9

Majority 1

AYES

Centofanti, N.J. Franks, T.A. Girolamo, H.M.
Hood, B.R. Lee, J.S. (teller) Lensink, J.M.A.
Pangallo, F. Simms, R.A.  

NOES

Bonaros, C. Bourke, E.S. El Dannawi, M.
Game, S.L. Hanson, J.E. Hunter, I.K.
Martin, R.B. (teller) Ngo, T.T. Scriven, C.M.

PAIRS

Henderson, L.A. Wortley, R.P. Hood, D.G.E.
Maher, K.J.    

Question thus resolved in the negative.

 

The committee divided on the motion:

Ayes 8

Noes 9

Majority 1

AYES

Centofanti, N.J. Franks, T.A. Girolamo, H.M.
Hood, B.R. Lee, J.S. Lensink, J.M.A.
Pangallo, F. Simms, R.A. (teller)  

NOES

Bonaros, C. Bourke, E.S. El Dannawi, M.
Game, S.L. Hanson, J.E. Hunter, I.K.
Martin, R.B. (teller) Ngo, T.T. Scriven, C.M.

PAIRS

Wortley, R.P. Henderson, L.A. Maher, K.J.
Hood, D.G.E.    

Motion thus negatived.


Adelaide University Bill

31 October 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:08): I rise to indicate on behalf of the Greens that we will not be supporting this bill. We will, however, be working very hard during the committee stage to try to get better outcomes for staff and students, as we have done during this entire process. I will be moving 23 amendments and I will use my second reading contribution to talk to some of those amendments and detail their rationale for the chamber.

It is appropriate that we are meeting today on Halloween because last week we saw the horror of the Labor Party doing a deal with One Nation, and this week we are seeing the potential for a Frankenstein's monster as the government seeks to rush through this legislation without appropriate safeguards for a new university.

I bring to this chamber my experience in having worked in the university sector. Indeed, I have an association with all three of our universities. I hold a bachelor's degree from Flinders University, a graduate certificate from the University of South Australia, and I have worked at both Adelaide University and Flinders University, and I have seen all the different elements or applied the different lenses of what it is to be in our university sector.

I was a student activist during the noughties and a student president at Flinders Uni. I later went back to Flinders and worked as a casual academic, doing some casual teaching work, and later I have worked on professional staff, on casual contracts and on longer term contracts. I have seen the effect that the corporate university model has on staff and on students.

We have an opportunity with this reform to actually remake this new university and to make it something better, to make it a leader when it comes to governance. I am really disappointed that that opportunity has not been embraced by the crossbench in their negotiations with the government—not all of the crossbench; I recognise that the Hon. Frank Pangallo did not sign up to that deal. It is disappointing that the opportunity to make this new institution something better was not embraced by One Nation and the Hon. Connie Bonaros in their negotiations with government.

I really do want to acknowledge the leadership of the NTEU in the way they have engaged with this issue. I was proud to have been a member of the NTEU in the past. I am not currently a member of that union, but I have been previously. They offer a really good service to their members and they have played a very important role in highlighting the concerns of staff and highlighting the potential implications of this proposal for staff. The Greens share the concerns of the union and the anxieties that staff have around this proposal, and they have certainly been in our thoughts during this time.

I might use this opportunity to refresh some of the arguments the Greens touched on in our minority report. The legislation has come to the parliament today after a committee process. It is a matter of public record that that committee would not have been established if not for the leadership of the Greens, if not for the leadership of the Hon. Frank Pangallo and the leadership of the Liberal Party, because the government made it very clear that they wanted to rush forward this legislation without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. It was the Hon. Frank Pangallo, the Greens and the Liberals that put the brakes on that and ensured there was appropriate parliamentary scrutiny, and I think that process was really worthwhile.

Of course, we may not have needed to have a parliamentary inquiry if the Labor Party had met the commitment it took to the last state election, that is, to establish an independent commission of inquiry. It is a regrettable outcome that this process has been politicised by the government. It was really disappointing to see the two vice-chancellors lining up with the Premier and announcing their plan without having brought that direct to members of parliament. There was no approach to reach out to the Greens from the vice-chancellors of those two universities, and this proposal was presented to the parliament as a fait accompli.

