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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1673

Senator PETER BAUME(5.03) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

We are very grateful for the tabling of this paper on behalf of the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan). I would also like to place on record my appreciation of the briefing on the document which the Chairman of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, Mr Hugh Hudson, gave me this morning. The paper proposes major changes to the Commonwealth structure which oversights post-school education; a structure which has previously exhibited what Senator Sir John Carrick called, when he introduced it, creative tension between four different statutory bodies, four different commissions. One is the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission and the three others are the sectoral councils-the Universities Council, the Advanced Education Council and the Technical and Further Education Council.

The report proposes some major shifts in power. For a start, it proposes abolition of the three statutory councils-the Universities Council, the Advanced Education Council and the TAFE Council-and their replacement by advisory bodies with little statutory power. This will mean that the Chairman of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, and the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission itself, will now hold all real power at the Commonwealth level in this area. This is a decision which the Government has taken which we will have to examine and on which we will seek advice from those who make up the sectors as to whether they see this as an appropriate or a threatening move. At the moment I do not wish to comment. I merely indicate to the Government that we will take advice and find out what the clients in the community think about the proposal.

The paper, however, also makes other recommendations. It recommends that there be the devolution of certain approvals for certain courses and certain course extensions to institutions; that is, it proposes that institutions should not have to go to the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission each time they want to change any particular course. This makes very good sense and it will help to streamline the administration. The paper also proposes that a discipline be imposed on the CTEC and that there be a deadline of three months within which the Tertiary Education Commission should be able to respond to certain proposals from the post-school institutions. Again, this kind of discipline which has been proposed by the CTEC is very good. I would like to see it put into effect and I commend that proposal to the Government. The paper also proposes new capacities to initiate the gathering of statistics and I would be interested to see what the Government's response to that proposal will be.

However, several problems still remain. The whole post-school sector faces problems which relate to its existence as a sector which is a Treasury mendicant. It is totally dependent upon funding from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, funding from government, and to that extent decisions in post-school education are taken on grounds of Treasury capacity rather than on grounds of educational need and educational priority. This is a matter which is not addressed in this paper and which the government sooner or later must address. While it is not the subject matter of this paper, it is one of the central questions facing higher education and post-school education in Australia. It remains a problem even after this review. This review really concerns arrangements within the government sector.

The other matter which has not been addressed in this paper, although it has been referred to, is the kinds of relations which exist between the Commonwealth, which is the funding agency, and the States, which is the level of government which has all of the statutory power in relation to universities, colleges of advanced education and TAFE. It has become quite apparent over the last few years that the States have been initiating co-ordinating bodies for the sole purpose of trying to retain some power vis-a-vis the Commonwealth, which has total funding power. It has meant that the States have been setting up almost duplicate administrative structures and that the States have been trying to restrict the capacity of universities and colleges to deal directly with the Commonwealth by means of legislation through the various co-ordination bodies-the Higher Education Board in New South Wales, the Victorian Post-Secondary Education Committee, and so on-in the different States, the different Boards which effect co-ordination. I do not believe that this paper really resolves those problems, although it does attempt to address them slightly. In summary, I welcome the paper. I will be seeking responses within the sectors as to whether the central proposition is one which we should welcome. Again, I thank Mr Hudson for the briefing which he made available to me.