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Memo Ms Gillard: neglect regions at your peril

5 June 2010 4 Comments

DO we really need regional universities? Surely Australians could access all the teaching and research they need online.

True, if you think of teaching and research as a simple commodity, such as wheat or coal, a commodity to be traded in competitive markets.

This is largely how tertiary education has been treated by recent Coalition and Labor governments. Funding cuts have forced universities to behave like big businesses, where vice-chancellors are now little more than overpaid chief executives who spend virtually all their time fund-raising.

But there are never enough funds, particularly for regional universities, which are so important to local communities and which can be vital in decentralising population away from our increasingly congested metropolitan hubs.

In regional Australia, universities add much-needed diversity and opportunity, as well as being important regional employers. They change the value mix.

In the regions they provide an opportunity to integrate academic knowledge and understanding with regional skills, knowledge and understanding. This integration enriches our regional communities, which in turn enrich each state in the commonwealth.

Regional universities enable regional Australia to be more than a passive receiver of teaching and research. It is the very give and take that ought to lie at the heart of education, sharing ideas to generate the growth of new knowledge and understanding and its practical application.

Regional universities are part of the balance that ensures that regional Australia is not serviced by capital city Australia. They help to ensure that regional Australia is a full and active participant in our nation.

For many, this quite rightly means combining with TAFE to be “dual sector” universities supporting both trade and professional education needed for vibrant regional economies.

Sadly all this opportunity for regional universities to energise a dynamic regional Australia is lost when universities are treated as businesses, with faculties and departments seen as key profit centres.

This focus on marketing, re-branding, customer service, business cases, export awards and the like, so beloved by the Howard government, has to date been accepted holus bolus by the Rudd Labor government.

In spite of her intelligence, the overloaded Julia Gillard, Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Minister for Social Inclusion and Deputy Prime Minister, has largely failed to act.

Most critically, in regional Australia she has yet to give local universities the support that links education, employment and workplace change in order to meet the twin challenges of access and diversity that are at the core of our rapidly evolving regions.

This is critical because regional Australia is home to the farm and the quarry: the twin engines that have done most of the work to give Australia a remarkably smooth ride through the global financial crisis.

But the farm and the quarry are workplaces undergoing rapid change, a transformation which, to be effective, requires an ability to rethink and reshape. Such innovation is a capability inherent in higher education and research.

It is a vital part of the hardiness required by regional Australia whose wellbeing requires the capacity to thrive as form and substance change, sometimes exponentially.

Now gaining thicker and thicker coats of dust, the Denise Bradley Report into higher education in 2008 largely put regional universities to one side. Gillard, in spite of her record as a champion of the underprivileged, has not challenged this. Some would say, why should she when most federal seats are in the capital city heartlands where the big universities live?

It is a blind spot of a Melbourne-educated lawyer which could blight both Gillard’s prospects and the future of our regions. They need inclusion in the upcoming election debate, a debate at present dominated by arguments about who is best to manage the economy and enlivened by shouts about who is best to keep refugees out.

This is especially the case as the recent federal budget largely ignored higher education and, in so doing, missed the chance to revitalise and re-position regional universities as key engines for change.

This is a reminder to our Deputy Prime Minister that regional Australia requires her attention. And that attending to regional universities would be a good place to start.

On the other hand, Gillard could leave it to the maverick MP Bob Katter from the vast north Queensland seat of Kennedy and his fellow independents to try to make the running about funding the regions and especially our neglected regional universities. But Gillard shouldn’t leave it too late, particularly if the next federal election is as close a run thing as the Tasmanian and South Australian state elections.

Then there wouldn’t be time to woo the independents with promises to return more of the tax dollars from the farm and the quarry to regional Australia.

Now is the time to drive social inclusion and workplace change by properly funding cash-strapped regional universities so that they can support the constituencies of the farm and the quarry with much valued teaching and research.

If the farm and the quarry engines are not sustained, this year may see Labor lose power federally and a double dip recession engulf those big-city electorates and our regions as well.

But if Julia and Kevin are truly smart, then supporting regional Australia and their higher education institutions may be just the way to make effective use of what is left of their great, big, new, resource “super-profits” tax.

The Weekend Australian, June 5-6, 2010


  • Peter Smith, Rockhampton said:

    JULIA Gillard (“On track to deliver world-class tertiary learning for all”, The Weekend Australian , June 19-20), unlike Ross Fitzgerald (“Memo Ms Gillard: neglect regions at your peril”, The Weekend Australian, June 5-6), confuses the “fair shake of the sauce bottle” argument with the economic argument for funding further and higher training and education in regional Australia.

