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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 3019

Senator PETER BAUME —My question is directed to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. I refer the Minister to the unprecedented national strike by more than 5,500 academic staff planned for later this month. I ask: Is this action the direct result of the Government's refusal to accept the original decision of the Academic Salaries Tribunal for a 5 per cent pay rise and a reflection of grave concern that the Minister will not be able to deliver on the Australian Labor Party's pre-election promises on education funding? Why did the Government go back to the Tribunal when it had a clear commitment when in opposition to accept the rulings of the Tribunal? Has the Minister seen today's statement from the presidents of the staff associations at Queensland's three universities which is headed 'Academic Morale Shattered by Government Duplicity'? Does she agree with the associations that Labor has kept one of its promises, namely, that it would change the Academic Salaries Tribunal because, according to the associations' presidents, the Government has 'brought the Tribunal to its knees' ?

Senator RYAN —I find Senator Baume's series of questions quite extraordinary since he was sitting in the chamber yesterday-

Senator Chaney —Try us on the answers.

Senator RYAN —It is not unusual, of course, that one has to deal with these extraordinary questions from Senator Baume, who was actually sitting in the chamber yesterday when I explained, quite clearly, what the Government's response was to the Ludeke decision. I refer Senator Baume to that explanation recorded in yesterday's Hansard. He will see that the Government has accepted the Ludeke decision. The Government has accepted that there will be a 5 per cent increase in academic salaries and the Government has accepted the second part of the decision, which came after a further submission from the Government, that that increase will be phased in. The academics will be getting their salary increase. They will be getting a 5 per cent salary increase. The Ludeke decision is that they will get 2 per cent of it in the first 12 months and 3 per cent in the following 12 months. It defies comprehension that Senator Baume should start ranting and raving about rejecting the Ludeke decision. The Ludeke decision, in its two parts, has been accepted: The 5 per cent salary increase decision has been accepted by the Government and the phasing decision-a 2 per cent rise for the first 12 months and 3 per cent rise for the next 12 months-has been accepted .

As to the views of the various unions representing academics, I can only tell the Senate that I had a very lengthy and very constructive session with the executive of the Federation of Australian University Staff Associations, the national organisation representing the staff in universities, just this morning. I cannot make any comments on wild claims about unprecedented industrial action. I believe that academics in this country have a lot of good sense. They understand that a decision has been made by a tribunal. Although they may express disappointment that they are not getting their salary increase straight away-that they are getting 2 per cent straight away instead of 5 per cent straight away-I do not believe that there will be any widespread disruption on campuses as a result.

In conclusion, it really is an extraordinary performance by Senator Baume suddenly to profess sympathy for academics after the seven years of cutbacks, sacking and reductions for which his Government-the Government of which he was a member-was responsible. The reason higher education institutions in this country are in the difficult condition they are in is to be found if one examines the budgetary decisions in the seven years of the Fraser Government. In capital funding alone for higher education there was a 50 per cent real decrease and there was a 12 per cent real decrease in current funding at a time at which student numbers were increasing. Yet Senator Baume has the hide to come in here and criticise our Government because it has agreed to a two-part decision of the Academic Salaries Tribunal.

Senator PETER BAUME —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. My question concerned the decision of the academic staff to go on strike this month. I ask the Minister: Why are 5,500 academics planning to go on strike later this month?

Senator RYAN —I am not aware that 5,500 academics are planning to go on strike. That matter was not put to me this morning in my extensive consultations with FAUSA. If such a decision is made, I am sure the academics are quite articulate enough to explain to the world why they are taking that action, if indeed they take it.