As A Student, Simon Birmingham Vowed To Fight Cuts To Education Funding


Simon Birmingham may be just about to do something that would very badly disappoint a younger, fresher and dare we say it more handsome Simon Birmingham.

According to Sky News, the Senator – who pinched Christopher Pyne’s job when Malcolm Turnbull took Tony Abbott’s – remains committed to the government’s 20 per cent cut to university funding.

With the spectre of deregulation and $100,000 degrees haunting the higher education sector, those without the means for such expenses will be wondering who will save them this time, should the crossbenchers who blocked the legislation under Abbott lose their nerve, or their seats in the Senate.

Turns out the answer is none other than the Minister himself. Or at least, a past version of the Minister.

The current Minister for Education, bottom right. (IMAGE: Adelaide Research and Scholarship, On Dit).
The current Minister for Education, bottom right. (IMAGE: Adelaide Research and Scholarship, On Dit).

In 1994, Simon Birmingham was just another happy-go-lucky kid trying to make it big at the University of Adelaide. An on-campus Liberal, Birmingham threw his hat into the ring for the position of President of the student association, running with a ticket called ‘Re-generation’!

And what did the future Education Minister stand for? “Standing up to the Federal Government’s assault on students & education,” according to his promotional material.

In an interview with student paper On Dit, Birmingham outlined his positions, putting him starkly at odds with Liberal governments both past and present, including the one he now serves as a Minister in.

On the question of Voluntary Student Unionism – later introduced by the Howard government to help cripple independent political student associations – Birmo was firmly opposed.

“I’m quite willing to take the fight up on that front. Similarly, the federal opposition needs to be convicted that they should change their policy,” he said, referring to the Coalition.

But it’s this promise, from material also published in the student rag, that really looks awkward for him now.

“Fighting AGAINST…Funding & staffing cutbacks,” his campaign promised.

new matilda, regeneration
(IMAGE: Adelaide Research and Scholarship, On Dit).

“I’d like to ensure that we can take the fight up to any government, be that Liberal or Labor, state or federal and indeed make sure that we can lobby the upper house of both parliament quite effectively,” he noted in his interview with the student paper.

That’s the same man who appears to be on the verge of allowing universities to uncap fees, while simultaneously withdrawing a significant chunk of federal funding.

Simon Birmingham might have forgotten his commitment to higher education, but we certainly haven’t.Share it around to remind him. #nodebtsentence

Posted by Australian Young Labor on Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Elsewhere in his interview, Birmingham expresses concerns about the size of tutorials and the negative environmental impact of the university’s car park, while promising to lobby for better public transport.

Birmingham is far from the first politician to be left in an awkward position by the statements they made while at university.

When cuts to higher education were unveiled in the 2014 Budget, this video of Joe Hockey advocating not just cheap but free education emerged.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.