Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 01, 2023



Adelaide University Bill

Committee Stage

In committee (resumed on motion).

Clause 40.

The CHAIR: Clause 40 is a money clause and, as such, I will not be putting a question. Standing order 298 provides that no question shall be put in committee upon any such clause. The message transmitting the bill to the House of Assembly is required to indicate that this clause is deemed necessary to the bill.

Clause 41.

The CHAIR: Clause 41 is also a money clause and, as such, the question will not be put on the clause. There are amendments in the name of the Hon. Ms Bonaros. The Hon. Ms Bonaros will put her amendments and speak to them. I can put the question on the amendments but not the clause.

The Hon. C. BONAROS: I move:

Amendment No 1 [Bonaros–1]—

Page 23, after line 39 [clause 41(5)(a)]—After subparagraph (i) insert:

(ia) programs developed by the University in accordance with paragraph (ba); or

Amendment No 2 [Bonaros–1]—

Page 24, line 3 [clause 41(5)(b)]—After 'paragraph (a)(i)' insert:

, (ia)

Amendment No 3 [Bonaros–1]—

Page 24, after line 3 [clause 41(5)]—After paragraph (b) insert:

(ba) the Fund guidelines must provide that at least $20 million of the Fund is dedicated towards supporting payments from the Fund to be applied by the University towards programs addressing access to the University and equity considerations for people residing in regional and outer metropolitan areas who have experienced disadvantages in education, or in access to education, or who are under-represented in education;

When I spoke on this bill yesterday, I talked about the student association groups and Ms Georgia Thomas and Mr Isaac Solomon, who appeared on behalf of those groups at the inquiry process, and their support for this merger on the basis of some safeguards.

I said yesterday that I do not make promises lightly, but when I do I usually overcommit. Of course, I would expect both Georgia and Isaac to try to get as many commitments as they can in respect of this bill and I would like to think that, following on from our extensive discussions, I have delivered on the commitments that I made to them in relation to the new university association that will be formed.

Am I am speaking to the wrong amendment, Chair? What am I moving?

The CHAIR: You are moving [Bonaros-1] amendments Nos 1 to 3. You can speak to the first one if you want to. Really, you want to speak about the $20 million fund in amendment No. 3.

The Hon. C. BONAROS: Thank you, Chair. I apologise for that. I will speak to all three amendments together. As I said yesterday, I think all of us wish that—regardless of their postcodes, regardless of whether they attend Salisbury East High School or Prince Alfred College, regardless of whether their mum or dad is a doctor or a pharmacist or an abattoir worker—all kids, all students, all young people deserve access to the same educational opportunities if that, of course, is what they desire.

We know that no matter how bright a student may be, all too often their postcodes and their socio-economic backgrounds make that education out of reach, and that is especially the case for kids living in low socio-economic areas and for kids living in the regions. A lot has been said about the funding that has been secured as a result of the commitments made by the Premier and the government and that $60 million, but can I say this: I stand proud here today and stand firmly by those commitments because without that money, without those funds—and I will get to the $20 million in a moment—those kids simply would never realise the opportunity of a tertiary education. They might be the brightest kid in the room, but they will never realise that opportunity.

We can call it a dud deal, we can call it a 'love boat', we can call it whatever it is that members in this place want to refer to it as, but I am exceptionally proud of the fact that there will be $20 million quarantined in perpetuity for kids who would not otherwise have the opportunity to attend university. Yesterday, I spoke again of the discussions that I had with the university directly about how that money would be used, about what it is that we could do—I am speaking on the amendment, Chair—and about what it is that that money could be used for.

Of course, the amendment still specifically has the inclusion of the additional $20 million. You will note from the way that the amendments are drafted that the $20 million is quarantined, effectively, and split from the other $100 million. It will be treated as a separate pool of money from the other $100 million. The reason it will be treated as a separate pool of money is that those funds will specifically target kids in the regions and they will specifically target kids in outer metropolitan Adelaide. The intention is that there will be scholarships and there will be programs to enable those kids to get to university.

I outlined yesterday what Adelaide University could do, and I am exceptionally grateful to the university for the sorts of programs that we have outlined for how this money could be used. I will say it again, because it is important for the record. We know that currently the $100 million fund is intended to facilitate equity consideration for people within the community who have experienced disadvantage. We know that that fund will generate about $4 million to advance the objectives. That fund does not specifically identify regional or outer metro areas as a particular focus; this amendment does.

