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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 8280

Mr ZAPPIA (9:52 AM) —I continue my remarks in respect of the Higher Education Support Amendment (2009 Budget Measures) Bill 2009. I note and welcome that this bill offers increased support for nursing and teaching. These are two professions of which there is a shortage in the community. In the teaching profession, in 1990 the student to teacher ratio was 13 students for every one teacher. In 2006 this ratio has increased to 20 students for every one teacher. Many of the teachers in the workforce are nearing retirement age. As the population ages and the baby-boomer generation begin to retire, we can expect to face serious shortages in both the teaching and nursing professions.

The training of nurses has been given an additional boost by the Rudd government’s investment of $275 million in some 31 GP superclinics around Australia. Recently the Prime Minister and the federal Minister for Health and Ageing were in Adelaide to announce details of three GP superclinics there. These clinics deliver on key promises made during the 2007 election campaign.

The Modbury GP superclinic in my electorate of Makin is a combined $25 million project between state and federal governments. As well as providing a range of GP and allied health services, a critical component of the Modbury GP superclinic will be training. The government is currently in discussions with the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia to provide much needed opportunities for the education and training of health professionals, including GPs, nurses and allied health practitioners, at the Modbury GP superclinic site. This is a further example of what the Rudd government is doing to support the training of nurses and address the shortage of nurses within the community.

The bill also extends HECS-HELP benefits to teaching and nursing graduates. These benefits, which previously applied to maths and science graduates, will mean reduced HELP repayments—that is, Higher Education Loan Plan repayments—for eligible teaching and nursing graduates who go on to work in the field. This measure should encourage graduates from these courses to work in the professions and thereby help address critical shortages of trained workers in these professions.

I also commend the measures in the bill that focus on research, and the rewards and incentives the bill offers Australia’s universities for increasing their research capacity. Universities do more than educate students. They are also centres of research and frequently partner with government, industry and the community to develop critical new ideas and concepts. It is through university based research that we will develop many of the solutions to the issues facing our community in the 21st century such as climate change, water and an ageing population. It is often through research that Australian universities, regardless of their geographical location, are able to compete on the world stage.

Our universities provide some of the best research and development facilities in Australia. In my own region the University of South Australia works closely with many of the high technology and defence industries in the region. In 2002, when the FedSat satellite was launched from Japan, the Mawson Lakes campus of the University of South Australia was associated with the development of a critical component of the satellite. I was privileged at that time to be invited to the university to see a direct telecast of the launching of the satellite. Again, that was only as a result of the local university having been involved.

Only yesterday evening I met Amber Stubek, a young lady from the University of Ballarat’s Internet Commerce Security Laboratory, who is working with the Australian Federal Police, Westpac, IBM and the Australian Defence Force on a cybercrime prevention program as part of a PhD thesis that she has undertaken. This is another example of research being carried out by one of our universities on a matter that is going to become increasingly important in the prevention of cyber based crime. Cybercrime is occurring on an increasing basis not only here in Australia but throughout the world and is difficult to detect and prevent. I believe the work that Amber is carrying out will be very important to our future efforts to prevent cybercrime.

I also welcome the performance funding measures associated with this bill. As recipients of public funding, universities should also be publicly accountable for those funds. Performance funding, properly measured—and I stress ‘properly measured’ because we do not want league tables to be used in a manner which distorts the true performance of universities—is in the public interest. The public have a right to know how public funds are being used and how effectively they are being used.

In summary, this bill contains a number of measures in response to the Bradley review of higher education. It reverses the decline in real public expenditure on higher education in Australia that we have seen in recent years. I welcome these measures and commend the bill to the House.