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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 377

Senator MACKLIN —I refer the Minister for Education to the agreement between the Federal Government and the States whereby recurrent costs for nurse education in colleges of advanced education are borne 75 per cent by the State governments and 25 per cent by the Federal Government. Does the Minister agree with the reported remarks by the South Australian Minister for Technical and Further Education, Mr Arnold, that imposition of the Federal Government's new $250 higher education fee on college nursing students constitutes a breach of the agreement? He says that the imposition of the fee has given an unfair windfall to the Federal Government and reduced the promised level of Federal Government subsidy per student. Is the Minister taking any steps to repair this breach in the agreement over the transfer of nurse education from hospital based facilities to colleges of advanced education?

Senator RYAN —The imposition of the $250 administration charge can hardly be regarded as a breach of the agreement since it was not in existence at the time the agreement was reached. Also, there is no reduction in the per capita recurrent funding provided under the arrangement as a result of the charge being introduced. It is additional funding, 90 per cent of which comes to the Commonwealth and 10 per cent remains with the institutions. Institutions do not suffer as a result of the charge; in fact, they gain 10 per cent of it for their own uses. If a particular institution wished to utilise that 10 per cent for matters concerning nurse education facilities it would be free to do so. There is no basis in the argument that there has been change in the agreement on account of the $250 charged. It is an additional charge. It is not a charge against the States. The State is not having to increase in any way its contribution to nurse education. This is new money over and above any agreement which was reached and, as I said, institutions including those undertaking nurse training will keep 10 per cent of the money. In that event, they will actually have an increase in funds available to them.

Senator MACKLIN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the Minister to that part of the question where I referred to the South Australian Minister for Technical and Further Education, Mr Arnold, who declared this charge to be a breach of the agreement between his State and the Commonwealth. I ask the Minister whether she agrees or disagrees with that comment.

Senator RYAN —If Senator Macklin had been listening he would know that it is quite clear that I disagree with that. I do not know how Mr Arnold can sustain the view that the imposition of a new charge which does not affect the States contribution to nurse education in any way can be regarded as a breach. I also pointed out that of student nurses, those who will be required to pay the charge will be only those who are not in any of the exempt categories or those not eligible for Austudy. It is my understanding that the same proposition of student nurses are eligible for Austudy as in any other course of study-in the vicinity of 40 per cent. There may also be some pensioner beneficiaries in the exempt category undertaking nurse studies. They will not be affected, nor will any Aboriginal nurse trainees. As I said before, this is a new charge. It does not affect the States' contribution to the arrangements we reach with the States; so in no way can this be regarded as a breach of the agreement.