As we have said, access and aspiration to higher education has to start long before year 12. One of the things that we can do, and one of the things that the university has given me its commitment that it will do, is look at starting that process well before a child reaches year 12—for instance, look at providing them with a bursary when they are in year 11 and 12 and then a scholarship right through to the end of the degree, offering them peer support and mentorship and wraparound services so they are not lacking anything and so they are not relying on mum and dad to get them through university. There are going to be extra additional supports and services there to assist that student to get through university.

The model that certainly piqued my interest, and one that I have had discussions with the university about, has been that which exists in Queensland. It is a tailored support fund that can be established to focus on pathways to higher education for regional and outer metropolitan students. Like I said, it would include a bursary for students in years 11 and 12 at high school, mentoring and preparation for the on-campus experience and, of course, that support would continue right through to the end of that student's degree.

We know that out north, for instance, students are attracted to courses like those that fall within the allied health sector. We all know that we are undergoing a significant health crisis. It is my absolute wish that, over time, that program will grow to wrap around not just the high schools in the area but the medical facilities in that area. To suggest, as some members have, that this 'deal', as they have referred to it, is not worth its weight in gold is offensive to every one of those kids who otherwise simply would not have access to a tertiary education.

Based on the income that will be derived from that $20 million, it is expected that about 24 students per year will get the opportunity to access this sort of program. Over the course of their time at university and their final years in high school, that will result in about 240 students every year getting the opportunity to attend university—something that they simply would not have had before.

Other members may see this as crumbs and as sweeteners and as whatever they want to describe it, but, as I said yesterday, I cannot emphasise enough how life-changing this will be for students. Any of us who are first-time graduates in our families and whose families worked really hard to get us there have to understand that there are other students who simply do not have those opportunities. They will simply never see that opportunity.

This fund will exist in perpetuity, and it is my sincere wish that the 240 will be doubled and tripled and there will be more investment by the universities and more philanthropic universities and those student numbers will grow and more and more kids who live in those areas and whose circumstances are such that prevent them from going to university will have the same benefit that we have all had.

I cannot emphasise enough how important this was to me in terms of the support for this merger, but as a result of that we also know that—and I know it is not related to this amendment, but I will speak to it—it will not, of course, just be children in the regions and out north, it will also be kids who are studying out south, for instance, at Flinders University. That is going to be the subject of a separate framework, but it means effectively that we have canvassed the whole state. There is an additional $60 million for kids to attend university when those opportunities simply did not exist before and if anyone wants to fault that then be my guest.

I am not sure if members need an actual explanation of the way the clause works, but basically what I have said is that the $20 million is quarantined from the 100. The purpose of the $20 million is very clear in terms of its intent and it will be used only for that purpose and it will indeed be quarantined in perpetuity.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I rise to indicate that the government supports the Hon. Connie Bonaros's amendment. It is absolutely an ambition of this government to make sure that we have a commitment to students in regional and outer metropolitan areas and I think the wording of this amendment is important. It provides programs for addressing access to university and equality considerations for people residing in regional and outer metropolitan areas who have experienced disadvantages in education or in access to education or who are under-represented in education. We think that is a very worthy thing to support, so we will be wholeheartedly supporting the amendment.

The Hon. S.L. GAME: I rise briefly to support the Bonaros amendment. I am pleased the government has agreed to increase the $100 million student support fund for the proposed new university to $120 million to ensure there is a priority focus on students from regional South Australia. It was important to me that any decision to merge improved access to university for regional students and people from low socio-economic backgrounds.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak in favour of the amendment on behalf of the Greens. We will support this. Just to be clear, our criticism of the uni merger deal was never related to money being available for scholarships. Our view was that there was no need to tie funding for scholarships for students from low socio-economic groups to a merger of two universities. They are two unrelated matters. If the case can be made for a scholarship fund for students from low socio-economic groups, which I absolutely believe it can be and we welcome government investment in this area, why tie it to a university merger? That has always been the critique of the Greens.

The Hon. J.S. LEE: The Liberal opposition will be supporting this amendment, but I do have a question. I know that earlier you said I am not allowed to ask questions because of the clauses. I just want to ask this question and then you decide—

The CHAIR: You can ask questions; that is okay.

The Hon. J.S. LEE: Because clauses 40 and 41 have been struck out in the Legislative Council for this particular bill, the amendment is then moved on the clause where it has been struck out because it is a money related portion of the bill. I am just asking—

The CHAIR: This is probably a question for us rather than the Hon. Ms Bonaros.

The Hon. J.S. LEE: I will just put my question, and then you let me know whether it is—

The CHAIR: Ask your question.

