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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17048

Mr WILKIE (2:34 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Does the minister recall last night giving the member for Ballarat the following guarantee:

The last thing the government will be doing is reducing places at the University of Ballarat. Nor, indeed, will the government be reducing places at Deakin University.

In light of his guarantee to the member for Ballarat, will the minister also guarantee that he will not remove any of the Curtin university's 1,025 marginally funded places?

Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —I thank the member for Swan for his question. There are a number of very important issues in this. When I met with the state and territory ministers at the University of Ballarat in October, I said to them that there were four things that had to be addressed by the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments collectively whatever happened with higher education reform. One of the four things was that the states and territories should work cooperatively with the Commonwealth in developing a system that would enable us to distribute future places in higher education right across Australia.

As the member for Moncrieff and members of other Queensland electorates will know—as will the member for Swan and the member for Canning—our key priorities in future growth lie in Western Australia and in South-East Queensland. One of the things that are critically important in this package is that the government has announced that what it will do over a four-year period is to fully fund 25,000 over-enrolled, marginally funded places in Australian universities. At the moment, 8.2 per cent of all undergraduate places in Australian universities are over enrolled, and they are attracting only a quarter of the amount of public money that the government is proposing to put in at a cost of $347.6 million over four years in this package.

What the government will be doing is negotiating and working, as we have for more than a year, with the leaders of Australian universities, with the state and territory govern-ments, and I invite the Labor Party—still—to participate cooperatively in designing the future of Australian higher education. It is important that the Australian Party understand. I think the Sydney Morning Herald put it very well. Prior to the budget, the Sydney Morning Herald

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister will resume his seat.

Mr Wilkie —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. My question called for a guarantee in the same way a guarantee was given last night.

The SPEAKER —The member for Swan will resume his seat. That is a frivolous point of order.

Dr NELSON —The Sydney Morning Herald put it, I think, very well on 2 May 2003 when it said that, in this context, New South Wales would lose almost 6,000 university places by 2005. The reason it was reporting this was that universities right across Australia are in the process of reducing the over-enrolled places. As announced in this package the government will fully fund 25,000 over-enrolled marginally funded places, including those at Curtin university. The only guarantee that I can give the Labor Party and the only guarantee that I can give the men and women who have come from Australia's universities is that, if the Labor Party does not engage in this process constructively and do it now, there will be a crisis for which the future generations of Western Australia, in particular, will pay a very high price and the Labor Party will go down in infamy.