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Thursday, 14 October 1999
Page: 9726

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs. I am wondering whether the minister is aware that the University of Melbourne law faculty already charges $72,000 for a two-year private law degree. I am wondering whether the minister also knows that, under the proposals contained in the cabinet submission to deregulate the higher education sector, universities would be able to charge fees this high to students who are currently paying a $22,728 HECS charge for their law degree.

Senator Abetz interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senators on my right will cease interjecting so that I can hear the question.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Does the minister realise that under the proposals in this document a $72,000 law degree, financed with a loan with a fixed interest rate of 7.5 per cent repaid over 15 years, would actually end up costing a student $120,000, excluding bank fees and charges?

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Stott Despoja, I cannot hear you. There are senators on my right making a great deal of noise and I have not been able to hear the last part of the question.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Does the minister consider it appropriate to impose a $120,000 debt on 17- and 18-year-old students embarking on their education?

Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) —It is no secret that this government allows universities to charge fees for those students who previously were unable to take up a course. I can say that by doing this we have virtually eliminated unmet demand, because what we are doing has provided, in addition to Commonwealth funded positions, more opportunities for Australian students. The opposition when it was in government locked out thousands of Australian students who could have paid a fee. What we have done here is increase the Commonwealth funded positions, which I mentioned earlier, and we have also allowed fee paying students to have the opportunity of a university course. So what we have done is increase access to university.

I might just add that Senator Stott Despoja has been a supporter of compulsory student union fees. You know the old saying: no fee, no degree. That is it, because what they support is that if the student does not pay out of their own pocket a student union fee then they cannot enrol for the degrees. I ask you what is fair about that.

Senator Abetz —Nothing.

Senator ELLISON —Thank you, Senator Abetz. Can I say that by our policies we have increased the amount of resources available to universities in this country, not only through funding but through private funding, and we have also done that through tax benefits. Senator Stott Despoja's question has absolutely no point at all. In fact, what it does highlight is the benefits of the government's policy in relation to higher education.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I assume from the minister's answer that he believes it is appropriate to impose a debt of $120,000 on 17- and 18-year-olds starting out on their education. Does the minister realise that this amount of money is more than the average cost of a suburban home in 1966—the year the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs obtained his law degree from the University of Melbourne? It would have cost him approximately $5,444 in today's terms, except I believe he got a scholarship and got it for free. Will the minister reject the proposed loan scheme, as outlined in the cabinet submission, which would force students today into crippling levels of debt and deny many the opportunity to participate in higher education at all?

Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) —The Prime Minister has today ruled out any deregulation of the fee structure, and that is quite clear. This government does not endorse an American style system.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! The level of noise in the chamber is absolutely unacceptable.

Senator ELLISON —This government does not endorse any system where a person would have to mortgage a home to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for fees. What Senator Stott Despoja is doing is scaremongering. She is absolutely beating up the whole question of fees and regulation of fees. The Prime Minister has ruled out a deregulation of fees. That is the end of it.