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Thursday, 14 September 2006
Page: 42

Mrs HULL (11:56 AM) —It is a pleasure to rise today to support the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (2006 Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2006. The bill, as we know, will amend three acts: the Higher Education Support Act 2003, the Higher Education Funding Act 1988 and the Australian Research Council Act 2001—one that I am particularly impressed with and that I would like to make particular mention of today. It gives me an opportunity to inform the House of the progress and success of Charles Sturt University over its years of operation.

Charles Sturt University has its home in Wagga Wagga, in the electorate of Riverina, and is continuing to provide students who undertake courses there with many choices. The latest designs and technology in the facilities and exceptional standards in teaching with experienced lecturers and other staff are all part of the delivery of the Charles Sturt University program for creating inland professionals. I think it is one of the only universities in Australia that has an absolute focus on delivering inland professionals and bolstering and supporting inland Australia.

Charles Sturt University is one of the leading Australian universities for graduate employment. A survey conducted by the Graduate Careers Council of Australia in 2004 found that 83 per cent of graduates were in full-time employment at the end of their studies at CSU. I think that is a very relevant factor. About 36,000 students undertake courses at CSU either at one of the campuses or from home, the workplace or other places around the world.

In my electorate, Wagga Wagga campus continues to provide excellent training and education to prepare these inland professionals, and I am very proud of the work that they do. As a member of parliament, it is certainly not hard to represent Charles Sturt University, because it is an extremely fine university with fine values and fantastic objectives.

Just last month, I welcomed our fabulous, committed and dedicated Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon. Julie Bishop, to Wagga Wagga to officially open the new veterinary pre-clinical centre. Veterinary science was very difficult to secure for Charles Sturt University, but they knew they wanted to fill an area of need in rural and regional Australia. That area of need was in veterinary science, particularly of heavy animals. The Frawley review recommended against a further increase in veterinary science outlets and to just increase the numbers at the existing sites providing the course. Charles Sturt University and I worked formidably together to overcome those recommendations in the Frawley report. Charles Sturt University reallocated funding and the way in which they presented their courses in order to provide this very costly veterinary course—it is costly for the university because they had to pay the professionals to deliver the course—and they successfully did this. We eventually got the approval of the former Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr Brendan Nelson, and the former Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Hon. Warren Truss, and we were able to introduce the veterinary science course.

We launched that program in 2004. It was the first veterinary course to be offered outside of a metropolitan area in Australia. And when you think about it, having one outside of a metropolitan area makes absolute sense. If you are going to have veterinary science graduates or students practising with heavy animals, it is ideal to have them accessible to the students. The CSU veterinary science degree commenced in 2005 with its first 45 students. This new program was extremely successful. In the first veterinary science degree to be established in Australia since the 1970s, the course had 53 new students enrolled in 2006—with 223 applicants indicating the CSU veterinary science course as their first choice, making the course one of the most popular within the university this year. It was a fantastic day for the CSU when the minister opened the veterinary science pre-clinical building because up to that point they had been funding this program themselves.

This commitment of $4.7 million announced last year as part of the higher education Capital Development Pool program was just brilliant. That is why I am so enthusiastic that the increased capital development funding for 2007 will assist universities with their infrastructure projects. The 2006-07 budget provided an increase of $95.5 million for the CDP program. Do I have a deal for this program! Having commenced the veterinary science degree—and very successfully training inland professionals—we recognised that the six-year degree has a very strong focus on livestock health and production, equine and companion animal medicine and surgery, and wildlife health. Most of this year’s students are from regional Australia, particularly inland New South Wales and Victoria as well as South Australia and Queensland. What we need now is another facility. Because we have been so successful in introducing this program and this degree, we now need a diagnostic laboratory.

We need a veterinary diagnostic laboratory to be constructed at Charles Sturt University to ensure the existence of heavy-animal vets right across Australia—in fact, having them living and working in regional Australia, which is what Charles Sturt University is so good at. The function of a veterinary diagnostic laboratory will be to meet undergraduate teaching needs. But, teaching in veterinary science is research led, so it is intended that the facility will have a substantial research capacity as well as an important diagnostic function. It will offer things such as pathology services to livestock producers and carers of native wildlife—such as those in the WIRES program—and diagnostic services for owners of companion and racing animals. It will cover New South Wales, northern Victoria and the ACT through their own veterinarians. When the service is developed and completed, it will facilitate the safe movement of livestock and livestock products interstate and overseas by carrying out certification testing. It is a protection for these industries in regional New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria against outbreaks of exotic animal diseases. It will promptly recognise and investigate unusual occurrences of disease and it will also enable critical surveillance information to be supplied to our relevant authorities.

It is with great pleasure that I congratulate the government on enhancing and expanding this program. As you can tell, there are some fantastic opportunities available for people to apply for funding to deliver essential and critical services to Australian industries, particularly rural and regional industries and export industries.

As part of the COAG agreement, this bill will also mean that the Wagga Wagga CSU campus will be able to take advantage of an extra 10 new clinical psychology places from next year. We find this extraordinarily welcome news. There is significant focus on mental health issues by both the Commonwealth government and the state government, but we need to go a long way in delivering services and professionals to be able to cope with the need, particularly in rural and regional areas. So I really welcome and applaud the united front being displayed by the federal government and the states to address the crisis of limited access to services that we have in rural areas.

