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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 163

Senator ELSTOB —Has the Minister for Education seen the Press report in the Age of 14 February titled `Libs propose national exam'? Can the Minister confirm that in the unlikely event of a coalition Federal government being elected it would introduce a national entrance examination for tertiary education? Is it true that in the same article a member of the staff of the Opposition's education spokesman is quoted as saying that students who qualify for tertiary places through the national examination would be awarded scholarships for free tertiary education and all other students, apart from those on private scholarships, would pay full fees? Can the Minister also tell me what approximate cost students would be charged if they had to pay full fees?

Senator Chaney —I raise a point of order, Mr President. With the exception of the last part, the question relates not to a matter of public administration but to a matter of an alleged policy of the coalition, and it has been made quite clear that that report was inaccurate. It is based not only on a policy which is not within the Minister's administration but also on a false statement which has been corrected by the relevant shadow Minister.

Senator Gareth Evans —Are you rewriting that one, too?

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I just draw your attention to the fact that the Manager of Government Business is forgetting his good intentions already. It just shows how quickly he falls from the high plans that he has recently adopted. To return to my point of order, Mr President, the whole of the question, apart from the matter of what costs would be involved with respect to the imposition of fees, is in my view out of order and should be so ruled.

The PRESIDENT —I would ask the Minister to answer that part of the question that relates to her portfolio.

Senator RYAN —I think it is certainly the case that the cost of educating students through higher education in colleges of advanced education or universities is a matter for my portfolio, since our Government is paying this year for something like 390,000 students who are currently in higher education institutions, and I am very well aware of the cost of this exercise which at this stage is substantially a cost to the public purse. The cost of higher education places varies according to the course. Some courses such as law and arts have a lower cost and would be down at about $6,000 a year, including a capital component. Others, of course, are very high cost courses, such as medicine of which some members of this chamber have had the benefit, and would cost in the vicinity of $14,000 a year. Engineering is a very popular course and one that we are expanding. It also is a very expensive course. So the costs vary.

At this stage, those costs are borne by us through the grants made available by this Government to the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission and hence to the institutions. Some minor charges are made by the institutions for their administrative and general services charges-in the vicinity of $90 or $100 a year-and there is the Commonwealth administration charge which is $250 a year-and which will be charged to approximately two-thirds of the students, the less needy students. That large cost is borne by the Commonwealth Government. If Australia were to be moved to a different policy by which students were required to pay full costs, they would be paying somewhere between $6,000 and $14,000 a year. Although it is certainly not my responsibility to determine what the Opposition parties' education policy is and it is certainly not a task that I would approach with any relish, it is, I think, a matter of public concern and debate that we have a number of suggestions, even if they are not policies, emanating from the Opposition, starting with the self-styled new leader of the Opposition, Premier Bjelke-Petersen--

Senator Chaney —On a point of order, Mr President: The Minister has been impeccable until about two moments ago. She has now quite clearly moved on to those parts of the question which are outside her administrative responsibilities, and I would ask you to draw her to order.

The PRESIDENT —I have been listening to the answer. I ask the Minister to finish the answer to the question as soon as possible.

Senator RYAN —I conclude by pointing out that this year the Commonwealth will spend, through the education portfolio, in the vicinity of $5.2 billion. Should there be a withdrawal of the Commonwealth from that area, as has been advocated by some people close or not so close to Senator Chaney, that would be $5.2 billion which the taxpayers would have to bear via State charges.