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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 253

Senator KILGARIFF(12.45) —Mr Deputy President, I wish to take a few minutes of the Senate's time today to raise two matters which are in no way connected other than that they both demonstrate the way in which the Ministers of the present Federal Government are prepared to grandstand to the detriment of many of those Australians whom they purport to represent. In the past I have taken the opportunity to raise the issue of the new University College of the Northern Territory and the refusal of the Federal Minister for Education, Senator Ryan, to recognise the College. The Minister's stock responses to my questions and comments have been either that the University College is too expensive or that it will detract from enrolments at the Darwin Institute of Technology, DIT. I would like to provide the Minister with some information which I hope will convince her that she has been wrong on both counts.

Firstly, the Minister's claim that the College will detract from DIT enrolments just does not stand up when you look at enrolment figures for this year. DIT is already operating at full capacity. This year's advanced education enrolments stand at 1,468, which comes down to 1,100 effective full time students. The Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission's quota for this year's effective full time enrolments was 1,070, so enrolment at the Institute is already over this figure by some 30 students. Even if the 20 University College places that the Minister was offering had been provided, the Institute would still have been over its quota. Enrolments for the University College stand at 225 and are rising. It is expected that they will reach 250. Thirty of these students are from South East Asia. It is quite clear that there is no way in which the Institute could accommodate the University College students. Its facilities, including the library, are fully utilised. A number of demountable buildings are in use. Hundreds more Territory students-there were 364 in 1986-will be attending interstate universities and colleges of advanced education this year to study courses that are still not available in the Northern Territory. These figures speak for themselves and make a mockery of the Commonwealth's offer to fund only 20 places at DIT in 1987.

The Minister's second argument against the University College is, as I have mentioned, its cost. But this argument is fallacious. Obviously the initial cost per student is going to be high because of establishment costs, but in future years it will decline through economies of scale as student numbers increase and students progress through their second and third years of study. In fact, as I see it, the cost per student at the University College for this year, its first year of operation, will be about $30,000 but it can be expected, as the College comes on stream with second, third and fourth year enrolments, to be reduced dramatically, to the point where even in its second year, 1988, the cost per student will have been reduced to about $17,000. Senator Ryan last year, in supporting the establishment of a university college in western Sydney, accepted the fact that:

New autonomous institutions can cost anywhere up to $30,000 in operating costs per student compared with existing funding levels for established institutions in the vicinity of $8,000 per new student place.

Apparently a figure of $30,000 is acceptable to Senator Ryan in New South Wales but not in the Northern Territory. One can only guess why that should be the case. Unless Senator Ryan has come up with some new reason for refusing to recognise the University College I would urge her to abandon her petty and vindictive denial of Austudy and Abstudy benefits to Territory students, who are already disadvantaged geographically. It is totally unjust for the Commonwealth to deny them benefits that they would receive if they were studying at the Institute of Technology on benefits which students studying the same courses at the University of Queensland are already receiving. The Warden of the University College and the Director of the Institute of Technology have approached the provision of tertiary level studies for Territorians in a co-operative way. A memorandum of understanding which rationalises courses at the two institutions has been signed. It is a pity that the same level of co-operation, in the interests of young Territorians, who after all are young Australians, is not forthcoming from the Commonwealth on this issue.

The second matter that I wish to remark on today received quite extensive media coverage in Monday's national papers. I suspect that most honourable senators saw the smiling face of the Minister for Transport, Mr Peter Morris, in the papers earlier this week associated with the story that the road from Adelaide to Alice Springs, the Stuart Highway, had finally been sealed. The story went that the last stretch of sealing had been completed at the weekend, with the Minister giving a helping hand. The road has been approaching completion for the past few months and, naturally, the people of the Territory have been looking forward to having finally an all-weather road to Adelaide. It is anticipated that the sealed road will provide encouragement for more people to visit the Northern Territory by road. Perhaps people who are unable to visit the Territory by air because of prohibitively high air fares will now be able to see that part of the country. South Australians have also been looking forward to the completion of the road with the prospect of seeing an increase in traffic from the Northern Territory-more people travelling south by road on holidays and on business. Not surprisingly, the tourist authorities of both South Australia and the Northern Territory have been eagerly anticipating the completion of the south road, as this stretch of the Stuart Highway is known in the Territory. In fact, both tourist bodies have organised a joint celebration of the completion of the road, to take place in late March or early April-when construction of the road is scheduled to be completed, properly completed. How then did the Minister come to be declaring the road fully sealed-I stress fully sealed-last weekend, as if construction had been completed? It seems that the Minister will not be available to do the job until some time late next month, or in April when the road is in fact to be fully sealed. He decided to do it on the weekend to fit in with his undoubtedly busy schedule. Of course, by doing so, he left all of the various organisations most interested out of the situation completely. So while the newspaper reports had the Minister helping to seal the last stretch of the Stuart Highway he was, it now transpires, only involved in putting down the first sealant to keep the gravel down. The road is far from completed. Some 40 kilometres remain unsealed. Cattle grids are missing and another month or so of work is needed to complete it, even if everything goes to schedule.

Mr Morris clearly subscribes to the theory that any publicity is good publicity. If he is prepared to declare a road completed when it is not, simply to ensure that he gets his picture in the paper, the situation is quite laughable, I suppose a petty sort of thing that would not warrant comment but for the fact that in his grab for glory, the Minister has pre-empted the publicity which the tourist authorities of the Northern Territory and South Australia could have expected from the launch they had planned when the road was actually finished. I feel sure that they would have included the Minister in their guest list. If he had already had other engagements which meant that he could not attend, I would have thought he could have accepted the situation in good grace. It strikes me as most unbecoming of him simply to choose a month earlier to declare this road sealed, when it is not, for his own purposes. His behaviour brings to mind that other infamous character who stole the thunder of the New South Wales Premier, Jack Lang. Jack Lang was gazumped in opening the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 by Francis de Groot who charged ahead, honourable senators might recall, on his white horse, slashing the ceremonial ribbon. There are not too many white horses in the outback but, Mr Deputy President, there are a lot of bush donkeys.