Basically, the message we got from the government was that any delay is denial, that you have to sign on the bottom line and make it happen, do not ask any questions. That is not the way we do business in this place and that is certainly not the role of the upper house. There needs to be appropriate scrutiny of these sorts of proposals. It should have come from an independent commission of inquiry that could have considered this fundamental question of whether or not this is the right direction for our state. That should have been the threshold question and an independent person could have asked that and then made some proposals for the parliament to consider.

Alas, that was not the process that was adopted. Instead, sadly, some members of the university community, some university staff, found out about this plan via an article in The Advertiser. That is not the way that people should be advised of key decisions that impact on their jobs and livelihoods. That is not a respectful way to approach university staff or students.

One of the key issues that the Greens have been concerned about throughout has been the secrecy that has underpinned this proposal. It has been very concerning to us that cabinet did not review the business case before putting money on the table to support this merger plan. Today, we had discussion in question time about the need for the government to step up and support teachers, yet they were willing to commit nearly half a billion dollars sight unseen on this merger plan. They say they cannot afford to meet the needs of teachers at the moment but they were very happy to put half a billion dollars on the table without even reading the business case. When does that ever happen?

It is not an appropriate approach to take and that is why the Greens have been advocating consistently to say that business case should be put out into the public realm so that the community can consider it and form a view. That is why tomorrow in this chamber I will be moving a motion calling on the universities to do just that, to make those business cases public.

We also need to know what external consultants, if any, were engaged in developing this proposal. It was very concerning to me to read the revelations of InDaily regarding potential conflicts of interest and the involvement of Deloitte in this plan. Any consultants engaged with this university merger proposal should be named and the community has a right to that information.

In my opening remarks I talked a little bit about governance and one of the key issues I think, and it has been a fundamental problem in our universities over many years, has been the lack of diverse voices on university councils. We have an over-representation of people who come from the business community; we have an over-representation of people who have links to fossil fuel companies; and we have an over-representation of people who have been former ministers of governments, in particular might I say the Liberal Party.

It is appropriate that we have members on university council who actually bring skills and expertise relevant to the higher education sector. There is the old saying that it is the cobbler who makes the shoes but it is only the wearer who knows how it fits. Really, you need to have staff and students in the room for those decisions.

I mentioned before that I used to be a member of the university council when I was a student representative at Flinders University back in 2004 or 2005. At that time, there was more representation of students on those councils. We know it was a sad day when the former Labor state government reduced the number of students on those university councils. I recognise your leadership, Acting President, in standing up against that at the time because that was a backward step and one that has robbed students and staff of vital power at the decision-making table. That is something the Greens are seeking to remedy through our amendments today.

Another issue that has been of considerable concern to us has been the remuneration of vice-chancellors. I have talked about this at length. Indeed, members will know I have a bill before parliament to cap the salaries of vice-chancellors in line with that of the Premier. In our view, it is obscene that a vice-chancellor can be earning over $1 million a year in the middle of an economic crisis. That is why we are moving an amendment that will require the vice-chancellor's salary to be set by the Remuneration Tribunal. That is the rule that applies to politicians, and that is the rule that applies to other key public officers.

These are public institutions getting public money, so why should that rule not apply to them? It is obscene that we see vice-chancellors earning over $1 million a year, particularly after the difficult years of COVID when staff saw a reduction in their pay and when staff were being laid off. I think it is really rich to see them raking in those huge salaries. We have an opportunity to fix that with this bill.

Another issue that we are concerned about is the student experience. We need to ensure that there is a student association in this new university bill and they need to get the lion's share of the student services and amenities fee. That is vitally important. We need to see support for low socio-economic students across the board, not just those who seek to go to this new university. We do not want to see students who are going to Flinders University being disadvantaged.

I might make some general comments about the impact on rankings, because I know that is one of the key issues that has been the basis of this proposal. At the committee level, we got some contradictory evidence around university rankings, and this idea that we are going to see a boost in the rankings does seem to be highly contested. Indeed, there was some evidence that we might see a reduction in rankings in the short term. The Greens are concerned that that might impact on the potential for this new university to recruit students.

