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Thursday, 16 May 1985
Page: 2068


Senator CHIPP —I ask the Minister for Education a question about tertiary education fees, which I am surprised she has not yet been asked by the Liberal Party. In view of this morning's reports that the Prime Minister and presumably the Government have not ruled out introduction of tertiary fees, I ask the Minister whether she is aware of the Government's previous commitment to free tertiary education? The Hawke Government election platform of 1983 states:

A Labor government will . . . maintain the provision of free tertiary education.

Is the Minister aware of the cruel effects the reimposition of tertiary fees would have on the 68,000 part time tertiary students, mature aged students, especially women, and post graduate and country students? The economic statement of the Treasurer two days ago cut $73m to $74m from the education Budget. Does the Minister not believe that education has suffered enough through these cuts, especially given that Australia's economic future will depend on its ability to produce an educated work force capable of producing high technology products which can be exported?


Senator RYAN —Senator Chipp's question ranged far and wide over a number of issues. In answering it I do not think I will take up the matter of the relationship between the need for a technologically trained work force and certain kinds of educational provisions. Perhaps that is a subject Senator Chipp would like to raise as a matter of public importance. I have very worked-out views on the matter but I do not intend to emulate some of my ministerial colleagues and give the Senate the benefit of my views at this point.

Senator Chipp's question contained one factual error. I take the opportunity presented to me now to correct it. He spoke of a sum of $73m being taken from the Education portfolio. That figure is not right. I know that there was such a sum under the heading 'Education' in the Treasurer's Government expenditure savings statement. In fact, two items in that list are not funded from the education portfolio. The block grant to pre-schools in the States has never been funded through the Education portfolio; it has been funded through the Social Security portfolio, or what is now the Community Services portfolio. That figure was not a cut in the education budget; nor was the figure of $2.3m for the Australian Film and Television School. Although I am extremely interested in the activities of the Film and Television School, it is not an institution which is funded through my portfolio. The funding cuts in my portfolio actually amounted to some $54m.

Senator Chipp raised the issue of tertiary fees. All I can say is that there was a proposal emanating from the Department of Finance during the period of preparation of the May economic statement to impose fees on tertiary students. The Government decided not to proceed with that proposal, as is quite clear from the statement. I am aware of the fact that the Prime Minister was asked about this matter by Richard Carleton on an Australian Broadcasting Corporation television program last night. What he said is something that people in this place who are familiar with the workings of the Labor Party should have regarded almost as tautological. It is possible in our Party for any member to secure a discussion about any matter. It is certainly possible, given the way that the Labor Party works, that there will be further discussion of this issue within Party forums. However, the Government currently has before it no proposal concerning fees for tertiary students.

Senator Chipp proceeding to ask a supplementary question-


The PRESIDENT —Order! I do not regard that as a supplementary question.


Senator Chipp —Mr President, on a point of order may I ask you why? I think I am entitled to do that. I asked the Minister a specific question and she said: 'Within our Party we have no less an authority than the Prime Minister equivocating on it'. There are 68,000 students out there who I think would appreciate an answer. Mr President, why is it not in your view a true supplementary question? I remind you that this is the first time that you have so ruled in many months.


The PRESIDENT —Order! It is not the first time I have so ruled. I have ruled on a number of occasions that a question asked by way of a supplementary question is not in fact a supplementary question because in my opinion the second question did not relate to or arise from the Minister's answer.