Senator backs uni reforms despite concerns

The crossbench senator set to deliver the passage of a controversial university fee overhaul has conceded the reforms are “far from ideal”.

Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff will vote for the Morrison government’s higher education package despite raising serious concerns about the bill.

“This package is far from ideal. We would have preferred to vote for a package that provided universities with better long-term funding,” he told parliament on Wednesday.

Senator Griff acknowledged the changes would mean humanities, law and commerce students finish university with debts of up to $50,000.

But he said the legislation would improve existing arrangements by creating around 30,000 more places for students.

In exchange for Centre Alliance’s crucial support, the coalition has agreed to extra funding guaranteeing more places at South Australian universities.

Under the changes, the cost of humanities courses will skyrocket while “job-ready” qualifications like nursing and engineering are set to become cheaper.

South Australian Labor senator Marielle Smith said Senator Griff’s excuse for supporting the bill was pathetic.

“If he doesn’t think this ideal, if he doesn’t think this is the Australia we want to see in an ideal world, he could do something about it,” she told the chamber.

“You’ve chosen to sell out the aspirations of young people in Australia.”

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said she was gobsmacked Centre Alliance had done a “dodgy deal” with the government after months of criticising the package.

“Centre Alliance had an opportunity to do something and they stuffed it,” the South Australian said.

Pauline Hanson is backing the bill in exchange for a legal “academic freedom” definition some universities warn will make it harder to discipline racist and sexist academics.

Independents Jacqui Lambie and Rex Patrick will vote against it.

Senator Patrick, a former Centre Alliance member, lashed his ex-colleague.

“Senator Griff could vote against it, this bill that’s far from ideal in his own words. Unfortunately Centre Alliance has sold out students,” he said.

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