    Central Queensland is battling to develop, recruit and retain a skilled workforce in the resources, health and education sectors. This was highlighted in the Minerals Council of Australia and the Chamber of Minerals and Energy Western Australia response to Skills Australia’s Foundations for the Future 2009 position paper and to the 2010 Review of Regional Loading: Issues for Regional Provision. The latter states: “The minerals industry places a high value on the provision of regional higher education and the engagement of people who live in regional and remote areas in higher education.”

    Social inclusion is not our top priority. Indeed, many would argue that we would be better excluding metropolitan Australia from riding on the back of our wealth of resources.

    What Fitzgerald understands is that regions such as central Queensland live in a global economy in which we have to compete to survive. The resources sector requires a skilled para-professional and professional workforce. Our ability to provide and satisfy this workforce and their families is one of the key factors in securing the investment that we need and that Australia needs.

    The population of central Queensland is necessarily geographically widely dispersed and therefore far more expensive to support with health, transport and education. We are also relatively few in numbers and therefore secure fewer seats in parliament than our metropolitan and outer metropolitan cousins.

    The memo we would like to send to Gillard has already been sent: the Rockhampton Regional Council (with the support of the Gladstone, Mackay and Isaac regions) is suggesting a dual-sector university that brings together the existing Central Queensland Institute of TAFE and Central Queensland University into a new organisation that is funded to meet the challenge of skills shortages for a highly dispersed population. It won’t be cost-effective in terms of the bums on seats that the more densely populated metropolitan centres can achieve, but it will be cost-effective in terms of winning the investment that a resource-based Australia cannot thrive without.

    There is no doubt that the Rudd government’s stimulus package has helped to offset some of the worse ills of the global financial crisis. There is also no doubt that the resources of regional Australia paid much of the bill. What Gillard does not appear to have front and centre in her mind is that she should be giving regional education a top spot on her priority list.

    The Australian June 23, 2010

  • Simon Santow, ABC Radio said:

    The faceless men live on

    Labor’s shadow men stuck knife into Rudd

    Political commentators say largely unknown Labor Party factional strongmen have shown their control of the Labor Caucus by engineering the political demise of Kevin Rudd.

    Mr Rudd was ousted by his deputy Julia Gillard in an unopposed leadership spill after it became clear that he had no chance of marshalling the numbers to prevail in a contested leadership vote.

    Some of the strongmen behind his demise are union bosses, while others have made the transition into Parliament as members and senators.

    Apart from wielding power, there is one thing that they have in common: they are largely unknown to the Australian public.

    David Feeney, Mark Arbib, Bill Shorten, Bill Ludwig, Karl Bitar, and Don Farrell are hardly household names, yet they hold sway within the Labor ranks.

    Political commentator Professor Ross Fitzgerald says the Labor Caucus largely reflects the views of the factional strongmen.

    “The factions these days in the main reflect the Caucus,” he said.

    “But in terms of the exercise of power, when push comes to shove, the factions, and especially the Right faction, wields tremendous power in the Australian Labor Party federally and in most states.

    “For Kevin Rudd to say as he did that he wanted to break the power of the factions is laughable.

    “I would have thought this is the factions’ revenge. He went down like a house of cards.”

    Professor Fitzgerald earned his spurs in Queensland, home to Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard’s new deputy Wayne Swan.

    But the state is also the power base of Senator Joe Ludwig and his father, Australian Workers Union (AWU) national president Bill Ludwig.

    The Ludwigs control the AWU along with the AWU’s shining light in Federal Parliament, another Rudd coup plotter, Victorian MP Bill Shorten.

    Professor Fitzgerald says Mr Shorten, along with fellow strongman Mark Arbib, will do extremely well out of the overthrow of Mr Rudd.

    The World Today has spoken to former premiers, MPs and Labor stalwarts, who all agree that Mr Rudd suffered at the power of the factions.

    They also say that internal polling conducted by the ALP showed the devastating effect Mr Rudd would have on the Government’s election prospects if he remained leader.

    One Labor source says the internal polling reflected a view much worse than Newspoll’s own published poll.

    The source says that when faced with the evidence the heavyweights came together at the beginning of this week to try and convince Julia Gillard she had to challenge.

    While the right wing of the party would have preferred to push one of their own into the top job there was simply no alternative but to tap the left-winger Ms Gillard on the shoulder.

