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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17046

Mr KING (2:29 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Would the minister inform the House of the most recent responses to the government's higher education policy? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —I thank the member for Wentworth for his question and, through the process of reviewing Australian universities, for his strong advocacy both for the University of New South Wales and for the Australian Institute of Music, whose 900 students for the first time will be able to access a government loan to assist them in their education. This week Australia's vice-chancellors are meeting the Australian parliament, and they issued a media release on 17 June in support of the government's transformational $1.5 billion higher education reforms. They said:

Overall, the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee endorses the direction and commitment for reform put forward by the government. For our part, we will work with all political parties and stakeholders to ensure that the necessary legislation is implemented.

I have been asked about alternative policies. I regret to say that, sadly, there are not many. The spokesperson jointly for the Australian Labor Party and for the Leader of the Opposition on higher education is, of course, the member for Jagajaga. If we go back to 27 October 2002, a Channel 7 reporter asked the member for Jagajaga:

The talk is fine, but the concrete ideas, when will we see those?

The member for Jagajaga replied:

Well, you'll see them progressively over the next 12 months or so.

Fair enough, the member for Wentworth might say. Then on 27 May 2003, the member for Jagajaga told the Adelaide Advertiser:

Labor would release its alternative higher education package in coming weeks.

In mid-June 2003—this month—the Leader of the Opposition went to the University of Western Sydney and said:

What I'll be doing in coming weeks is to lay out the blueprint in terms of education.

You are going to like this, Mr Speaker: four days later, on 15 June, the Leader of the Opposition was interviewed on the Channel 9 Sunday program—and those who attended the mid-year ball last year would have again been impressed by John Clark and Brian Dawe; if you are wondering where they get some of their material, I can give you some inspiration. The Leader of the Opposition said:

Well, it's a continuing piece of work.

The reporter asked:

Do we ever see anything from it?

The Leader of the Opposition replied:

Of course you do, because its timetable was always in the context of the national conference.

The reporter said:

But no-one seems to know where it is.

The Leader of the Opposition replied:

I know where it is.

The reporter then asked:

Can you tell me where it is? You say you know where it is. Where is it?

The Leader of the Opposition replied:

It's a work in progress.

As a postscript, the member for Jagajaga yesterday was asked by a reporter:

When do you plan to launch your policies?

The member for Jagajaga said:


The reporter asked:

How soon?

The member for Jagajaga replied:

You'll have to wait and see.

So over the past year as the government has been getting on with the process of building Australia's future and, in particular, that which will be driven in Australia's 38 publicly funded universities and its 84 private ones, the Australian Labor Party has not agreed to participate in any meaningful way in any serious policy debate about the future of Australian universities, has sought to make the Australian public think that they have a policy that is about to be released and has opposed at every step everything the government has sought to do in working cooperatively with Australia's vice-chan-cellors—many of whom I see in the gallery here today and who are very welcome and who have shown outstanding leadership over the past year. Now that the government has announced a $10.6 billion 10-year program for Australian universities, the Australian Labor Party is opposed to it.

One of the vice-chancellors I see in the gallery is Professor Gerard Sutton, who this week was interviewed by Maxine McKew—who would be well known to us here—in the Bulletin. Professor Sutton, who heads one of the most outstanding universities in the country that enjoys a very high international reputation, notwithstanding the very high reputation it has in the Illawarra region, said:

Labor is quite wrong. My view is that overall the package is a strong positive for the universities. $1.5 billion of new money in the sector is a substantial increase in anybody's language. I would have hoped that Labor would be prepared to negotiate on it because, if this package goes down in the Senate, then universities will be facing a genuine crisis.

Let those words be recorded, because they will record, if the Labor Party does not constructively engage in this debate about Australia's future, that it was the Labor Party that was responsible for precipitating an educational, economic and social crisis in higher education for which the future generation will pay a very high price.