We have had an ongoing and devastating drought for five years and it has been extraordinarily difficult for many of the families right across Riverina to manage. It creates an enormous amount of stress which may not exist in the lives of our residents under normal circumstances. We desperately need trained professional people to be able to take up positions in rural Australia. CSU has an absolute dedication to the provision of inland professionals. As I said, I am pleased that Wagga Wagga is included from 2007 in the decision to support post-graduate clinical psychology masters degree places and we certainly need them.

The bill will also give higher education providers increased flexibility to set student contributions and tuition fees. Student contributions will remain subject to the maximum amounts and tuition fees to the minimum amounts specified in the Higher Education Support Act 2003. The flexibility will enable fees and contributions to reflect the differing costs involved in providing the same courses to different types of students, such as those at different campuses or studying via different methods of delivery.

In my electorate, the CSU Wagga Wagga campus is providing many courses to regional students and excellence in tuition with further courses like the Bachelor of Applied Science (Food Science) and the Associate Degree of Applied Science (Food Processing). The university is committed to the food industry in Australia—the largest Australian manufacturing industry with a value of $40 billion per annum. The Wagga Wagga campus is an ideal location for food science courses, situated as it is in the heart of the Riverina which is known as ‘the food bowl of Australia’.

I come now to the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre, which boasts some of the most innovative research being undertaken in the Australian wine industry. Its research is diverse and includes areas of interest identified by extensive and inclusive industry consultation. Through a network of trained professionals, the National Wine and Grape Industry Centre, situated at Charles Sturt University’s Wagga Wagga campus, aims to keep the industry informed of the best management practices for plant protection, grape and wine quality, vine improvement, quality assurance, crop forecasting and vineyard establishment and expansion. We have a strong process in R&D with our wine science centre.

Charles Sturt University is a valuable opportunity for the Australian wine industry. The industry is an outstanding national success story of a small and domestically focused industry turning itself into a major exporter and a source of regional employment. It has a present value of $5.5 billion and the current value of exports in Australia is around $3 billion. Casella Wines in Riverina, with their valuable Yellowtail brand, is the exporter of the year and makes up an enormous amount of that export in wine.

Charles Sturt University, with its emphasis on research and development, is again seeking to commit to research and needs to have a significant centre. We have a vision at Charles Sturt University that our Ron Potter Centre—named after a wonderful man who has devoted his life to regional pursuits of excellence—will, by 2011, become Australia’s signature wine research community, providing leading edge, internationally recognised research outcomes for the economic benefit of the entire Australian wine industry. I think that is a valuable vision and one that we should be very proud of.

We also have at CSU a Bachelor of Pharmacy course. It is the first ever pharmacy degree in Australia to be offered outside a metropolitan area. Pharmacists represent the major component of continuing health care for many of the communities right across my electorate, where we have seen GPs depart and a lack of willingness by GPs to come and practice in isolated areas, and pharmacists are playing an even greater role. Members of my constituency have to travel to access GP services and as a result they continually rely on their pharmacist for emergency advice and management of their treatment.

It is important that we have pharmacists who want to set up and practice in rural and regional Australia. Charles Sturt University’s Bachelor of Pharmacy degree incorporates activities such as community or hospital pharmacy, dispensing, medication management and health counselling to equip these young graduates with skills for immediate employment, again fulfilling its role, aims and objectives to provide professionals to inland Australia. If you are undertaking the Bachelor of Pharmacy degree at Charles Sturt University you will also study biomedical and applied sciences, develop knowledge and skills in health promotion, learn treatment of minor ailments and become fluent in communication and health information management as a pharmacist—all of the prerequisites to establishing yourself in a rural and regional inland community.

As I said, it is essential that we have universities, such as Charles Sturt University, committed to this outcome. Opportunities for employment always exist for successful graduates as there is a recognised demand for skilled practitioners, particularly in our rural and remote inland areas. The students of Charles Sturt University are always encouraged to study in regional areas to meet the strong demand for these professionals.

Previous to Charles Sturt University commencing their CSU Bachelor of Pharmacy course, you had an average of about three pharmacists coming outside the sandstone curtain into inland rural and regional areas when they finished their sandstone university degrees. The success of the Charles Sturt Bachelor of Pharmacy course is such that 39 out of the 42 students who first undertook the Charles Sturt pharmacy course are practising and living in rural and regional inland areas. Such is the success of this university.

I am very proud to be the representative of Charles Sturt University and its commitment to the delivery of equity of services for rural and regional inland Australia. I believe that the staff, the vice-chancellor, the chancellor and the board of Charles Sturt University have dedicated their programs and finances to fulfilling the requirements and needs of inland Australia in the development and delivery of inland professionals to those people in Australia, who deserve to have practising in their areas people with the same credentials as people enjoy in the city. I applaud the minister for providing the opportunity for universities like Charles Sturt University to be able to continue this great path of providing inland professionals to the Australian people, and I applaud the minister for the way in which she delivers this portfolio. She is the best minister. (Time expired)