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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 24211

Senator CARR (3:36 PM) —I strenuously oppose this proposition. It is completely contrary to the arrangements that were entered into by this government not more than an hour ago. Not more than an hour ago we were told that there was an agreement around the reporting date on this bill. We have a situation now where the Leader of the Government in the Senate moves in here with a proposition which is contrary to the arrangements that have been entered into. I am concerned that the government is seeking, once again, to act in a rather devious and tricky manner and to arrogantly undermine arrangements that have been made. I am very disappointed.

Senator Ian Campbell —What arrangements?

Senator CARR —You say there are no arrangements? That is what the report says. I understood that you had accepted our advice.

Senator CARR —Senator Campbell, if you are now telling me that you do not accept the date of the 27th, that is fair enough. We will have to argue this out. Perhaps I could put a couple of propositions. Very simply, we have the situation where the government has introduced an omnibus bill to amend four bills. The government is seeking, for the first time in 25 years, to move an omnibus bill across a gamut of educational issues. We have the government seeking to amend the Higher Education Funding Act 1988, HEFA; the Australian Research Council Act 2001, an act we passed just a few months ago; and the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Assistance) Act 2000. The government is seeking to introduce a measure that will increase, through establishment grants, the level of support for non-government schools by a figure of 300 per cent.

We are told that the government must have these matters by the end of June. Why do they want them by the end of June? I think it is appropriate for the Senate to have a good look at these propositions. We are entitled to examine why the government are seeking a 300 per cent increase in establishment grants for new private schools and, furthermore, why this money is to be paid automatically, without application.

Opposition senator interjecting

Senator CARR —The money is to be paid automatically. I think we are reasonable people. We are capable of examining the detail in the government's legislation in a fair and objective manner, but we are entitled to call upon the citizens of this country and ask them what they think about this proposition.

Furthermore, the government is seeking to introduce a new Postgraduate Education Loan Scheme that has quite significant cost implications. It says that this scheme will raise $36 million. There are serious questions about the cost arrangements in this proposal, and I think we are entitled to have a good look at it. Let me put to the Senate the other major reason why we ought to look at this and have a reporting date of the 27th. The Senate committee examining this legislation currently has before it four separate bills. We have Senate estimates committee work to be undertaken. We have two reference committee inquiries: one into gifted and talented children and one into higher education, where there are 340 submissions being considered. We have a substantial workload. There is already a report due back on 18 June. There is a hearing scheduled for 22 June. If you look at the number of days that are physically available for the committee to consider these functions, there are only three or four.

We are entitled to call upon citizens to ask them what they think about this bill and these propositions, but we are entitled to ask that the committee secretariat actually have the facilities and the time to process the submissions, to examine the evidence that is put before us and to compare the various pieces of documentation. Senators are entitled to have the time to consider the issues and to provide detailed reports to the Senate on what is an extremely complex matter and requires careful thought and examination by this chamber. When I put those things together, I ask this government: why are you so anxious to have these matters pushed through this parliament without proper consideration? We are entitled to know the answers to those questions. We clearly have a situation where 27 June is an opportunity for those answers to be provided. I trust that the chamber agrees with me and that there is appropriate consideration given to these weighty matters. (Time expired)