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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19776

Mr GAVAN O'CONNOR (9:53 AM) —I have great pleasure in presenting to the House a petition of 1,348 signatures, organised by the Deakin University Student Association, relating to higher education and the adverse impacts of current government policies on students who attend Deakin University. The association is concerned about the rising cost of tertiary education to its members and the rising debt levels of students. More specifically the petition supports the principle of equitable access to tertiary courses, reasserts the association's belief that access should be on the basis of merit rather than ability to repay debt, argues the case for regional universities and the need to maintain diversity of courses and research, and calls on the federal government to increase public funding for places and for research.

I congratulate those representatives from Deakin University who have travelled to Canberra to lobby directly on behalf of their members. They are with us in the chamber today. In particular, Bridget McKenzie-Edwards, President of the Deakin University Students Association; Kylie Bishop, Postgraduate Vice President; Param Thind, Undergraduate Vice President; Phillip Hunt, CEO; and, Megan Jenner, Manager, Student Support. They have also prepared an excellent submission to present to the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education References Committee inquiry into higher education funding and regulatory legislation. That submission states in detail student perspectives on changes being proposed to higher education. Recently, DUSA held a forum at Deakin's Waurn Ponds campus in Geelong, which I attended along with representatives from the Greens and the Democrats and student representatives. Sadly, the member for Corangamite was conspicuous by his absence. You cannot defend the indefensible, I guess.

Across Australia there is a rising tide of anger at the policies of this government, which can easily find $1 billion for a war on Iraq but cuts around $5 billion from higher education. It tolerates rising student-teacher ratios, increases student debt to $1 billion, creates access to courses according to the dollars that you have in your pocket and restricts course choices in regional universities, driving them to be outposts of the corporate sector, not vibrant centres of learning. It is vitally important that all students at Deakin University take an interest in these matters. It is not only existing students but also their younger brothers and sisters who will pay through the neck for these policies and who will have their opportunities curtailed by them in the long run. I present this petition to the House. (Time expired)