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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17277

Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (2:01 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister, and I ask him if he recalls answering a Melbourne radio talkback caller's question about university fees before the last election, when he said:

... I think the balance at the moment is about right. I'm not looking for a major increase in the contribution from students or their parents, I'm certainly not.

He then stated in relation to the same matter:

... those promises will be honoured in full ... those promises are sacrosanct.

Is the Prime Minister aware of reports today that the University of Sydney plans an across-the-board 30 per cent increase in all possible HECS fees, following the government's inequitable university changes? Won't an across-the-board 30 per cent fee hike mean a massive increase in contributions from Sydney university students and their parents, and doesn't that mean that the Prime Minister has broken his sacrosanct promise?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I remind the Leader of the Opposition that just about every time he—and his deputy is pretty good at it too—quotes something that I said, it is normally wrong or taken out of context. So I will apply the `no concession' rule to the quotation. But more generally I make the observation to the Leader of the Opposition that if he is inter-ested in making an intelligent contri-bution to the future of Australian universities he would look rather more seriously at the gov-ernment's package than he has done. I remind the Leader of the Opposition that when the former government proposed a major change—namely, the introduction of the HECS system—we did not take the negative, uncooperative attitude that the opposition is taking. We looked to the future of Australian universities. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that if he had been in the Great Hall of parliament last Thursday night and heard what the representatives of the vice-chancellors of Australia's universities had to say, he would realise how far out of touch he and the Australian Labor Party are with what is needed. What the government has done is courageously embrace reform. What the opposition is doing is confirming its continued irrelevance to the educational and economic future of Australia.