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Thursday, 14 October 1999
Page: 9721

Senator CARR —My question without notice is to Senator Ellison, representing the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Is the minister aware of this morning's stampede of the Prime Minister and his ministers to distance themselves from their colleague Dr David Kemp and his cabinet submission on higher education? As the minister representing Dr Kemp in the Senate, will the minister also publicly repudiate his colleague?

Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) —At the outset, there is absolutely no distance between the Prime Minister and Dr Kemp. They are of one accord on this. The Prime Minister himself has totally rejected the scare campaign of the opposition over there, who are trying to scare Australian students into believing that we are going to go down the American path. The Prime Minister has said that we will not do that. The Prime Minister has said that we will stick by our commitments and he has ruled out a voucher system. He has said that we will stick with the HECS system. In fact, there is even a proposal to expand it.

Senator Chris Evans —Is that the same commitment as with the GST?

Senator ELLISON —The opposition obviously do not want to hear this because they want to beat this question up. They want to scare the Australian public into believing that we are going down the path of introducing vouchers—the American system. The Prime Minister has totally rejected that. We will stand by our commitments—commitments to increase tertiary education in this country. In fact, under the coalition we have increased the number of students who have access to undergraduate university education. In 1999 there will be over 13,000 more Commonwealth fully subsidised places than there were in the last year of Labor. In just over three short years we have increased by over 13,000 the number of Commonwealth funded places for university students in this country.

There is other good news in relation to the tertiary education sector. Can I just point out—the opposition do not want to hear this—that university enrolments in 1999 have reached a record high, with just under 30,000 more students enrolling in 1999 than in the last year of Labor. That spells out to the people of Australia that this government is doing great things for those students who want to engage in tertiary education. What Senator Carr is trying to do with this question is just beat up the situation and try and scare people into thinking that we are going to do something that we are not.

Senator CARR —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that you say the Prime Minister has ruled out vouchers, can you confirm that on 17 April 1998 Dr Kemp issued a statement setting out unequivocally that the Howard government had:

. . . no intention of introducing vouchers for post-secondary education or deregulating university fees.

In light of the fact that the leaked cabinet submission proposes exactly that, what possible credibility can Dr Kemp have—or the Prime Minister have, for that matter—having stated as they have today that these proposals are not on the government's agenda?

Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) —Senator Carr should not premise his question on an absolutely false assumption.

Senator Chris Evans —Are you saying it is not true?

Senator ELLISON —And a number of them, I might add. What he said is that this is a cabinet submission. They will not even table the document. Why won't you table the document? Because you are saying that this is a cabinet submission.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Ellison, address your remarks through the chair.

Senator ELLISON —Madam President, why will they not table this document if it is so authentic? They will not. That reveals them for what they are—scaremongers.