MEDIA RELEASE: Peak student bodies welcome the Respect@Work report and call on the government to look after women during this pandemic

Peak student bodies welcome the Respect@Work report and call on the government to look after women during this pandemic.
The peak student bodies Council of Australian Postgraduate Student Associations (CAPA), National Union of Students (NUS), Council of International Students Australia (CISA) and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA) are deeply disturbed at the extent of sexual harassment at Australian workplaces. We welcome the 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work report, and call on the Morrison Government to take immediate action on all of its recommendations.

Sexual harassment is never acceptable. The right to be free from sexual harassment is a human right that unfortunately far too many women in Australia, do not enjoy. Almost 40 per cent of Australian women and just over 25 per cent of men have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years. Almost 80 per cent said that one or more of their harassers were male. The reality for students is no different and these figures are unacceptable. We therefore welcome a start to reform on this important matter.

“Nobody should go to work feeling unsafe. We urge that the Morrison government works with Respect@Work actions the recommendations that have been made by the Commissioner”, says NUS National Women Officer, Humaira Nasrin.

“The safety of women, in particular women of colour, at workplaces is often overlooked and minimized. We encourage the investigation and monitoring of the effort to change this culture. We urge the government, workplaces and leaders to adopt the recommendations immediately”, says CISA National Women’s Officer, Belle Lim.

“For too long our peak organisations have been fighting to be free from sexual violence in our workplaces. NATSIPA calls on the Morrison government to immediately implement the recommendations of the Respect@Work report”, says NATSIPA President Sharlene Leroy-Dyer.

Together, we are urging the government to remember and mitigate risks associated with the women in our lives during these testing times. Particularly those who are on the frontline of this pandemic such as nurses, teachers, childcare workers and carers. As well as those who are at greater risk of domestic violence during isolation and the inevitable lockdown.
For comment:
CAPA National President Romana-Rea Begicevic
M: 0420 258 404
NUS National Women’s Officer Humaira Nasrin
M: 0420 766 021
CISA National Women’s officer Belle Lim
M: 0406 398 499
NATSIPA National President Dr. Sharlene Leroy-Dyer 
M: 0417 239 909

Postgraduate students are left out of the COVID-19 stimulus payments, says CAPA.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is disappointed that as it currently stands, most postgraduate students will not be eligible to benefit from the COVID-19 stimulus payments. We condemn the ignorance of this government to acknowledge the financial hardship of the postgraduate population even in these difficult times. 

Postgraduate students were already struggling with financial hardships and CAPA has consistently expressed concerns that this government needs to make youth allowance and Austudy available to all postgraduate students. Denying newstart support to postgraduate students now also means they will also miss out on this stimulus payment.

The Higher Education sector has taken a massive hit, international student enrolments are down and we have already seen the University of Tasmania enacting drastic measures by cutting 300+ courses. We are concerned that many other other universities will soon follow suit, and it’s the casual staff and postgraduate students here that will suffer. 

We estimate that 63% of research students have taken on a PhD without a stipend scholarship and have done so through assurances they will be provided casual teaching roles to sustain their living cost. These students and casual staff were already struggling financially, with this loss of income and without compensation from the university and government; there will be a significant increase of postgraduate students living in poverty. 

“Students are already doing it tough”, says National President Romana Begicevic. “The majority of research students are taking on their studies without a stipend scholarship and are unable to afford basic necessities such as food. The government must address the implications this virus will have on our universities, staff and students”. 

We demand that the Morrison government acknowledge the financial hardship of postgraduate students and extend the stimulus package and newstart allowances to include all students and staff affected by this disaster. 

For comment:
CAPA National President Romana-Rea Begicevic
M: 0420 258 404

CAPA warns: “Dark days ahead for the Higher Education sector.”
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is eagerly awaiting a commitment to restore public funding to universities in light of the recent catastrophes affecting the Higher Education sector, as highlighted in our latest submission, on unlawful underpayment of employee’s remuneration. We further condemn the University of Tasmania’s decision to reduce course offerings during this difficult time. 

