Pyne's threats set to derail Abbott's university plans

Leader of the House Christopher Pyne during House of Representatives question time at Parliament House Canberra, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013.
Leader of the House Christopher Pyne during House of Representatives question time at Parliament House Canberra, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013. ALAN PORRITT

A THREAT to cut $150 million from scientific research funding looks set to derail the Abbott government's university deregulation plans in the Senate this week.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne yesterday reiterated the threat to cut the National Collaborative Research Initiative funding, if the Senate did not approve the legislation.

He told ABC that "there are consequences for not voting for this reform, and that's very important for the crossbenchers to understand".

"The consequences are that potentially 1700 researchers will lose their jobs," he said.

While Mr Pyne has claimed the funds were scrapped by the previous Labor government, Opposition higher education spokesman Kim Carr has said Labor left 21 months funding in the budget upon leaving office.

Mr Pyne said on Sunday that "everything is on the table, except the centre piece of the reform, which is deregulation", but it seems the funding cut would also remain in the package.

He said he was prepared to negotiate, but that "at the moment, the crossbenchers seem to be against overall reform, in which case we'll stick with our current policy".


But Mr Pyne's funding threat appears to have set key crossbenchers against the government's entire reform bill, after the Senate rejected the government's previous attempt last year.

Veteran independent Senator Nick Xenophon accused the government of "holding 1700 scientists' hostage" with the move, on ABC labelling the government's negotiating tactic "reckless".

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie also called for Prime Minister Abbott to sack Mr Pyne from the ministry, labelling the threat "the last straw".

"It is just another desperate, juvenile and bumbling attempt to blackmail the Senate crossbenchers," she said in a statement yesterday.

The higher education reform bill is expected to be debated in the Senate on Tuesday this week, with a vote expected on Wednesday.

The government will need at least six votes, an unlikely prospect given six of the eight crossbenchers remain opposed.

Topics:  christopher pyne editors picks tony abbott

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