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Thursday, 10 May 2007
Page: 78

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (2:22 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister, and it follows on from his previous answer. Isn’t it the case that, today, Australia has more than 100 full fee paying degrees that cost more than $100,000 for Australian undergraduates? Hasn’t this occurred under the government’s 35 per cent full-fee university course cap for general courses and 25 per cent cap for medical courses? If this has occurred under the government’s ‘capped’ policy, won’t the complete removal of the cap lead to open slather and more $100,000 degrees?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —Let me remind the member for Perth that the total number of students who are full fee paying students within the present ‘case load’, as the Leader of the Opposition called it in his interview this morning with Sky News, is precisely three per cent of the total number. Let me also remind the member for Perth that no better authority than Gerard Sutton—the President of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee—said at the beginning of this year that the shortage of HECS funded places had been eliminated. The boss of the universities said that there is no problem with the aggregate number of HECS funded places available. We have a booming labour market, which does have some impact on the number of people wanting to go to university. It is a known fact that in times of higher unemployment the demand for university places rises, and in times of lower unemployment there is some stepping back in the demand for university places. Against the evident need to provide more flexibility for the university sector, it is desirable to get an additional revenue stream into the universities from people who are able to contribute that revenue and there is an evident case for not discriminating against Australians—why does the Labor Party believe it is all right for somebody from America, China or England to come here and pay, but it is not all right for Australians? Or are we going to stop the foreigners as well? It is a totally illogical policy.

The fascinating thing about it is that the man who sits opposite me knows it is an illogical policy. He wanted to change this illogical policy but Bob Brown and the tertiary unions would not let him. The Leader of the Opposition wanted to change the policy. We know how much power the tertiary unions exert over the Australian Labor Party, and we all know how desperate the Leader of the Opposition is for Green preferences at the next federal election. He is as desperate for Green preferences as Mark Latham was for Green preferences before the last federal election—and you know what Mark Latham did to the forestry workers of Tasmania in order to get Green preferences before the last election. If I were a coalminer in Queensland, I would be worried about the Leader of the Opposition.