Senator's Statement - Morrison Government & Aged Care

09 February 2022


South Australians are emerging from what has been a really tough summer. For many, the change in the environment in South Australia when borders opened and COVID entered our state either has been personally catastrophic or has caused tremendous challenges for them, for their work, for their families and for their businesses. It has been a really difficult summer, and it's been made worse by a prime minister who, once again, has failed South Australians in the way he's responded to the pandemic and in the way he's responded to the changes before us, such as the changes in this variant—whether it's been his failure to secure enough rapid antigen tests for Australian workers so they can get back to work for their families; his failure to get jabs in the arms of kids returning to the classroom and into the arms of teachers, who weren't yet eligible for boosters but needed them to get back to work in order to do their work safely; or his government's shocking failure to respond adequately to the crisis in our aged-care homes across the country.

South Australians, on all of these fronts, feel deeply let down by the Prime Minister. They feel deeply let down by his government, and I don't blame them. It's been a really tough few years compounded by a really tough summer, and every time they're looking to their Prime Minister to lead, he's not there. He's not holding a hose; he's not getting on with the job of the vaccine rollout; he's not building quarantine facilities; he's not securing the RATs; he's not supporting the early childhood workforce, who are on the front line of this pandemic but who have been seemingly invisible to the government for so long; and he's not taking the steps required to fix a crisis in aged care. In fact, his government is getting caught up in word games whilst people are dying.

South Australians feel failed. They feel let down by this Prime Minister. They're questioning his character. They're questioning his ability to stand up for them when they need him. They're questioning his relationship with the truth. They're questioning whether, when they need their government to step in, the government will be there, because, on every measure this summer and in the years before, they haven't been there. But, beyond these acute issues, which are issues of urgency, there are further failures that are less seen, less talked about and less spoken of, and I want to use my time today to talk about the impact of the Morrison government's failures on the higher education and further education sector in my home state of South Australia—a sector which feels abandoned by the Morrison government.

My state is home to three world-class universities and eight TAFE campuses. There are hundreds of thousands of South Australian men and women, young and old, who have talent and potential to develop but who are being let down by a government which is meant to stand for them and for their opportunities and aspirations. Our universities in South Australia educate around 90,000 students. When it comes to TAFE, more than one million students have learned valuable skills and experience at TAFEs in South Australia since these facilities were established in 1971.

We in South Australia know that higher education is vital to our economic future. We know this because it has been crucial to our success economically as a state, and we know that, according to Universities Australia, university research has added $10 billion to Australia's GDP each year for the last 30 years. We're not just talking about big universities in our cities; it's about our regional economies too. We know universities contribute $2 billion a year to these economies. They support over 14,000 regional jobs and, before COVID, 120,000 direct full-time jobs nationwide, while supporting a broader 40,000 jobs in the wider economy. Before COVID, our higher education institutions in South Australia brought in an estimated 10,000 international students each year with an economic value of $2 billion in 2019. These students were fundamentally and horrifically let down by the government when the pandemic struck. Students had to line up for food and rely on our charity sector to support them.

Of course, we also have university research to thank for the speedy development of what we know are truly life-saving vaccines that we have come to rely on during this this pandemic. And we have