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Controversial University Reforms Aren't Quite "Fixed"

Pyne giveth and he taketh away.

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Remember when education minister Christopher Pyne promised that he had ‘fixed’ his education reforms which were twice knocked back by a hostile senate?

Stefan Postles / Getty Images

Pyne told Sky News in March that his reforms would be A-Ok come budget time, suggesting that he had figured out a way to pass them.

At the time, Pyne was discussing funding for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), which he said was inextricably linked to his tertiary education reforms. It was a form of 'blackmail' that wasn't appreciated by senate cross benchers.

Ultimately Pyne backed down on the threat and funding for the NCRIS was passed while the tertiary education reforms were knocked back for a second time.

Pyne hasn't quite delivered on his promise to fix things in the 2016 budget though, and it could be a sign that the government plans to ram the reforms through this year or use their rejection as a trigger for a double dissolution election later this year.

This year's budget quietly contains the same measures which were twice knocked back in the senate previously, including fully de-regulated university fees and a 20% reduction in government contributions to new students' fees.

The budget also contains $150 million in funding for the NCRIS, although it takes the same amount from another scheme - The Sustainable Research Excellence program.

The only new education reform in the budget is a plan to force Australians with a HELP debt who live overseas to repay those debts - a measure which will only raise $26 million over four years.

The policy's inclusion in the budget papers may confirm rumours from last month that the government is considering an early election, as prime minister Tony Abbott bounces back in the polls.

It was speculated that an election may be on the cards and that Pyne's education reforms, which already qualify as a double dissolution trigger, could be used as the excuse to force Australians to the polls early. (A double dissolution can be called if the parliament twice rejects an identical bill within a defined period).

It now seems the government has that ace up its sleeve if that ultimately is the path it chooses to take. May the force be with Pyne.

And just for fun, here's Pyne's glorious "I'm a fixer" interview once again.