I should say, of course, that it is our view, and we remain concerned, that international students are being used as cash cows in our university system and that we do not have enough resourcing of our universities. University should be free. It should be accessible to everybody. Your access to university should be determined by your brains, not your bank balance.

That is a simple proposition, but it is one that has been undermined by the Liberal Party, in particular in Canberra over the bleak Howard years, but also by the lack of leadership by the federal Labor Party under Gillard, under Rudd, under Gillard-Rudd again, and there still has not been the leadership under this new government either. That is key for us in terms of addressing the needs of the sector.

We should be moving away from this corporate university model, one that actually treats students like consumers rather than students who have a right to have a say in the direction of the institution and who are there to build their skills and capacity and to reflect on life and to make a positive contribution. Should that not be what universities are about, rather than being about just trying to make money?

I will talk a little bit about the amendments that the Greens will be seeking to advance today. I want to flesh those out in a bit more detail, and in doing so it might save us a bit of time in the committee stage. The first amendment that I will be moving will require the university to be an exemplary employer. This draws on some of the evidence presented to the committee. We will talk about making the new university an exemplary employer that offers secure and meaningful employment to staff. That is one of the key objectives for this new university.

I cannot fathom why anyone in this place would oppose that. In particular, it is difficult to comprehend why the Labor Party, the party of the worker, would oppose such a simple inclusion in the act, but let's see what happens. I will call a division and we will see how they vote, whether they stand with staff of the university sector and advocate to improve their conditions or whether they fall into line with the university chiefs. We will see.

The other amendment that I will move will remove the requirement for the university to support and contribute to the realisation of South Australian economic development priorities. It is not the role of a university to realise the state's economic development priorities. That is not the role of a university. The role of a university is to make a contribution to the community, to educate the community and to be a key civic and community leader.

We are also going to be moving an amendment to require the fees for student services to be paid to a student representative body and we will be moving an amendment to require the university council to in all matters endeavour to advance the interests of the university educational and research outcomes for the university and have a primary focus on the student experience. It does worry me that there has not been enough discussion around students in this push for a university merger and the impact this may have on them, their experience in university and their access to a diverse range of courses and opportunities, and it is really important that that is put in the act.

The other key thing we are suggesting is that there be some changes to the composition of the council. We want to see an increase in student members and academic staff and that also will follow through to the transition council. We are going to be moving an amendment to ensure that the council will include two members who are culturally and linguistically diverse and we will also be moving amendments to ensure that a majority of the council are staff and students. We will also be pushing to have graduates from the previous universities involved.

We will be moving another amendment that requires council members to act in a way that the member thinks will benefit and promote the best interests of the university and educational and research outcomes for the university, again putting that primary focus on the university experience.

We will be moving an amendment that requires the council to have a code of conduct and a requirement for its members to comply with that. This is an important measure because we are bound by a code of conduct and most staff of the university are bound by a code of conduct. That should also apply to those on the university council. There are some misconduct provisions relating to what happens if people do not comply with that code.

We are also moving a number of important transparency-related amendments. One of those will require meetings to be held in public with public notice. We will be moving for the universities to publish their minutes and we will be moving for them to publish their agendas. These are public institutions and they receive public money. They should not be secret societies operating behind closed doors, operating under the guise of commercial-in-confidence and shutting the community out of their decisions, so we will be moving to get that information into the public realm.

We will be moving amendments relating to the vice-chancellors' pay, and I have touched on those, and we will be looking at the disclosure of any consultants that are providing advice to the council. We will also be moving to divest this new university of fossil fuels and its assets in the defence industry. We are very concerned about the potential for this new university to be playing a role in advancing the climate crisis and the ongoing militarisation that we are seeing, and the militarisation agenda for our state, so our amendment will nip that in the bud.

We will also be seeking some important disclosure through the annual report of information on the arrangements relating to staff. Under our proposal, the university would be required to report on the number of casual staff it employs and those that are ongoing and the nature of their contracts. This is important information because it would shine a light on the way in which our universities treat their staff. Again, what will the party of the workers do? I pose the question: what will the party of the workers do? Will they line up with the Liberals and oppose this amendment or will they actually advocate for this important principle to be established in the legislation to provide some transparency around arrangements relating to staff? Let's see. We will have an opportunity to test that proposition tomorrow.

