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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21648


Mr BALDWIN (2:39 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Would the minister advise the House of the benefits that will flow from the government's higher education reforms? How is the tertiary education sector responding to these reforms and other proposed changes?


Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —I thank the member for Paterson for his question. When he is not fighting for Newcastle University, he is fighting for Hunter Valley Grammar School, Raymond Terrace Primary School or Gloucester High School. This government is undertaking a major reform of Australian universities because it is in Australia's long-term interests. The government is proposing to invest an extra $10 billion of taxpayers' funds in universities in the first 10 years and $1½ billion of additional public money in the first four years, which includes $122 million extra money for regional and rural campuses and up to some 25,000 scholarships for young people, worth up to $24,000, to help them with their education costs when they are at university. In addition to that, the government is increasing the funding to train nurses and teachers—expanding the places in the first five years by 6,500 as well as fully funding 25,000 overenrolled places.

Today there is a strike which is being conducted throughout Australia's publicly funded universities. Some 80,000 employees in Australian universities are going on strike. This is a strike that is supported by the Australian Labor Party. The average Australian must ask themselves: what is the strike about? It is about this: the government has the Australian taxpayers' chequebook out and is about to write a cheque for $1½ billion for the first four years and, before the first $404 million of extra money is delivered to universities, the government is asking the universities to formalise what already occurs—and that is that every enterprise agreement will include a clause that says, `You, the employee of the university, have the right to negotiate an enterprise agreement through your union or staff association but, if you choose to negotiate an individual Australian workplace agreement with the university, you are free to do so.'

What the government is saying to universities on behalf of Australian taxpayers is, `Please, do not discriminate against or in favour of unions and please ensure that every employee knows that they are free not only to be represented by their union but also to negotiate an individual agreement,' and that the arrangements in the universities should not be outside the norms that the community expects. The average working Australian has been through major change in the last 10 to 15 years. As a result of their sacrifices, this country is now going very well—but no less should apply in Australian universities.

There is another strike planned for 4 November. The strike on 4 November is being run by the New South Wales Teachers Federation. Whereas the member for Jagajaga was scheduled to address a university strike this morning in Canberra, I will be most interested to see whether she will be attending the strike organised by the New South Wales Teachers Federation throughout TAFEs in New South Wales—a strike which is opposing not an optional 30 per cent increase in funds which is being proposed for universities but a 300 per cent increase in TAFE fees imposed by the New South Wales government.

Unlike universities, TAFEs cater for a disproportionately large number of low-income people who come from the poorest families in the country. Unlike in university, there are no loan schemes. If you do not pay the fee when you get to the TAFE gate, they send you away. I would be interested to know whether the member for Jagajaga will be lining up, shoulder to shoulder, with the New South Wales Teachers Federation and opposing the 211 per cent increase for a welding course at the Queanbeyan campus of the Illawarra Institute of TAFE. I would be very interested to see whether the member for Throsby will be going down there with the member for Jagajaga. The message needs to be sent: if the Labor Party wants to be consistent—and it is very, very inconsistent—it needs to stand up and go along to that strike. This government does not encourage strikes but, if there is going to be one, the member for Jagajaga ought to be there. I apologise for going on, Mr Speaker, but I have worked out how the Labor Party works.

Opposition members interjecting


The SPEAKER —Order! The minister has the call.


Dr NELSON —The Australian newspaper are running a series entitled `Pursuing opportunity and prosperity'. On Monday they ran a feature on education. They rang the Leader of the Opposition and said, `We'd like a forward-thinking contribution to the paper which addresses the real issues facing Australia in education.' Who did they send? They sent the member for Werriwa, who of course talked about performance based pay. Today when there is a strike at universities they send the member for Jagajaga because what they want is short-term opportunism and ideological dogma. In fact, as the member for Werriwa said, on 18 December 2000:

Higher education policy should allow for fee deregulation. We need to stop poncing around with education policy.