Protect regional students under deregulation: Nationals

Nationals leader Warren Truss will address the federal council on Saturday. AAP/Lukas Coch

The Nationals will debate calls for greater help for students at regional universities, changes to the rules governing takeovers and an end to the five cent coin when the party’s federal council meets in Canberra at the weekend.

Motions before the council also include a proposal for the government to ensure by law equal funding for the “yes” and “no” cases in referendums, and the establishment of a portfolio for mental health that is separate from the health portfolio.

A motion from the parliamentary party room supports university fee deregulation but urges greater weighting to university scholarships for regional universities on a needs basis. It says this is required because of the greater capacity of the larger city-based universities to allocate increased funds from their higher fees to offer more scholarships.

There is also a call on the government to conduct a review into financial support for students “that increases student mobility, providing opportunities for regional students, communities and universities”.

The federal government tomorrow will introduce legislation into parliament for its plan to deregulate the higher education sector. This includes putting an increased burden on students for the cost of their education. One issue in the debate has been the implications of the blueprint for regional universities.

A Victorian motion calls for a review of the laws governing takeovers, declaring particular consideration should be given “to the inequitable advantage of overseas companies when bidding for an Australian company against an Australian company”.

A motion from the parliamentary party room says that notwithstanding current thresholds or guidelines, foreign ownership or control of agricultural processing assets should be in the national interest. But this requirement should not be retrospective.

The parliamentary party room also wants “research on innovative approaches to helping young job seekers in regional Australia to move from welfare to work, in particular school leavers and young parents”.

On taxation, there is a proposal that the Commonwealth should regulate online wagering and a proportion of the taxation gains should be directed to regional growth projects. “The prevalence and impacts of problem gambling are most pronounced among socially and economically disadvantaged people and communities, including people living in regions,” it says.

Reflecting concerns about problems coming from fly-in fly-out working arrangements, the council will consider calling on state governments to ensure that all mining contracts include requirements to employ locals and prohibit 100% fly-in fly-out workforces where a local workforce is available.

Another motion says some labour hire contractors are not paying employees correctly and calls on the government to form a taskforce across jurisdictions and portfolios to advise enforcement agencies.

Motions passed by the council are not binding on National MPs.