Finishing with staff, I do want to just touch on some of the important figures that come out of the National Tertiary Education Union's submission that it made to the committee on the establishment of the new university. They did a survey of their staff and I think it is really important to look at some of the findings of that survey, because I think it should focus the mind of the Labor Party in terms of how they approach this bill and the opportunity that they have had presented to them that the Greens' amendment provides.

I want to look at the survey results that relate to consultation and stakeholder engagement. The NTEU asked the university staff as part of their survey how they had been engaged with this process. Ninety-five per cent of survey respondents indicated that they had not been appropriately consulted by the SA government: 95 per cent. Sixty-six per cent of University of Adelaide and 49 per cent of University of South Australia staff indicated that they had not been appropriately consulted by their respective employers before and during the feasibility project.

Indeed, the union makes the claim that these results show that the process to date is failing the stakeholders they are meant to empower and the prevailing governance institutions are failing their communities. They say that if the merger process is to succeed, staff, students, unions and community stakeholders must be front and centre of all decision-making moving forward and have active participation at every stage of the co-creation process.

We entirely agree and that is why we will be moving to ensure that staff and students play much more of an active role in the interim council that is setting up this new institution. Again, what will the Labor Party do? Will they listen to the staff and students or will they simply fall in behind the university chiefs, who we know regard staff and students as often being an inconvenience?

I think I have ventilated the concerns that the Greens have with this bill. I will make further contributions during the committee stage and I urge members to carefully consider the Greens' amendments. While we are not supportive of this bill, we are presenting members with an opportunity to achieve some better outcomes for students and staff. There are 23 amendments there. I urge members to take up that opportunity. With that, I conclude my remarks.


Question: Teacher Strike

31 October 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:42): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector on the topic of public school teachers.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Last week, the Australian Education Union indicated that it would be considering striking again on 9 November if no acceptable offer has been made by the government by the deadline of 6 November. On 1 September this year, thousands of educators went on strike, calling for better pay conditions, more school services officers and more time face to face with students.

AEU SA Branch President, Andrew Gohl, has told The Advertiser that he believes it is becoming increasingly clear that the Premier doesn't see public education as a priority for his government. My question to the minister therefore is: does the minister see public education as a priority for the government, and what action is he taking to meet the needs of teachers by the deadline of 6 November?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:43): I thank the honourable member for his question. This is an area we have traversed previously in this chamber. In relation to the first part of the question, the Premier, the Minister for Education in another place, myself and in fact the entire Labor team see public education as critically important, and certainly support for public education has been a hallmark of this government. I won't go into laborious detail, but many, many initiatives, many, many millions of dollars, have been put towards improving public education outcomes in South Australia.

In relation to the enterprise bargaining that is currently underway with the Australian Education Union, there have been numerous meetings; I have attended a number of those personally with representatives from the Australian Education Union. As I have said previously, we are negotiating in good faith and we will continue to do that. As the member has indicated, the union has publicly said that they are considering further strike action.

I think it is the government's view that that would be unfortunate, particularly as the proposed strike action falls during year 12 exams, which is often a stressful time for students and parents and a critical time for those educators who teach those students. We will, as we have in the past, continue to negotiate in good faith. If we can meet the deadlines that the union imposes, we certainly will, but we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to meet the needs of students.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:44): Supplementary: if public education is really that critical to the government, why won't they pay teachers what they are worth?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:45): I thank the honourable member for his question. Certainly, that is exactly what we are looking to do during that bargaining process. I just don't have the figures in front of me, but so far what the government has indicated they would be willing to agree to as part of this enterprise bargaining round, if I am remembering correctly but I will check these figures, equates to something like $130 million worth of things that aren't just in terms of pay but that will help public education, like a reduction in face-to-face teaching time. We will continue to work with the Education Union to, as I say, bargain in good faith and resolve the current negotiation period that is occurring with teachers.