The Abbott government is being accused of holding the jobs of 1700 scientists hostage in a last ditch effort to get its university funding reforms through parliament.
Labor leader Bill Shorten and Independent MP Nick Xenophon have criticised Education Minister Christopher Pyne for linking $150 million in annual science funding to fee deregulation, putting at risk the jobs of hundreds of researchers.
And with a vote on the higher education reforms due in the Senate this week, Mr Pyne warned crossbenchers the consequences of defeat would be a loss of funding for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme.
It is the second time the coalition has tried to get university deregulation through the Senate, with Greens, Labor and the crossbenchers so far blocking the changes.
“There are consequences for not voting for this reform and that’s very important for the crossbenchers to understand,” Mr Pyne told ABC Television.
“The consequences are that potentially 1700 researchers will lose their jobs.”
Mr Shorten said the ultimatum was a new low for the government.
“They are taking hostage 1700 jobs,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
“They are threatening the future of science in Australia.”
Senator Xenophon said the university reforms were reckless and would significantly increase the price of degrees.
“I don’t understand why Christopher Pyne is holding 1700 scientists hostage to this policy,” he told reporters in Adelaide.
Despite still facing stiff opposition in the Senate, Mr Pyne said he was only contemplating victory when the reforms go to a vote on Wednesday.
His job to convince six crossbenchers to support the legislation has potentially been made more complicated with the resignation of Glenn Lazarus from the Palmer United Party.
But Mr Pyne said Senator Lazarus’s decision to quit the PUP might even help the government’s reforms, and presented “opportunities” to convince sole PUP senator Dio Wang to back deregulation.
Senator Wang has previously indicated his support for university deregulation.
“We will fight right through to the vote,” Mr Pyne said.
“I’m contemplating victory on Wednesday, because it’s too important not to win for students and for universities and for Australia.”
Asked if his government would follow through with the threat to scrap the $150 million in science funding, Tony Abbott said he anticipated the university reforms would be passed by the Senate.
“Because it’s good legislation, it’s good for universities, ultimately it’s good for students. It’s good for Australia,” the prime minister told reporters in Sydney.