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Wednesday, 19 November 1986
Page: 2481

Senator MASON —My question is directed to the Minister for Education. Is it a fact that the western Sydney area, with a population considerably larger than that of Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory combined, does not have a single university? Assuming that the Minister favours the continuance of existing universities in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, will she announce without equivocation the Government's commitment to the early construction of a university in western Sydney? Finally, is the Minister aware of proposals by the Mayor of Penrith for such a university to be built adjacent to the existing Penrith Technical and Further Education College, where there is a suitable site? If so, what is her reaction to those proposals?

Senator RYAN —I am aware of the Penrith City Council's views about an appropriate siting for a university college. I am aware of a great deal of the negotiation and discussion going on among the Commonwealth Government, State authorities, institutions in the outer western area and citizens living in that area. In all modesty, I think I have a lot more awareness of these matters than does Senator Mason and than his question indicates. To start a question along the line of `is it a fact that there is no university in the western suburbs' does not show a very deep knowledge of the circumstances of the west. Of course there is no university in the western suburbs of Sydney, as everybody knows. There are two colleges of advanced education which have been supported and extended under our Government's policies. In the south-west, an area which also deserves consideration, there is a further college of advanced education, which again is growing rapidly and is strongly supported by our Government.

In relation to the legitimate desires of people in the western suburbs of Sydney, and indeed the south-west, to have university places in those areas, there has been considerable progress. Current thinking by the Commonwealth is that the quickest and most economical way of getting university facilities commenced in the west would be to establish a college of an existing university, probably of Sydney University or the University of New South Wales. If this proposal were developed in co-operation with the State Government it would be possible to have university places in the west by the beginning of 1990. There are alternative ways of taking university places to the west but my view at this stage is that a university college of an established and flourishing university would be the best way to go, all things considered.

The fact to which Senator Mason's question drew attention, that there is no university in the western suburbs, is not a criticism that can be sheeted home to our Government. It is a criticism of previous planning. For example, during the seven years of the Fraser Administration no steps were taken, to my knowledge, to develop the concept of having university facilities in the west. Indeed, at the time when Macquarie University, Sydney's third university, was established and sited the State Government at the time-I think it was a Liberal government although I may have to stand corrected on that-chose a most inappropriate site for that university. The result is that although Macquarie University is a flourishing university and it has many students, those students do not come from the disadvantaged western suburbs of Sydney-it is virtually impossible for them to get there-they come from the relatively advantaged northern suburbs of Sydney, where students already have fairly ready access to existing universities. So the fact that there is no university in the western suburbs should really involve criticism of decisions by Commonwealth and State governments previous to our taking office.

Since we took office we have worked very actively to increase higher education opportunities in the western suburbs and have done so very successfully. It is our intention to continue to do so and to look at the best in terms of standards, meeting the needs of the community in the most cost-efficient way to develop such a facility in an appropriate part of the western suburbs. Whether this development will be at the Penrith site, which naturally the Penrith City Council is attracted to, the Blacktown site, which also has its firm adherents, or indeed a better site are matters about which I have to have more extensive discussions with the New South Wales Government and the various groups in the western suburbs.