The Hon. J.S. LEE: I just want to know, for clarification, whether this amendment is permissible in the Legislative Council for clauses 40 and 41. I just want some clarification because parliamentary counsel earlier said it was not allowed to have amendments.

The CHAIR: It is okay for us to put the question with regard to the amendments; however, I am not going to put that the clause be agreed to. It is a suggestion to the House of Assembly and they will take it up in their house.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: It sets an interesting precedent.

The Hon. J.S. LEE: I just want to know.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: We have not done it before. We have been told we could not do it, so it is interesting.

The Hon. C. BONAROS: For the record, Chair, I think I have previously moved suggested amendments in this place, which are money clauses effectively, and they have been treated as—and I understand the difference here, but we are just having some commentary. I know that I have certainly moved suggested amendments previously and they have had to be dealt with accordingly.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: We were told we could not do it, so it is good to know.

The CHAIR: I am telling you that this is a suggested amendment and it will go to the House of Assembly. We will not be voting on the clause, but we will be voting on the amendments. It sounds like everybody is supporting the amendments anyhow, so I do not know why we are getting our knickers in a knot. I am going to put that the amendments be agreed to.

Amendments carried.

Clauses 42 to 47 passed.

Clause 48.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:

Amendment No 21 [Simms–1]—

Page 26, after line 14—Insert:

(2a) The report must include information in respect of the year to which the report relates setting out the number of teaching hours engaged in by the following categories of staff member employed by the University:

(a) staff employed on a full-time basis;

(b) staff employed on a part-time basis;

(c) staff employed on a casual basis;

(d) staff employed for a specified term or period of time.

The reason for this amendment is that it draws on some of the themes I have talked a little bit about already during the committee stage of the bill. One of the concerns around the university sector over many years has been the heavy reliance on casual and short-term contracts, and it would be useful to require universities to report on this so that there is a level of transparency around some of their staffing arrangements.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I thank the honourable member for bringing this amendment to the Legislative Council; however, the government will not be supporting this amendment. Whilst we understand the reasoning behind the amendment, it would place the new university in a situation that I am advised no other university is required to in their annual reports. Moreover, matters such as these are subject to commonwealth industrial legislation and any future enterprise agreement.

I am advised, however, and this may give the honourable member some comfort, that our universities do provide data on the number of casual staff to the commonwealth Department of Education as part of their annual reporting requirements, and this audited data is published online and is publicly available.

The Hon. J.S. LEE: The Liberal opposition will oppose this amendment.

Amendment negatived; clause passed.

Clause 49.

The Hon. J.S. LEE: I move:

Amendment No 2 [Lee–1]—

Page 26, line 21—Delete 'an auditor appointed by the Council' and substitute:

the Auditor-General under the Public Finance and Audit Act 1987

This particular bill proposes that the council appoint an auditor each year to audit its account and financial statements. However, the Auditor-General has written to members, including the Liberal Party members, pointing out that this would divert from current practice, which is that the Auditor-General conducts the audit.

For those reasons, we move this amendment to confirm the current practice, which means that the Auditor-General actually conducts the audits as established in the legislation rather than the proposed power for the council to appoint their own auditor. In the context of this significant new government investment in the university merger, this public oversight for this account is more important than ever.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I can indicate that the government will be supporting this amendment. It is our advice that pursuant to the particulars of the Public Finance and Audit Act 1987 the Auditor-General would be involved in any event, but we are not opposed to spelling that out in the legislation as the Hon. Jing Lee is suggesting.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: I rise to say that I will be supporting the amendment as well. It is actually quite sensible and, as the honourable member has pointed out, the Auditor-General already does audits on the other two universities. I think it is also important that we have the independence of the Auditor-General rather than somebody the university appoints.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: The Greens also support the amendment. This is a really worthwhile transparency measure that has been proposed by the opposition. It is great to see that the government is supporting it as well. I hope they might be open to giving the Auditor-General access to cabinet documents next.

The Hon. S.L. GAME: I rise briefly to say that I will also be supporting the honourable member's amendment.

The Hon. C. BONAROS: I also indicate that I will be supporting this amendment.

Amendment carried; clause as amended passed.

Clause 50 passed.

Clause 51.

The CHAIR: This clause is a money clause and as such the question will not be put on the clause. Are there any contributions on the clause?

Clauses 52 to 54 passed.

