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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 379

Senator KILGARIFF —I preface my question to the Minister for Education by drawing the Minister's attention to the subject I raised in the matter of public interest debate on Thursday this week when, in refuting her claims concerning financial aspects of the University College of the Northern Territory, I referred to the Minister's decision to refuse recognition to the University College and her claims in defence of that decision that the University College would detract from enrolments at the Darwin Institute of Technology. In view of the fact that this year's effective full time enrolment at the Darwin Institute of Technology totalled 1,100, which exceeds the Institute's quota by 30 places, and in view of the fact that the University College now has 225 firm enrolments, including 30 overseas students, does the Minister now concede that the offer of 20 places at the Darwin Institute of Technology for University College students, made by the Commonwealth, is totally inadequate? Will the Minister now reverse her decision to deny Austudy and Abstudy to Territorian students at the University College?

Senator RYAN —Whatever interpretation Senator Kilgariff likes to put on the situation, the fact is that the Northern Territory Government, against the advice of the Commonwealth and without its agreement, pursued an extravagant policy of funding a separate university college on a campus quite a long distance from the Darwin Institute of Technology-at a great capital cost to the people of the Northern Territory and ultimately to Commonwealth revenues, and with a recurrent cost per student of something in the vicinity of $30,000 per head instead of what would have been the cost of about $8,000 per head at the Darwin Institute of Technology.

That is an act of total extravagance. The only reason that the Northern Territory Government had for pursuing this course was its view that it is on the verge of statehood-I do not know why that is its view-and that therefore it wishes to have a university on a separate site from the Institute of Technology to enhance the Terri- tory's prestige. It is just not good enough at a time when funds for higher education through Australia are under great pressure, and at a time when the Northern Territory has legitimate claims on the public purse for education and other purposes, for the Territory Government to engage in self-aggrandisement and extravagance of that kind. The Commonwealth could not possibly agree to that course of action. We warned the Northern Territory Government that if it wanted to persist in this extravagant proposal, which by the way had many practical drawbacks from the students' point of view as well as being extravagant, we would not recognise that and the Territory would have to bear all of the costs, including the cost of student assistance.

The preferred course of action by the Commonwealth was that a university college should have been established alongside the Darwin Institute of Technology. That would have given the opportunity for maximum development of joint services, such as library services, administration, student facilities and things of that kind, and the joint numbers would have comprised a student body which would have made it easier and more efficient to provide those services. It would have been in the interests of the students; it would certainly have been in the interests of the taxpayers and, we believe, there would also have been educational benefits because, we hoped, students would have been able to move between the two sectors quite easily.

The Northern Territory Government rejected all those practical arguments, all those efficient arguments and all those educational arguments because it was intent on a matter of self-aggrandisement, and it has now landed itself with the cost of several million dollars for the capital cost of rebuilding the old Darwin hospital, an enormously high recurrent cost per student and, we believe, student assistance costs. At a time when conservative spokespersons, Liberals or-what party was Senator Kilgariff in before he became a Liberal?-Nationals or independent Nationals, are exhorting us to slash public expenditure and are frequently mentioning Commonwealth education as an area in which funds should be slashed, and when people are running around the Northern Territory supporting Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the party to which Senator Kilgariff once belonged, we are being told that we must be more efficient and more productive and that we must slash public expenditure. They expect us to turn round and agree to a proposal which is extraordinarily extravagant, which has no educational benefits-indeed it has educational disbenefits for students-and somehow get away with it.

The question of enrolment numbers that would have been available to a college adjoined to the Darwin Institute of Technology was never finally determined. There were some original discussions at which a small number of places were mentioned, but there was never any final agreement because the Northern Territory pulled out of the joint development that we were proposing long before any question of student enrolment numbers had been settled. It is simply a red herring for Senator Kilgariff to suggest that we would not have been able to enrol an adequate number of students at a college adjoining the Darwin Institute of Technology. Since early discussions with the Northern Territory Government we made the decision to fund 3,000 extra higher education places, some of which would have gone to the Northern Territory, so that is a complete red herring. What is very clear is that the Northern Territory Government, led by people on the conservative side of politics who like to lecture us about the necessity of cuts in public funding and the necessity of cuts in Commonwealth education funding, should run away, engage in this extravagance and turn round and expect the Commonwealth to pay for it. We told them we would not, and we are not.

Senator KILGARIFF —I address a supplementary question to the Minister for Education. Will she read the public interest debate in this chamber yesterday and not continue with her political victimisation of the Northern Territory?

Senator Ryan —It is not a supplementary question.

The PRESIDENT —It is not really a supplementary question if the Minister does not want to answer it.