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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23300


Mr TICEHURST (2:40 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Would the minister inform the House of the widespread support for the passing of the government's $1.5 billion reform package Backing Australia's Future?


Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —I thank the member for Dobell for his question and, along with the members for Robertson and for Paterson, for his very strong support for the University of Newcastle. From this package Newcastle university will receive a minimum of $19 million extra public funding in the first three years, before it even receives additional money for the training of nurses and teachers, before it accesses $138 million for quality teaching and learning and before it even accesses extra money to support payment of its academics. In fact, Professor Terence Lovat, the Pro Vice-Chancellor of the central coast campuses of the University of Newcastle, in writing to all members of the Senate in support of the government's higher education reforms said in part in the conclusion to his letter:

It seems to me that the government has come up with the first viable growth plan in 15 years, including one with the inbuilt equity of all places being free at the point of access. This latter feature would continue to see us one of the very few places in the world where one can enter university cost-free until one is secure in employment. The only direct result of Backing Australia's Future failing will be a lot less money for the sector and a lot more eligible candidates missing out on a place. Included among these latter will be some hundreds, if not thousands, of young people from my area of responsibility, one of the neediest areas of Australia. Granted the difficulty of any government moving an issue like higher education through the legislative process as is currently in train, my worst fear would be that there will be no re-entering of the debate for half a decade or more. Under this scenario the damage to the sector and to areas like the one I represent would be untold.

Today also the Courier-Mail in Queensland, editorialising on the matter, said:

It would be in the best interests of Australian students, current and future, for the legislation to pass. The worst possible outcome, no reform and no extra funding, would be calamitous in terms of overcrowded classrooms and laboratories and shrinking opportunities for school leavers.

Finally, the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, in a media release entitled `The time for agreement is now', said yesterday:

Vice-Chancellors have already reached a reasonable agreement with the government involving significant compromises on both sides and have agreed to support the government's overall package with the Vice-Chancellors' amendments incorporated.

That includes more than $200 million in enhancements which I announced last week, including 1,400 extra HECS places and 7,500 more scholarships for living expenses for low-income rural students. It is time to support the government in putting Australia's interests first and to support higher education reform.