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Thursday, 21 October 1999
Page: 12150

Mr BEAZLEY —My question is to the Prime Minister. Does the Prime Minister recall expressing these views about higher education? About vouchers, he said:

A Howard government will widen student choice by providing scholarships which they can take to the institution of their choice.

About deregulation, he said:

We will make higher education demand driven.

About fees, he said:

The only way you can get more students into institutions is to get more private money.

Prime Minister, when you said these things, did you not believe them? Did you believe them four months ago, when you instructed Dr Kemp to advance his proposals for real interest rate loans, deregulated fees and vouchers? Did you believe them six days ago, when you defended Dr Kemp's real interest rate loans? Prime Minister, do you really think anyone believes you when you say you do not believe these things anymore?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —Firstly, instructed by long experience, I never accept that what the Leader of the Opposition says I said I did say. Nor do I automatically accept that there was not some context in which I made the remark that gives a totally different interpretation to that which the Leader of the Opposition implies in his question. I will go away and thumb through the records I have of what I have said over the years. I am quite certain that that little bit of research will in no way gainsay what I have said in this House over the past week.

I would like the Leader of the Opposition to listen very carefully when I say that there will be no vouchers. There will be no departure from the fundamentals of our higher education policy. I know from the reaction that I have had from different sections of the community over the past week that, increasingly, people in the Australian community are seeing the scare campaign being waged by the Labor Party on this issue for what it is. There is no threat to the higher education system that we have developed in this country.

I had a very interesting experience this morning when I took some talkback radio on a Perth radio station. I think I did rather better on the Perth radio station this week than the Leader of the Opposition did a couple of weeks ago. I was able to assure one of the young callers, when she inquired about the government's plans, that we had a balanced approach to higher education, that we could no longer imagine that we lived in a society where the government could provide a free tertiary education, and that those sorts of days were gone and are not coming back, but that we are in a society that believes that it is unfair, within a system providing a certain number of government funded places, to ask students to bear all of the cost of their tuition.

What you need is essentially the system we have at the moment, where you have a number of government funded places, a HECS system, an opportunity and an incentive for people to discharge their HECS liability at the front end, and provision for those who cannot do that to pay it off when they are in a position to do so. That is a fair system. It is fair to the student, fair to the community and fair to the taxpayer. It provides an appropriate balance. While ever this government is in power, that is the system that will stay in place.