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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21545

Mr RIPOLL (7:07 PM) —As I said earlier in my contribution on the Higher Education Support Bill 2003 and the Higher Education Support (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill 2003, never before has so much been done by a government to so many for so little in return. Labor is proposing eight amendments, and they look at a range of failings within the legislation put forward by the government and the Minister for Education, Science and Training.

Labor's amendment (1) is about removing the prescriptive elements of funding agreements to continue the cooperative arrangements between government and universities. This is an important mark in terms of the way that universities are managed and the structural freedom that universities have enjoyed for many years. We see here a minister and a government that want incredible power to micromanage universities. It is important that the universities, the vice-chancellors and their own bodies are able to deal with the full spectrum of the way that universities are governed.

Labor has proposed further amendments, particularly in relation the governance and industrial relations conditions on funding. It is incredible that the government would actually put in place an extortion style measure which would hinge funding on the way that universities deal with industrial relations—the way they deal with their staff and the way they manage their universities. They have said to the universities, `If you do not come on board with what we prescribe in terms of the way we want you to deal with staff then we will keep funding from you.' They will prevent funding going to universities if they cannot get their aggressive industrial relations measures through in any other manner. We hear the government and the minister always going on about this—they are anti pattern bargaining, anti union and anti the way that things are properly done. But what we find in their legislation is that they have put in place standard clauses for their enterprise agreements—they actually want to use pattern bargaining themselves.

That is typical of the hypocritical nature of the minister, this government and the things that are contained in this legislation, particularly when we look at the damage that has been done to higher education since the Howard government has been in office. In that time there have been funding cuts of $5 billion to education—something that is so crucial to the future of young people in Australia. It is not a cost; this government believes it is a cost, but it is an investment. You do not cut out investments, because you get less return. But instead, this government cuts funding by $5 billion.

Labor's amendment (3) looks at abolishing up-front fee places and removing ministerial discretion—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The member for Oxley would be aware we are debating amendment (4).

Mr RIPOLL —I beg your pardon, Mr Deputy Speaker. Labor will remove the 30 per cent HECS increase and ministerial discretion. There is no way in the world that the government can convince me, Labor, young people, families or anyone else out there that somehow it is fair, appropriate or otherwise an investment in the future of young people to make education more expensive and involve bigger debts by increasing fees by 30 per cent.

The interesting thing about the government's increase of 30 per cent is that they forgot the little part in the legislation that says that it is capped. We know the universities will immediately take up the 30 per cent—when you say that something is `up to' that is the point where people normally immediately move to. But we know that the government will not only take it up to 30 per cent but go even higher as the universities deem it necessary. We will also, of course, see ministerial discretion in the minister's ability to prescribe that certain courses should be full fee paying.

This is completely unfair; it is completely anti investment in terms of young people and the opportunities they seek. At the end of the day, this is about the hopes and dreams of young people and the opportunities they seek. They might not all want to go to university and they might not all have that aspiration, but we should at least—as a government and a parliament, and as people who make the laws and regulations—give them the opportunity to go there if that is what they choose to do. We should give them that opportunity based on merit, not financial circumstance—not on how wealthy their parents are but on how well they do at school and how much they want to achieve their place. It might be university that fulfils their dream, and the government should make it easier to get there, not harder. That is what young people are seeking and what young families want—they know that it is the great Australian dream. (Time expired)