Schedule 1.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:

Amendment No 22 [Simms–1]—

Page 30, lines 33 to 36 [Schedule 1, clause 9(1)]—Delete subclause (1) and substitute:

(1) Subject to this clause, the Transition Council will consist of up to 19 persons, being—

(a) the Chancellor (ex officio); and

(b) up to 9 members appointed by The University of Adelaide, of whom at least 5 must be appointed or elected by staff or students of the University in a manner determined by the Council of that University; and

(c) up to 9 members appointed by the University of South Australia, of whom at least 5 must be appointed or elected by the staff or students of the University in a manner determined by the Council of that University.

I do want to indicate for members' benefit that I will call a division on that clause. It is an important matter. It has been raised with me by the NTEU and others. One of the important principles that it seeks to establish is that this new transition council be made up of a majority of staff and students. We in the Greens regard that as being really important in terms of ensuring that there is buy-in from students and staff in the formation of the new university.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I will not speak for a great deal of time. These issues were thoroughly debated when we looked at amendments to the general nature of the council. I am tempted to speak for a while, though, because we have a bet with the Hon. Michelle Lensink about the time we would finish. If I speak for long enough I can probably win that bet, but I shall not do that.

The one thing I will point out again is, while we understand the intention behind these amendments, given the nature and complexity of universities in Australia today, we think a skill-based board, as with the transition council, is very important. I am advised that, on further checking after we debated this earlier today, we are not aware of any university in Australia that has a majority of their council made up with the combinations of staff and students. In our view, as with the council generally, it is also appropriate with the transition council, and we think we have the balance right.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Is the minister aware of any other institution going through a merger at the moment?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: No, I am not, but the point I was trying to make is analogous to the council generally as proposed in this legislation. We think the same is reasonable to apply to the transition council.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The point I am trying to make is that previously we have been told that in 12 months we might revisit this with the work of the accord to inform our debates. Well, 12 months on does not help us with the transition process, where there has been a lack of transparency. So is the minister aware of any other institution where there is a merger going on?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I am not aware of another institution with a transition council similar to this.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: I rise to say that I will be supporting the motion of the Hon. Robert Simms.

The Hon. J.S. LEE: The opposition will be opposing the amendment.

The committee divided on the amendment:

Ayes 3

Noes 15

Majority 12


Franks, T.A. Pangallo, F. Simms, R.A. (teller)


Bonaros, C. Bourke, E.S. Centofanti, N.J.
El Dannawi, M. Game, S.L. Girolamo, H.M.
Hanson, J.E. Hood, B.R. Hunter, I.K.
Lee, J.S. Lensink, J.M.A. Maher, K.J. (teller)
Martin, R.B. Ngo, T.T. Scriven, C.M.

Amendment thus negatived.

The Hon. C. BONAROS: I move:

Amendment No 1 [Bonaros–2]—

Page 37, after line 29 [Schedule 1, clause 31(1)]—At the foot of subclause (1) insert:


It is the intention that AUU will merge with the University of South Australia Student Association to form a new student association for Adelaide University pursuant to section 11 of the Act.

The amendment adds a note to schedule 1 of the bill to the effect that it is the intention of the AUU to merge with the University of South Australia Student Association to form a new student association for Adelaide University pursuant to section 11 of the act. I will explain this in a little bit of detail for members. Like I said previously on the wrong amendment, we heard from the two student associations during the inquiry process. I certainly engaged with them beyond that process, and I expect that they would have engaged with everyone to see what commitments they could get.

The Hon. Rob Simms moved some amendments earlier, and when he spoke I raised advice that has been provided in relation to the fees and also questions that had been raised around the constitutional validity of prescribing those fees in this bill. The reason I did so is there is federal legislation at play here, and that is the Higher Education Support Act. Regardless of whether you agree or not, there are some opinions that prescribing those in this bill, as WA has done, would not withstand a challenge in terms of their constitutional validity.

That said—and I am going to refer again to the accord because we did it during the inquiry, so I might as well do it now—the accord interim report has also stated that it would be examining whether more could be done to support how the SSAF is directed, including to students and considering providing a greater percentage of the SSAF to student unions. It may be that through the accord a national approach to distribution of the SSAF is agreed, which would presumably result in a change to the Higher Education Support Act in any event and would be consistent for all universities.

That is something that is yet to be seen. Notwithstanding that, I know that when I had the conversations I had with the students what they wanted was some reassurance, regardless of what happened, in terms, firstly, of their funding and, secondly, given that that could potentially be, some would say, if they were given any undertakings, a non-binding undertaking—and I hasten to say that it would be a brave university that backtracks on any undertaking that it gives to these student associations—

The Hon. R.A. Simms: They do, though.