The Federal Government’s funding cuts over the years has pushed universities to operate as a business, leading them to become dependent on a volatile source of income, the international education market. In light of the bushfires and the coronavirus travel ban, we anticipate declining international student enrolments, and cost cutting responses at the expense of our education and staff jobs.  

“Tough times call for desperate measures”, says National President Romana Begicevic. “The shock decision by the University of Tasmania’s, Vice Chancellor, to significantly reduce course offerings in 2021, without consulting students and staff, is just another example of the underhanded measures that the universities are taking during this difficult time”. 

“It’s just not sensible that education, the key to future growth and economy, is so heavily reliant on the volatile international student market”, says Begicevic. “CAPA demands the government restores funding cuts from the education sector. Survival of our prestigious education institutions depends on it”. 

The downstream effect of this volatile income has resulted in course cuts, casualization of staff and staff dismissals as part of a more agile cost cutting strategy. Education is the key to future growth and the economy and therefore must be properly funded.

For comment:
CAPA National President Romana-Rea Begicevic
M: 0414 792 540

Download: Submission on Unlawful Underpayment of Employees’ Remuneration

It is crucial to consider what inequalities are now being exacerbated within the Australian higher education system, given high fees, low levels of income support, limited availability of scholarships for research students, and the blurred lines between work and study relationships.

While casual employment is generally understood to be associated with low-skill roles, this is less and less the case within universities in particular. As outlined above, Australian universities have a growing record of underpayment and non-payment of their employees, and their students are open to exploitation. Experiences within the sector—especially among those most vulnerable to exploitation (e.g., international students)—reveal problems in Australian Industrial Relations more broadly. On this basis, CAPA’s recommendations to the Senate Standing Committees on Economics are as follows:

  1. Improve institutional reporting and accountability around different forms of non-paid and underpaid employment and levels of remuneration.
    • Require employers to publicly report on all forms of ‘non-standard’ work and their levels of pay on a per head basis. This would include casual, fixed-term, work undertaken by individuals using ABNs, as well as sub-contractors/third-party providers. A body such as the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) is well equipped to collect and disseminate this data.
    • Initiate an inquiry into the extent of unpaid labour, including working beyond paid hours and HDR study, in public institutions such as higher education.
  2. Address the spread of unpaid work as ‘training’ throughout Australia’s employment sectors, including within universities. This means acknowledging HDRs’ roles as university staff members and would require the following:
    • Make RTP (or equivalent value stipends) available to all HDR students.
    • Extend RTP stipends to the full length of HDR degrees at a minimum: 4+ years for PhDs and 2+ years for Masters by Research degrees.
    • Increase the minimum value of RTP stipends to at least the minimum wage.
    • Where not otherwise covered by an RTP or equivalent stipend for any reason (e.g., the expiration of their RTP stipend), make all full-time domestic HDR students eligible to receive Austudy and related Centrelink payments (subject to means testing).
  3. Launch an inquiry into international student exploitation across Australia, including the underpayment and non-payment of international student employees. This would aim to:
    • Provide adequate and clear employment information for international students.
    • Offer services and support in cases of international student exploitation.
    • Enforce penalties for non-compliant employers.

Download: Submission to Inquiry on ‘Education in Remote and
Complex Environments’

We believe that our joint recommendations will allow the Australian Government to truly put “regional and rural students at the centre of [their] focus” (Dan Tehan, 2020 Universities Australia Conference). Our submission particularly focuses on students in/from RRR communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and regional university students. Our recommendations may be summarised as follows:

