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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15587

Ms MACKLIN (2:32 PM) —My question is to the minister for education. Didn't the minister for education recently state that he would not be prepared to pay $135,000 for his medical degree? Is the minister for education aware that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne confirmed last week that Melbourne University will charge Australian full-fee medical students $150,000 for their degree? Does the minister stand by his statement that `it wouldn't be fair to make students pay $135,000 for a university medical degree, because that's not what's happening'? Minister, if it is unfair to charge students $135,000 in full fees for a medical degree, why do the proposed unfair changes allow the University of Melbourne to charge even more? If the minister would not pay that much for a degree, aren't full-fee degrees out of the reach of most Australians?

Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —I thank the member for Jagajaga for her question. In response to a question from a young person who asked me whether I thought it would be fair to force young people going into medicine to pay $135,000 to do a medical degree, I said, no, I did not think it would be fair and that precisely is not what the government is doing.

The persistent and rather repetitive nature of the questions from the opposition suggest that they do not understand the nature of these reforms, so I thought it might be appropriate to explain the reforms to higher education in a way that the opposition might understand. I should firstly say that in relation to medicine the government is increasing by 1,170 over the first five years the number of fully funded HECS places in Australian medical schools. But, having expanded the number of HECS places in medicine, the government is also allowing universities for the first time to offer a full fee paying, unsubsidised government place to an Australian citizen who is eligible for it in the same way that a student from Beijing or Jakarta would be offered one.

The SPEAKER —The minister will resume his seat. In order to allow question time to take its normal course, I did not interrupt the member for Jagajaga even though her question did contain some argument which would, in a technical way, have placed it outside the standing orders. I expect her to extend the same courtesy to me and, through me, to the minister.

Dr NELSON —Just to explain it in terms that might perhaps be more understandable to the opposition, I was thinking of drivers and mechanics—

The SPEAKER —The member for Rankin.

Dr NELSON —So I thought to myself, let us imagine that a university is a bus. The driver of the bus is quite distressed, quite distracted. The driver has to look back all the time over his shoulder to see what is going on behind him. Into the bus are crowded rows and rows—each row representing a course—of students. They are crammed in, packed into luggage racks and hanging on to the straps in the aisle, and there are rows of mechanics sitting there with their tool boxes.

Dr Emerson —And you've slashed the seats.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Rankin!

Dr NELSON —The government has now come along and said, `Right, we will now buy you a brand-new bus. It's going to be a longer bus; there are going to be a lot more seats on this bus; every person is going to be sitting down on the bus and they are going to have a quality journey as they go through their educational experience.'

Let us assume that we are talking about medicine. We have the Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, Professor Rory Hume, standing at the door counting down the university entrance scores. He goes, `99.7, yes, you've got into medicine; 99.6, yes, you've got in; 99.5, yes, you've got in; 99.4, sorry, you haven't got in.' The vice-chancellor then says, `You can take up another seat in the bus. You can do engineering or you can do science or, if you like, if you've had your heart set on being a doctor since you were a very young girl, we've got a trailer on the back of the bus and you can get into that trailer. You'll get a quality experience in the trailer; you will train to be a doctor in the same way as the people in the bus will train. But, unlike the people in the bus, the taxpayer is not going to pay for three-quarters of your journey; you'll have to pay full tote odds. If you want to, to help you to pay for your trip to study to be a doctor, you'll be able to get a loan from the government.'

Honourable members interjecting

Ms Burke —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Everybody is finding this amusing, but the point of relevance is the absolute contempt for this parliament—

The SPEAKER —The member for Chisholm will resume her seat. I warn the member for Chisholm! That was a direct abuse of the standing orders.

Dr NELSON —Of course, what is happening, as the vice-chancellor is carefully explaining to the student who is disappointed—

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Grayndler!

Dr NELSON —that she missed out on a place in medicine, having wanted to be a doctor since she was five—as he is explaining that there will now be a full fee paying place available in the trailer at the back of the bus—the member for Werriwa is standing on his toolbox and yelling out the window, `Don't let her on. I'm smarter than her. I got a HECS place at university and I don't want any of these people playing the full fare to get in.'

Dr NELSON —Exactly. It is reverse elitism of the worst possible kind. This government is expanding the number of HECS places that are available at universities, and creating a world-class, quality educational experience for Australian students and future generations. For the first time, those students who miss out on a HECS funded place—which are expanding in number—will be offered full fee paying places and loans to help pay for them. As Maxine McKew asked the member for Melbourne last week in the Bulletin magazine—she asks good questions, this lady, very good questions; I wonder who is having lunch with her this week—where on earth is Labor's blueprint for universities? `I dunno,' says Tanner, `but there's no question we've got a big challenge there.' You sure have.