Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21624

Ms MACKLIN (9:13 AM) —These amendments to the Higher Education Support Bill 2003, which we began debate on last night, give effect to the commitment that Labor gave in our higher education policy to abolish all fee paying places for Australian undergraduates. We have said in our policy that we understand the need for current students to complete their courses. These amendments would prevent any more full fee paying Australian undergraduates from 2004. These amendments also go to another issue which I did not get time to comment on last night. Not only do Labor fundamentally oppose the idea that university degrees are up for sale to the highest bidder; we also want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that this legislation does not implement the promise that the Minister for Education, Science and Training set out when he originally introduced this higher education package.

At the time, he said that the legislation would allow universities to only—only—increase the number of full fee paying students in particular courses from 25 per cent to 50 per cent. But there is not in the legislation a fundamental cap of 50 per cent on the number of full fee payers. In fact, the legislation allows the minister to exempt entire courses from the 50 per cent limit provision and to allow universities to enrol 100 per cent full fee paying students in any course. That could mean that not a single HECS place would be available for Australian students in some courses.

I am glad that the minister is now in the House, because I would appreciate a response on this particular amendment. I think it is important for him to clarify which particular courses, in his view, are not going to be in the public interest. He has said that courses which are in the public interest will have HECS places attached to them. I would appreciate it if he could indicate whether they will have 50 per cent or some other number of HECS places attached to them. It is important for him to let the public know what sorts of courses he has in mind that should be 100 per cent full fee paying. Minister, are you going to say something? You do not have to, but are you going to?

The SPEAKER —Has the member for Jagajaga concluded her remarks? She still has time allocated.

Ms MACKLIN —I thought the minister might appreciate the opportunity to answer.

The SPEAKER —The member for Jagajaga would appreciate that I am the one who determines whether he might appreciate the opportunity or not.

Ms MACKLIN —Mr Speaker, it seems that the minister does not want to indicate—

The SPEAKER —I do not want to interfere in the debate, but I will recognise the minister, and what he does will be his business.

Ms MACKLIN —Mr Speaker, you would know, and I am sure the minister knows as well, that the purpose of the consideration in detail of bills is that we debate these fundamental issues in this House. In his public comments, the minister said that he had intended to limit the number of full fee payers to 50 per cent of particular courses. It is now clear in the legislation that that is not the case and that he intends to allow universities to have 100 per cent full fee paying students in some courses. So we could have any particular course, in any university, simply not offering any HECS places. I think it is extraordinary that the minister is prepared to allow this to be the case. Outside parliament, he says that those particular areas of study which are in the national interest will not be affected, but it is the minister who decides which areas those are. I think it is extraordinary that we are expected to trust one man in Canberra to decide what is in the national interest.

Not only are we being asked to trust him; we also are being asked to trust all of his successors to use this extraordinary power benevolently. That is not the sort of democracy most Australians want. I think it is extremely important that the minister indicates which courses will not have any HECS students in them and how he intends to determine which courses are in the national interest, because these issues are fundamental to the nature of our universities. That some students would not be able to get a HECS place in some courses is really a most extraordinary power contained in this legislation. I will leave it at that, on this matter, at the moment.