  1. That RTP or equivalent value stipends be made available to all HDR students
  2. That RTP PhD stipends be extended to a minimum of 4 years and Masters by Research stipends to no less than 2 years.
  3. That the minimum value of RTP stipends be increased to at least minimum wage.
  4. That Centrelink schemes be expanded to include domestic students of all postgraduate coursework degrees (subject to means testing).
  5. That, where not otherwise covered by an RTP or equivalent stipend (e.g., due to expiration of stipend), all full-time, domestic HDR students be eligible to access Centrelink schemes (subject to means testing).
  6. That the Relocation Scholarship, available to those moving to/from a regional/remote area for higher education study, be expanded to include all those receiving Austudy, domestic students of all postgraduate coursework degrees (subject to means testing), and all full-time, domestic HDR students.
  7. That the rate of Austudy, ABSTUDY, and Youth Allowance be urgently increased by $75 per week in order to help students afford housing.
  8. That the Commonwealth Government implements legislation requiring at least 50% of Student Services and Amenities Fees be received by independent student associations.
  9. That student concession fares be extended to all full-time students, including international and postgraduate students, in New South Wales and Victoria.
  10. That a national public transport concession scheme be implemented such that all tertiary students can access concession fares in all States.
  11. That the number of Medicare subsidised psychologist sessions available under mental health care plans be extended from a maximum of 10 to a maximum of 12, for all mental health conditions that are currently subject to the 10 session cap.
  12. That universities increase the number of available counselling sessions at campuses with long waiting lists, and make remote counselling available for off-campus students.
  13. That universities ensure availability of counsellors trained or experienced in working with LGBTQIA+ students, international students, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
  14. That RRR universities continue to support ‘grow your own’ initiatives to develop Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics.
  15. That RRR universities fund Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers to conduct research on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.
  16. That the Government extends Indigenous Student Success Program (ISSP) funding to HDR students.
  17. That universities provide four-year stipends of at least minimum wage for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctoral students.

Download: Submission in Response to the Proposed Amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA)

The proposed Amendments replace the Act’s previous wording relating to freedom of intellectual inquiry with references to “freedom of speech and academic freedom”, as well as providing a definition of academic freedom.

It is CAPA’s view that these changes are unnecessary, due to the absence of the particular free speech crisis suggested by the Amendments. We instead argue that the defunding of universities, their casualisation, and the lack of guaranteed funds for most student organisations has a significant impact on freedom of inquiry and study and work conditions. Our recommendations are therefore as follows:

Recommendation one: That the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA) not be amended as proposed.

Recommendation two: That, if the Act is amended, the ordering be changed such that equitable treatment and wellbeing of students and staff be placed prior to freedom of speech. Recommendation three: That, if the Act is amended, the phrase “freedom of speech” be replaced with “freedom of political speech”.

Recommendation four: That, if the Act is amended, the phrase “teaching, learning, and research” be retained.

Recommendation five: That, if a sector-wide code of conduct is implemented, it must be compliant with legislation including the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and must not contravene universities’ obligations to provide a safe working environment.

Recommendation six: That the government must restore higher education and research funding that has been cut over the last several years. Recommendation seven: That universities must end insecure employment practices, providing the security for their researchers to investigate new, controversial, or uncertain topics.

Recommendation eight: That legislation should be enacted to prevent government interference, politicisation, and mandate transparency in federal research funding allocations and awards.

Recommendation nine: That policies should be in place to ensure all students (undergraduates, postgraduates, and internationals) pay SSAF and that a minimum of 50% SSAF goes to student associations/unions. The proportion given to independent undergraduate and postgraduate associations should be based on the FTE proportion of students enrolled. Policies should also be implemented to ensure a national standard for annual SSAF reporting for all public Australian Universities.

CAPA & NATSIPA recommend the Religious Freedom Bills be rejected

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) expresses serious concern about the implications of the Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill.  National Queer Officer, Shae Brown summarises CAPA’s position, “We represent the postgraduate students of our affiliates across Australia, and this Bill is poised to legislate the right to discriminate against all minorities, or in fact anyone, based on a ‘statement of belief’. This Bill is particularly concerning for LGBTQ students.” 

Currently in its second draft, the Religious Discrimination Bill is set to be reconsidered and presented to Parliament in 2020. In essence it overrides all Commonwealth, State and Territory anti-discrimination laws, including the Fair Work Act and the Anti-Discrimination Act. This Bill removes the rights of people to be protected if they are verbally abused or discriminated against in any way, if the abuser claims to be making a ‘religious statement of belief.’ What is deemed to be discrimination at present will be given a free rein if this Bill is passed. 

