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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 609

Mr McGAURAN(5.06) —Before the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones) lapsed into that political rhetoric for which he is so well known, towards the conclusion of his contribution, I found his comments quite fascinating. Indeed, it can be said that the bulk of his speech, if not most of it, was spent refuting arguments put forward by the shadow Minister for Education, the honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack), yet he concluded by saying that the honourable member for Tangney had a hide for speaking about vision-the proposals of the Opposition for reforming an increasingly outdated higher education system. Not one constructive proposal was put forward as representing government policy. Instead, the Minister's entire time was spent attempting to dismantle the arguments put forward by the honourable member for Tangney.

The Minister for Science would have us believe that he readily acknowledges the benefits to the Australian education system of overseas students paying a full fee, but he then stopped short of accepting the argument put forward by the Opposition for full paying students at private educational facilities. The Minister told us, generously, that he was not violently opposed-to use his words-to private universities or colleges of advanced education, yet he failed to articulate exactly what was holding him back from embracing the idea. However, he did say that an idea such as a private institution would require a reorganisation of universities so as to allow round the clock utilisation of all the facilities. He spoke very highly of his experiences in the United States, Canada and Western European countries. All of those countries allow proper utilisation of university facilities. The Minister told us that that multiple use would have to be tied in to the full fee paying student.

What is stopping us? If we are prepared to acknowledge that the higher education system in this country is failing 30,000 students this year-more than double the 14,000 students last year, approximately, who failed to gain a place despite their qualifications-why can we not radically look at how our higher education system works? The Minister seemed to say complacently that there were some very good points in the contribution of the shadow Minister for Education, yet he would not pick up any of them properly.

The Minister went on to speak about privately funded chairs. He accepts them. He dismissed out of hand privately funded faculties, but again he failed to tell us--

Mr Barry Jones —I said they hadn't happened.

Mr McGAURAN —The Minister tells us that they had not happened. They will not happen because he will not allow them. This Federal Government has a monopoly on every higher education institution. When a proposal such as the Bond University is put up the Government knocks it on the head and does everything it can to prevent it. To that extent it bears the odium for keeping so many of those students who are qualified out of their proper entitlements.

The Minister then went on to speak about competition. I, and I am sure my colleagues join me in this, got hopelessly confused when the Minister spoke about whether we can permit competition in our higher education facilities. All he told us is that he was sympathetic to the idea of competition. Quite frankly, perhaps a closer examination of the transcript of his remarks will assist us.

The Minister brushed very quickly over the suggestion of bureaucratic inertia which was outlined by the shadow Minister for Education. He then concluded, of course, by trotting out that good old favourite-working class participation in higher education. Of course, it is hopelessly unsatisfactory. Honourable members should ask the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) in the Senate. He has been trying desperately to get this Government to acknowledge that, if anything, there has been a decline in blue collar socio-economic background participation in higher education. So the Minister should not come into this chamber with the sanctimonious rhetoric into which he falls too easily. I find that he failed to answer properly any of the points raised by the shadow Minister. He equivocated and was quite uncertain in his own mind just what needs to be done but to his undying credit he did admit that something has to be done. Something radical certainly has to be done because there would not be a member of this House who does not have the frequent experience of students and parents complaining about the education system. Admittedly, many of those complaints are about curriculum, the standard of teaching, discipline, courses such as human development, human sciences, peace studies, the Human Rights Commission's interference with, we are told, some 200 schools and all of those matters which mostly belong with State governments. However, the fact remains that in this country in the age group between 16 and 24 only 35 per cent of youths are participating in higher education. In America the figure is a staggering 73 per cent.

Mr Saunderson —Perhaps you had better repeat that. What period of time?

Mr McGAURAN —The honourable member for Aston asked me to detail the period for which those figures were compiled.They are for the year 1984. Moreover, the percentage of the labor force qualified to the first degree level in Australia--

Government members-What is your record?

Mr McGAURAN —Government members are asking what our record is. Our record is a very proud one. The problem with this Government is like that with the hospital waiting lists which continue to grow. The number of qualified students who are turned away from higher education has grown dramatically in this Government's four years in office. We will not allow the Government to continue to perpetuate the myth that all economic ills of the present day fall within the responsibility of the previous coalition Government. Nobody in this place and certainly nobody outside it buys that.

The Government spends $5.2 billion on higher education, which represents some 7 per cent of total outlays. So we are entitled to ask just what value we receive for taxpayers' dollars. Very sadly, the taxpayer believes that he or she gets very little value for those dollars. What really needs to be done is, first, to allow institutions to enrol additional students. If we are to enable those students, who are presently turned away, despite their qualifications, we have to allow institutions to enrol additional students on top of the tax funded places. Obviously the financial arrangement under which this occurs must be acceptable to both the institution and the students concerned. As I have said, this already applies to overseas students and there is no argument in logic for preventing Australian students from obtaining their proper entitlement at their own cost.

Secondly, institutions have to be freed up and encouraged to supplement government funds through their own revenue raising activities. Of course. this would not jeopardise in any way their right to continued public support. Thirdly-I have already touched on this matter, as has the Minister for Science, representing the Minister for Education-private institutions have to be encouraged and fostered. It is only then that we will boost the overall number of students. In the very short time left to me I want to touch on the problems associated with Austudy.

Mr Cobb —What a failure!

Mr McGAURAN —`What a failure', the honourable member for Parkes says and he is joined by the honourable member for Gilmore (Mr Sharp). There is no question that Austudy, which comes on the heels of Priority One: Young Australia and the drug campaign, has proved to be an administrative failure. Once again every member of this chamber bears the odium for that. When young students or their distressed parents come to see us they do not differentiate whether we are a member of the Government party, which is entirely responsible for the mess, or whether we are a member of the Opposition, which has alternative proposals. Parents want to know why their children are denied education, why their proper entitlement under Austudy is several weeks late. This Government is famous for raising expectations and just as famous for never following them through. There is a growing cynicism amongst young people which the Government started with Priority One and which it seems determined to continue with every successive massive publicity campaign.

A number of other matters really need to be touched on in this debate on higher education. The shadow Minister and I have outlined the concrete, constructive proposals of the Opposition finally to address the fundamental flaws, the basic conceptual inadequacies, upon which this Government has built its higher education policy. The Minister for Science readily acknowledged these but he failed to detail any future action.