The Morrison Government’s Pandemic Politics

8 December 2020

With our lives consumed by COVID-19 this year, it has been almost impossible to keep up with every development in Australian politics. As we emerge from the second wave of the virus in Victoria, it is important to look back at the Federal Government’s policies and recognise they have made life harder for students and young people during the pandemic and beyond.

One key piece of legislation pushed through by the Federal Government during the pandemic is the so-called “Job-Ready” graduates package. The package reduces fees in some courses while hiking them in others in an attempt to boost enrolment in university courses that align with the Morrison government’s national priorities.

However, the fee increases outweigh the decreases, meaning overall student contributions to degrees will rise by $476 million per year. Furthermore, the government will reduce their overall university funding by $293 million per year. This means that even the courses with reduced fees will be backed by less government funding.

In short, the legislation is a lose-lose for students, who will be forced to choose between a more expensive course, or a less expensive course with worse funding.

Yet, the government hopes the package will pave the way for 39,000 more student places by 2023.

“This will mean even worse quality of teaching due to overworked staff, even fewer subject choices, even larger classes and even worse student services,” University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Education Public Officers Noni Bridger and Charlie Joyce told Farrago

They believe the legislation may result in more cuts to the University’s casual staff—at least 450 of whom have lost their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic. Over two thirds of staff from the University are already employed on short-term casual contracts or fixed-term contracts, leaving them vulnerable to the economic fallout of COVID-19. 

“The bill will only make this worse. It does not contain provisions to save a single job, but still increases university places,” Bridger and Joyce said. 

Many jobs could have been saved if the Federal Government had included universities in its JobKeeper Payment, but the rules of the program were changed three times to ensure that universities would not qualify.

The situation is even more dire for international students, who were not only excluded from JobKeeper, but were told by Scott Morrison at the height of the first wave, “it’s time to make your way home.”

Kashish Sandhu is an international student studying a Master of Marketing Communication at the University. She believes the Morrison government could have done more to help international students like her.

“We are here and we pay almost three times more than normal students do. We are paying for everything here by ourselves, so we add a lot to the economy as well, and we are being told to go back home?”

“For me, Melbourne is home. What do you mean go back home?”

Sandhu was working three jobs until COVID-19 struck, including swim teaching with the YMCA, and photography for the Melbourne Aquarium. When her workplaces reopened after the first wave of the virus, she found that employees on JobKeeper were prioritised.

“You’re not getting government support, you’re not getting work when it opens up because they only call people who are on JobKeeper, so there’s no respite from either… there’s nothing, so you’re just here, and you can’t do much about it.”

Students and young people will also bear the consequences of the Morrison government’s so-called “gas-fired recovery” from COVID-19, with $52.9 million of funding set aside for the gas industry in the recent Federal Budget.

Of that funding, $28 million will go towards opening five new gas basins, including the Beetaloo basin in the Northern Territory. According to official Northern Territory estimates, that basin alone could emit 117 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. To put that in perspective, the Hazelwood coal-fired station—known as Australia’s ‘dirtiest’ power station before it closed in 2017—emitted 16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

Yes, you read that right: just one of the planned gas basins could produce 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum more than Australia’s most notoriously dirty coal station. And the Morrison government is planning five of them. 

We wish there was a positive note to end this on, but there isn’t. At almost every stage of this pandemic, the Morrison government has failed to secure the futures of young people.

They have crippled our universities with the Job-Ready package and hung university staff and international students out to dry, all while taking the nation backwards on climate action.

And we will be the ones to carry the consequences of these policies for the rest of our lives.


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