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Thursday, 14 October 1999
Page: 9739

Senator McLUCAS (3:28 PM) —In taking note of answers this afternoon, I wish to reserve my comments to the impact on regional universities, notably in Queensland, of the Kemp proposals we have seen in the last couple of days. When Senator Ellison made his comments today, he omitted to remember this important sector of higher education in Australia—that is, regional universities across our nation. Haven't this government learned the lesson of Victoria—the lesson that all of us have seen in the last three weeks? Haven't they seen what rural Australia will do when they have been forgotten? I suggest that this Kemp model will herald the end of regional universities across this nation. It is not only I and the ALP that recognise that. Mr Mullarvey, the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee Acting Executive Director, said today in the Courier-Mail that if the proposal was embraced and funding to universities was cut it would be a major concern for Australia. He went on to say that under proposed changes newer and regional universities would find it difficult to survive.

The phone calls to my office today from Townsville, Cairns, Mackay, Rockhampton and Toowoomba support this view. Let me explain to the government about the characteristics of regional universities.

Senator Hill —James Cook has done very well out of this government.

Senator McLUCAS —With the support of the Queensland government, thank you very much. Regional universities, by their nature, have a less wealthy population than universities in the city. They have an older population and they enrol more mature age women. They are emerging in their specialisation. I congratulate the James Cook University on the work that they have done in developing their specialisation. They contribute enormously to their local communities through their participation in the day-to-day operations of the community in which they are placed.

Let us look at the impact of the Kemp proposals on regional universities. Because students in regional universities are poorer than their city cousins, they will be even less likely to embark on a university education in the knowledge that they will have a bill of more than $100,000 to pay on graduation. Older students, many of whom are women—more than 40 per cent of students in some of the regional universities in Australia—are far less likely to return to university to improve their employability. They probably have one or two children and have a mortgage and ongoing financial commitments to their families. They are very unlikely to undertake university education in the knowledge that, on completion, they will have to pay back $100,000 or more.

Under this government we are moving to a system of haves and have-nots. Regional Australia already suffers under the tyrannies of distance and the higher cost of living. This government is driving the wedge between city and country even further in terms of educational opportunities for regional Australia. This Kemp policy will deny regional Australia access to tertiary education.

Let us look further at the impact on the universities themselves. As I have said, regional universities are emerging in their specialisation. They are younger and they are newer—they are establishing themselves. They are struggling to develop their options for students under this government with the incredible cuts they have suffered. They are struggling to develop their research capacity. Come the Kemp model, it is the research arm of those regional universities that will suffer. Regional universities are looking to specialise and carve a niche in the education sector, but what chance will they have to develop those specialisations, as some of our other universities have been able to do?

I now turn to the impact on a community that the Kemp model will bring. Regional universities contribute significantly to our regional centres. I know that personally, coming from Cairns and seeing the change in our community when the James Cook University of North Queensland established its campus in our city. It was a wonderful change that that university brought. The contribution of students and staff to general community activities has improved the quality of life in our centre. Under the Kemp model, those universities will not be able to contribute to the broader society of our regional towns, because they will be spending all of their time focused on the business of teaching. Can I suggest that the Kemp model follows the ideology of this government as a whole. It is back to the future. (Time expired)