    One insider says the move to oust Mr Rudd only had one focus, to ensure Labor won the next election.

    However, another source says there is also a sense of irony, as many of those same factional bosses who helped oust Rudd had also given him advice that helped undo his popularity with voters.

    The source says it was not just Mr Rudd who over promised and under-delivered, but it was Mr Rudd who paid the political price.

  • The Morning Show (7) said:

    Many people are still getting used to Julia Gillard as the new PM. Interview with Chief Political Correspondent Mark Riley, The Daily Telegraph’s Joe Hildebrand, Political Commentator Professor Ross Fitzgerald, Crikey.com Editor Sophie Black, Melbourne Correspondent Nuala Hafner and Former Democrats Leader Natasha Stott Despoja. Riley says the overnight change in leadership shows the difference in the Austn politics on a Fed and State nature. He says PM Gillard is a good Parliamentary performer but the important part is how she connects with the Austn public. Hildebrand says it is historic to have the first female PM but it does not feel right because of the way it happened.

    Professor Fitzgerald says PM Gillard needs to give the impression that she is not an autocrat like Kevin Rudd was and it is damaging that Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner will not stand again. Black says PM Gillard’s main challenge is to communicate with the public and get past the sense of anger. Hafner says those in PM Gillard’s electorate are positive about the new PM and she has put Werribee on the political map. Despoja says any woman in a position of power has experienced treatment close to double standards which PM Gillard has experienced already but some stereotypes will diminish. She expects an election sooner rather than later.

  • ABC Radio Newcastle said:

    Interview with Ross Fitzgerald, Emeritus Professor in History and Politics, Griffith University and Member, NSW State Parole Authority, talking about the history of factions. In the introduction, Emberson says Kevin Rudd, Former Australian Prime Minister was still the Prime Minister of Australia this time last week and Julia Gillard, Australian Prime Minister replaced him. Emberson says it is interesting to read in the paper today that Malcolm Turnbull said ‘axed and humiliated, someone should give this poor bastard a hug’. Emberson says they met Therese Rein when she was in Newcastle this time last year.

    Professor Ross Fitzgerald says the history of the factions go back to the fact that the Australian Labor Party was formed by the Trade Union Movement and Labor Movement. He says like minded unions joined together. Fitzgerald says he recently finished a book about Alan ‘The Red Fox’ Reid whose great coup was to get the photographs of the 36 faceless men (there was one woman!) He says Arthur Calwell, Labor Party Leader and his deputy Gough Whitlam were forced to wait outside the Hotel Kingston at 1am to be told what Labor policy was. He says Rudd was ousted because of an agreement between the right wing unions and members of the Labor right who informed the Vic left that the Prime Ministership could be delivered to Gillard. He says Gillard was on the left of the Labor Party and it will be interesting to see how she behaves in terms of the factions now that she is PM. He says she has not rewarded members of the Fed Labor Party who supported her yet with ministries. He believes that deals would have been done around many things but one cannot be sure. He says if Rudd left Parliament today, he would get a pension of $600,000 per year forever. Fitzgerald believes that Rudd may be our new Foreign Minister if Gillard wins. According to Fitzgerald, it is okay to ask if someone is of the left or right faction because it is important to understand where our Parliamentary leaders come from and what values they hold. He says those in the left of the Labor Party today are more closely tied to the more militant element in the Trade Unions movement and they hold different ideas about foreign policy. He says members of the left are less likely to be enamoured by the American alliance than those in the right. He says schools such as Melbourne Boys High School, Mac.Robertson School or North Sydney would do much better because their students are more capable compared to those in Western Sydney. Emberson says this is interesting because Gillard is allegedly from the left. Fitzgerald adds that she was involved in leftist unions and the education movement when she was younger.

    Fitzgerald says it is also interesting to see if she would lose votes from declaring that she is an Atheist, adding that he is also an Atheist. According to Fitzgerald, the Christian lobby is still very powerful in Australia. He says it is important to realise that historically, the Australian Workers Union have been integrally connected with Labor Party parliamentarians. Fitzgerald states that the Labor right came from people associated with the Australian Workers Union. He says the left believes in much more government intervention in the economy and supporting the under privileged in the society. On the other hand, he says the Labor right in NSW where Graham Richardson has been a strong force for many years is more concerned with the exercise of power. Fitzgerald is about to leave for Canberra because Laurie Oakes will do the launch of their book Alan ‘The Red Fox’ Reid.

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