Kylar Loussikian & Julie Hare, 16 September 2015

Nearly $20 billion of higher education related spending cuts remain unlegislated and stuck in parliament, representing more than a quarter of the value of all federal government budget measures, according to the latest Parliamentary Budget Office figures.

Since May, the government has been successful in passing some of its largest revenue measures, with some higher education spending cuts that did not require Senate approval also moving ahead.

The single biggest measure passed was the reintroduction of fuel excise indexation, which will net the government $19.97bn in revenue between now and 2026, alongside the repeal of tax cuts associated with the Clean Energy Future legislation, worth $7.64bn.

The passage of that legislation has pushed the value of unlegislated measures — across the forward and medium estimates to 2026 — from $105.72bn to $74bn, but increased the proportion accounted for by higher education measures from 17.9 per cent to 25.5 per cent.

The government also has been able to move ahead with student contributions for the Research Training Scheme, which will save $826 million, and the cessation of the Higher Education Reward Funding, saving $387m, as both measures do not require parliamentary approval.

The third largest remaining unlegislated measure is the expansion of the demand-driven system and related savings, which would have netted the budget $7.45bn between now and 2026.

Another $5.6bn is expected to be recouped by converting start-up scholarships to income-contingent loans, while the removal of a 25 per cent fee applied to Fee-Help and VET Fee-Help loan programs is expected to set the government back $4.1bn.

More than $7.5bn in additional revenue measures remain announced but not legislated, including the rates of tax offset as part of the research and development tax incentive, and $5.07bn to be generated by a 0.05 per cent levy on bank deposits up to $250,000.

The government already has announced it will not proceed with legislating that measure, although it remains on the books.

The expanded burden of unlegislated higher education measures as a proportion of all legislation held up by the Senate comes as the fate of the Education Minister remains in play, with a looming cabinet reshuffle following the change of prime minister likely to include a move for Christopher Pyne, who has overseen the progress through parliament of the higher education reform package.

Mr Pyne previously has flagged attempting to pass measures individually and not as a package, although many crossbenchers with whom the government was negotiating were unmoved. But key crossbenchers, including the Palmer United Party’s Dio Wang and South Australian independent Nick Xenophon, have suggested they are willing to reconsider individual measures.

The government had planned to push ahead with the reintroduction of some of the higher education measures — which have been rejected twice by the Senate — later this year, with Universities Australia to issue a new policy position next month.

Meanwhile, $217m in budget savings the Abbott government pocketed from Labor’s efficiency dividend, although the measure was never legislated, has finally been repaid.

In Senate estimates hearings, the Education Department revealed a total of $216.77m had to be repaid to universities, including three institutions — the University of Sydney, Monash University and the University of Queensland — which were repaid more than $10m in Commonwealth Grants Scheme funding deducted from their budgets despite a lack of legislation.

The cut, most keenly felt by teaching-intensive universities, was based on the number of student enrolments. Other universities to receive welcome cheques included Western Sydney University ($9.67m), Deakin ($8.92m), and Griffith ($8.3m).

Seven non-universities, mostly Christian teaching institutions and two TAFEs, also received a total of $2.6m.

Extracted in full from The Australian.

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