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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20146


Ms BURKE (3:25 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Does the Prime Minister recall telling the parliament before the last election:

There will be no $100,000 university fees under this government.

Prime Minister, isn't it a fact that the Howard government is planning to introduce legislation that will double the number of full fee degrees costing as much as $150,000? Prime Minister, isn't this yet another instance of misleading the Australian public?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I will check the basis of the allegation; I do not remember to the precise paragraph everything that I have said. I take the opportunity posed by the question asked by the member for Chisholm to say something about the nature of our higher education policy. In doing that, I want to congratulate the Minister for Education, Science and Training on the outstanding job that he has done.

This is a very difficult policy area and, as with all difficult policy areas, the Labor Party faced a choice. They could either do what they habitually do—that is, behave like an opportunistic rabble whenever any decent policy alternative is put forward—or actually join in trying to pass into law some improvements. If they were to win the support of the Australian people at the next election, then they would have the opportunity of reversing those changes as the government of this country. But instead of that the Labor Party are intent on the tactics of obstruction, delay and opportunism in this as they have been in so many other areas.

The people who will lose as a result of this are the students of Australia. We do need more money in our universities; that is evident. The budget cannot afford to provide all of the money. It is therefore only natural and logical that some of it should be provided by the budget and some of it should come from outside the budget through a managed and sensible deregulation of the system. We make no apology for that. We are in the business of injecting more funds into our universities, but we are honest enough to say to the Australian people: `The budget cannot afford all of the resources that our universities need. They can only be afforded, they can only be provided, through higher taxation.'

What we have done is say: `We will provide more fully funded places.' On top of that, we will allow the universities to have more student funded places, or full fee paying places. One of the great pieces of misrepresentation of our policy—and it is implicit in the question asked by the member for Chisholm—is that, under our policy, in future all degrees will be at a figure of some $100,000. That is the lie. That is the misrepresentation that the members of the Labor Party have endeavoured to put around. I want to take this opportunity of confirming in the parliament—



The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Jagajaga!


Mr HOWARD —that under our policy there will be a very significant increase in the number of government funded HECS places. Contrary to the distortions put around by the Labor Party, there will be significant increases. The only way that you can responsibly get the additional resources that our universities need is to have a combination of more money from private sources and government sources.



The SPEAKER —The member for Jagajaga is defying the chair.


Mr HOWARD —We are not going to indulge the fantasy. We are not going to delude the Australian people into believing that the budget is a bottomless pit when it comes to providing additional funding to universities. We are prepared to provide a lot more money to universities, but we are up front and honest enough with the Australian people to say that the private sector will have to contribute its share and make its contribution. The Labor Party, as I said, have two choices. They can respond responsibly and seek through the electoral process to win the support of the Australian public. If they win the next election, an opposition in the Senate will behave in the same responsible way that the opposition in the Senate behaved before 1996 when, on important issues—when we could have played the opportunistic game—



Mr HOWARD —I notice the member for Brand is interjecting. The member for Brand well remembers some of the conversations he had about getting our support when he knew you could not get the support of the Democrats. The reality is that, if it had not been for the responsible stance that we took, many of the very difficult issues that came up during the Hawke-Keating years would never have been passed into law. If we had played the fast and loose opportunistic game on financial deregulation, on tariff reform, on the introduction of higher education charges—



The SPEAKER —The member for Blaxland!


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Prime Minister is ranting and raving, drifting back into a time a few decades ago. The question was actually about university fees today. He has not been relevant for five minutes—


The SPEAKER —I heard the Prime Minister make a comment about university fees, the funding of them and the consequent impact on the budget, and he is relevant.


Mr HOWARD —I was asked a question about the government's plans for Australian universities—



The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Jagajaga!


Mr HOWARD —I was not only explaining the basis of our policy but inviting the Australian Labor Party, for once in 7½ years, to behave like a responsible opposition and look to the national interest.



The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Blaxland!


Mr HOWARD —I was contrasting the behaviour of Labor in opposition to the responsible behaviour of the coalition in opposition, when on important issues we put Australia first—something you have failed to do over 7½ years.


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. He has lost the plot.


The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat or I will deal with him!


Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.


Ms Burke —Mr Speaker, I seek leave to table a document.


The SPEAKER —I will recognise the member for Chisholm even though questions are on the Notice Paper. Could I have more detail about the document?


Ms Burke —I want to help the Prime Minister's memory—


The SPEAKER —Member for Chisholm, I want to know what document you seek to table.


Ms Burke —I am seeking leave to table an extract from Hansard from the last parliament where the Prime Minister clearly stated:

There will be no $100,000 university fees under this government.

Leave granted.