Education Minister Christopher Pyne has recruited extra firepower in his bid to convince the Senate to deregulate university fees.
But crossbench senators are ambivalent about who he has chosen to lobby them – Robert Griew, a former senior public servant turned consultant.
Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm said it seemed Mr Pyne was trying to understand what the road blocks were to reforming higher education.
“I have some sympathy for him getting some help on that subject,” he told reporters outside Parliament House on Monday.
Senator Leyonhjelm believes there is a high level of acceptance that some reform is required because without it, the sector would be “strangled” by red tape.
Mr Griew led development of the deregulation policy before leaving the public service in early June to join consulting firm Nous Group.
The federal government is now paying Nous $150,000 to assess stakeholder views on the policy it has twice failed to get through parliament.
Mr Griew has told senators he will give the government a description of concerns, priorities and possible ways forward.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon said he was waiting to see whether this was a good use of public money.
“If the government wants a double dissolution trigger on higher education, good luck to them,” he said.
But independent Jacqui Lambie reacted strongly to an approach from Mr Griew, saying Mr Pyne was unable to take no for an answer.
The government wants to deregulate university fees and expand federal funding to private providers and degrees lower than bachelor level.
It’s also pushing for a 20 per cent cut to per-student funding, but this is likely to be disconnected from the broader deregulation package.
A spokesman for Mr Pyne would not say whether the minister was seeking meetings with senators now parliament had resumed.
Mr Pyne is still determined to bring back legislation for the reforms during the spring sittings, which run from now until early December.