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Friday, 19 April 1985
Page: 1261

Senator TEAGUE —My question is directed to the Minister for Finance. I refer the Minister to a letter in today's issue of the National Times in which the member for Makin, Mr Peter Duncan, accuses Senator Walsh and his Department of intellectual dishonesty over the Minister's support for reintroduction of tertiary education fees. Referring to the argument that those who benefit from education should pay at least part of the cost, Mr Duncan says:

This argument is as spurious as it is simple.

Given Australian concern for equity and access in educational resources, does the Minister accept Mr Duncan's contention that later research than that quoted by Senator Walsh has established that the abolition of fees has markedly increased the participation rates of disadvantaged students?

Senator WALSH —Senator Teague has found the question. I am not sure whether I can find the answer. I did see that letter. I looked through it quickly and saw a reference to intellectual honesty. If I may say so, I thought the letter itself was a bit lacking in intellectual honesty, particularly when the major peg of the argument was the claim that low income groups would be deterred from entering university if my proposition-as it was described-was introduced. Mr Duncan knows very well, because he has been told to his face, that the proposition which I suggested would have totally excluded any fees being imposed on low income groups. So I think intellectual honesty is a subject on which Mr Duncan could take a few lessons himself. On the alternative proposal for funding it from general taxpayers' funds, one of the problems is that people rarely volunteer to pay taxes. One of the reasons for converting pensions into lump sum payments is the very powerful taxation advantages-indeed, to the point of almost no taxation at all-of taking a payment as a lump sum, whereas if a payment is taken as a pension it is, of course, taxable. That concession is particularly attractive to someone who is on, say, an MP's income. That has been changed by this Government. Those extraordinarily generous lump sum-virtually completely tax exempt-provisions do not apply but they did apply on entitlements accrued until 1 July 1983.

Senator TEAGUE —Mr President, I wish to ask a supplementary question. I refer the Minister to the last part of my question about later research. Has the Minister considered the evidence since Anderson in 1976, some eight years ago?

Senator WALSH —I have seen a table which compares some figures for 1974 and 1979 and which purports to test the effect of the removal of tertiary fees. I just note for the record that tertiary fees did not apply in either 1974 or 1979. So as well as intellectual honesty a bit of intellectual rigour seems to have been lacking because I thought that the fundamental principle of science was that one attempts to test the effects of one variable by isolating it-in other words by taking one variable out of a model or something and seeing what changed after that one variable was removed. In the case of that comparison between 1974 and 1979 fees did not apply in either year, although I acknowledged that to some degree there was a pipeline effect. But the people who prepared that comparison clearly could do with a bit of training in basic scientific principle as well.