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Tuesday, 13 May 1997
Page: 3355

Mr ROSS CAMERON —My question is to the Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training. Is the minister aware of claims that government reforms to the financing of higher education would result in an exodus of students from Australian universities? What do the latest university enrolment figures tell us about the veracity or otherwise of those claims?

Dr KEMP —I thank the member for Parramatta for his question. During the parliamentary break, the Leader of the Opposition made the long expected decision to dump the former shadow minister for education, the member for Sydney. He was not much good in that portfolio, I suppose. He had asked, I think, five questions on higher education during his time in the portfolio. During that recess, the Leader of the Opposition appointed the member for Werriwa, a protege of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

Unfortunately, the new shadow minister has got off to a very bad start. I recall that on 20 August last year the member for Werriwa said that battling families would have to face the prospect of a two-tiered higher education system in which in Australia 35,000 growth places would be lost to the sector. I have to say that, throughout the last four or five months when he has been moving in on the member for Sydney as the opposition spokesman on education, he has been one of those voices baying against the reforms that have been put in place by Senator Vanstone in the higher education sector.

He has been spreading the notion that places are being restricted, that access is being restricted to students wanting to enter Australia's universities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me inform the opposition and the member for Werriwa that, on the most recent information available to the government, there has been an increase of almost 12,000 undergraduates in Australian universities this year. Universities have overenrolled some 26,500 undergraduates. So much for restricted access to Australia's universities! Not only that, the total funding available to Australian universities has also increased over last year. Total Commonwealth operating grant funding for universities in 1997 was up $147 million. Indeed, the government estimates that the university sector is now deriving some $250 million more revenue from teaching activities this year than last year.

Last year when the government brought down its reforms, it informed this parliament and the Australian people that its reforms would mean more university places and more funding for Australian universities by giving the universities the flexibility which your party, the Labor Party, consistently denied them. The fact is the government has delivered on that promise. Senator Vanstone's reforms, the government's reforms, have worked. There are more undergraduates in Australian universities today—12,000 more than there were last year—and total university resources are up. That is a very bad start for the new shadow minister for education.