The Hon. C. BONAROS: It will be a brave one that takes on me in that regard then, Mr Simms, an absolutely brave one that takes on me. The purpose of this drafting note is twofold. I have a letter that I will table, and members will have the benefit of reading as a result. That letter is addressed to Ms Georgia Thomas, President of the University of Adelaide Student Representative Council, and Mr Isaac Solomon, President of the University of South Australia Student Association.

In effect, what the university has done through this letter is acknowledge the issues that were raised by both associations in evidence to the inquiry. It has provided a commitment for ongoing funding. It has provided a commitment for establishment fees, associated legal fees and a commitment that there will be no less funding than is available now, but of course that does not prevent there being more funding available now or in the future.

I know, certainly from speaking to Georgia and Isaac, that they were pretty nervous about how things would end up and I can say that, based on discussions I have had with them, regardless of anything else, they have expressed deep gratitude to the universities for providing this undertaking to them and note the importance of that letter being tabled in this place today.

The other factor we discussed and tried to work around was how to make this somewhat binding. One of the concerns that the student groups had was that we could end up in a situation where we form a new student association but it does not incorporate the existing two associations. That is the purpose of this amendment, so as a package we see the letter, the undertakings, the commitments by the university in relation to the funding arrangements and in relation to transition assistance and in relation to commitments given, should there be any changes as a part of the accord process.

I will not read the letter onto the record, but I will say that from my discussions—and I certainly do not want to speak on behalf of the university—and my understanding of the discussions they have had with the universities, they are exceptionally pleased with this outcome, they are exceptionally pleased with the drafting note that ties the two things together and overcomes the sort of situation that occurred in Victoria with La Trobe, where a new association was formed.

I should say also—and it is quoted in this letter—that the vice-chancellors made it very clear in the evidence they provided to the committee at the time, but also certainly in all the discussions that have taken place since, that they were very open and committed to these processes and very open and committed to trying to alleviate as far as possible the concerns of the associations and ensuring that they are the associations that ultimately form the new association for the new university. That is all reflected in this letter. This is an extremely important outcome for the student associations and one that I know the representatives are extremely grateful for. I seek leave to table that letter for everybody's benefit.

Leave granted.

The Hon. C. BONAROS: I do not think I have missed anything in terms of the commitments given, but it certainly has provided them with a great deal of comfort, knowing that the funding will continue, their establishment fees will be covered, their legal fees will be covered, all associated costs will be covered and they will certainly be in, for the time being at least until we see what that review comes up with, the same position financially as they are right now.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I rise to indicate that the government will be supporting this amendment. We think the amendment provides—particularly when combined with the letter that the honourable member has referred to—a level of assurance to the existing student bodies that the intention is there for a new student association to be formed through the merging of those two student bodies.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: We will also support the amendment. At least it ensures that there is going to be a student association in the new university, and that is something the Greens have been pushing. In terms of undertakings given by the university via letters or whatever, I have actually been a student representative in the past.

I was a student president at Flinders University and I can tell you that during my time as an advocate, rather than having letters or undertakings given by the university that put the student association in a position where they were reliant on the whim of the university, it was preferable to have those things baked into legislation. That said, I recognise the Hon. Connie Bonaros is not supportive of that, nor is the Hon. Ms Game or the Labor Party, so that will not be getting up.

The Hon. S.L. GAME: I rise to briefly express my support for the amendment.

The Hon. J.S. LEE: The Liberal opposition will not be opposing this amendment. Initially, we thought it was not necessary because it was covered by clause 11—Student associations, and also the way that this particular amendment is worded, 'It is the intention'—'intention' becomes non-binding—but after listening to the Hon. Connie Bonaros, and all the reasons she has given and has provided to substantiate it with the letter, on that basis we will support the amendment.

Amendment carried; schedule as amended passed.

Title passed.

Bill recommitted.

Clause 26.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: This has been recommitted as a result of advice from parliamentary counsel on the successful passage of the Hon. Robert Simms' clause 13. Clause 13 inserted provisions about a code of conduct. Clause 26 effectively provides sanctions for breaches of the conflict of interest policy. The legislation did not anticipate the code of conduct, because that was a successful amendment, so this is now put in to not just talk about contraventions of the conflict of interest policy under section 24 but under the conflict of interest policy under section 24 or the code of conduct policy under section 24A, which is a new section inserted under clause 13. I move:

Amendment No 1 [AG–1]—

Page 15, line 28—Delete 'or the conflict of interest policy under section 24' and substitute:

, the conflict of interest policy under section 24 or the code of conduct under section 24A

Amendment carried; clause as amended passed.

Bill reported with amendment.

Third Reading

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (21:19): I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

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.