Students’ rights are threatened in a range of ways. According to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre these are some examples of how this Bill can affect students:

  • A transgender student can be told their gender identity is an illusion, and publicly outed.
  • An LGBTQ student can be harassed for living a sinful life.
  • A single mother can be told that her life is damaging to children and that she is living against God’s will.
  • A student with a disability can be told that their situation is a punishment by God.
  • A student who experiences sexual assault can be denied a morning after pill, on the basis of contraception being a sin.
  • Employment, academic supervision and other support can be limited and distorted based on  religious beliefs against women, LGBTQ students, people with disabilities, and people from minority faiths. 

“This Bill will undoubtedly generate tensions and divisions among people, and has the potential to open the way for a range of discriminatory decisions and actions” stated Shae Brown. “Students can be refused accommodation, have problems with placements and practicums within institutions that are connected to religious organisations, and a range of issues that we cannot even predict based on the vague and broad nature of the wording of this Bill.”

”As Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students, we face discrimination in the classroom everyday. This Bill would only exacerbate the existing racism and continue the denial of our culture and spirituality. The privileging and prioritising of Eurocentric settler colonial ways of being, specifically as it relates to the Abrahamic religious beliefs and practices will only centre Western ways at the expense of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Knowledge, cultural and spirituality systems.” says Robyn Oxley, NATSIPA Queer Officer.

“CAPA is concerned about this legislation, and we will encourage Postgraduate Associations to request a statement of position from their university executive. If this Bill is passed, CAPA will be calling on Vice Chancellors to take clear and ethical leadership in ensuring that all students are protected from both overt and covert discrimination”, says National President Romana Begicevic. 

For comment:
CAPA National President Romana-Rea Begicevic
M: 0414 792 540

Download: Response to Religious Freedom Bill: Second Exposure Drafts

This proposed legislation is an anathema to the currently respectful culture of anti-discrimination that is the foundation of an equitable and fair Australia. It is imperative this legislation be rejected immediately, before discrimination becomes a legal right.

CAPA and NATSIPA therefore recommend that the Religious Freedom Bills be rejected and any future iterations be abandoned.

Now the French review is done CAPA demands Education Minister take legislative oversight over an actual crisis.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes the commitment to  ‘academic freedom’ to support academics to conduct research without interference, in the proposed amendment to the Higher Education Standards Framework. However, CAPA is concerned that universities are at risk of politically motivated, local and foreign interference, because they are not properly funded. 

In late 2018, several high-profile incidents provoked the conservatives to argue that free speech is under threat in universities. First, Quentin Van Meter’s talk at the University of Western Australia was cancelled amid student opposition on the basis that Van Meter’s subject matter was transphobic. Then, Bettina Arndt faced opposition to her speeches on her ‘Fake Rape Crisis’ campus speaking tour. 

These incidents provoked the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, to order a sector-wide Review of Freedom of Speech in Higher Education, which sought to create a model free speech code which universities can ratify. The Hon Robert French AC, tasked with leading the review, has generated the anticipated model code despite writing that he is not convinced of the existence of a free speech crisis.

“We have a manufactured freedom of speech crisis because funding for arts research is failing. We have a sexual assault and sexual harassment (SA/SH) crisis on our universities and the government can’t be bothered to fund a taskforce. If the government genuinely wanted to support free inquiry and research in all areas, they could ensure there was funding to do so,” says CAPA National President, Romana Begicevic.  

The government continually comes up with manufactured crises instead of dealing with real problems at hand such as the SA/SH taskforce, adequate funding for research and income support for postgraduate students. Universities are increasingly struggling to make ends meet, often having to look outside for funding to sustain their operations. The $328.5 million in funding cuts over the past few years, puts universities at real risk of interference to freedom of expression and intellectual inquiry.

For comment:
CAPA National President Romana Begicevic
M: 0420 258 404