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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1192

Senator CROWLEY —I refer the Minister for Education to the higher education policy of the Opposition recently released by Mr Shack. Can the Minister say whether this Government's policies of dramatically increasing tertiary places and providing access to a range of students previously unable or unlikely to achieve entrance to tertiary studies would continue under any move to a national public examination system as proposed by Mr Shack?

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The question seems to be based on a false premise. It really is simply another attempt by the Labor Party to put up dorothy dix questions on issues. That is an abuse of Question Time, as the Minister told us two days ago, and I suggest that you should rule the question out of order.

Senator Crowley —On the point of order, Mr President: Most of us are well aware now of the likelihood of Senator Chaney objecting to questions, and much thought goes into how to write them. I draw your attention first of all to standing order 421, which gives you the opportunity to rule out tedious repetition. Certainly Senator Chaney is guilty of that. Secondly, how can we possibly conduct a proper debate about proper and responsible matters of education within the Minister's portfolio if questions are constantly opposed by the Leader of the Opposition and ruled out of order? This question is largely within the responsibility of the Minister's portfolio and she rightly and properly ought to be able to take up this debate in the Senate.

Senator Peter Baume —On the point of order, Mr President: The Standing Orders specifically prohibit the use of Question Time to conduct a debate on an issue. I draw to your attention the fact that Senator Crowley, in speaking to the point of order, made it quite clear that the purpose of her question was partly to advance the debate, and to the extent that she is seeking to invite the Minister to debate any matter she is seeking to ask a question which is outside the purview of the Standing Orders.

The PRESIDENT —I will rule on the point of order. The question is in order. I realise that over the last two or three days there have been a number of questions about Opposition policies. I ruled one out of order. I brought Ministers' attention to some of the others and asked them to conclude their answers. Senator Crowley really asked the Minister about her portfolio, whether a certain policy would be introduced and whether the Government would continue acting the way it is in respect of her portfolio. I think such a question is in order and I rule that way.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I do not dispute your ruling but I ask for your guidance on what is the proper course when a policy pronouncement-on this occasion, a policy which has been announced by the Opposition-has been quoted from, I believe, inaccurately. I seek your guidance as to what our position is as an opposition when there is an inaccurate statement deriving from a policy document we have issued?

The PRESIDENT —The President cannot be responsible for a so-called inaccuracy in respect of an opposition policy and rule on that during Question Time. I rule the question in order and I call Senator Ryan.

Senator RYAN —Thank you, Mr President. I think that all honourable senators and everybody interested in education recognise that during our period in government we have created in the vicinity of 40,000 extra higher education places. Those places have not--

Senator Vanstone —Tell us about the--

Senator RYAN —We know that Senator Vanstone does not have the slightest interest in higher education. Those places have not simply been added on to any institution that chose to have growth but we have carefully allocated those places so that institutions previously neglected, such as regional institutions-the James Cook University, for example, and colleges of advanced education in country areas-have been able to grow and expand and offer increased opportunities to young persons who were previously disadvantaged by the previous coalition Government's policies. It is also the case that within that growth we have been able to accommodate some very special improvements for especially disadvantaged groups. For example, there are twice as many Aboriginal students in formal higher education courses now than when we took office. So, really, our Government has achieved a great deal not only in terms of growth in higher education-something for which I think the whole education community has praised us-but also in terms of equity in making sure that previously disadvantaged students, whether they were disadvantaged by their geography, their race or for some other reason, have had the opportunity to get the advantages of higher education.

If that system of steady publicly funded growth targeted towards areas previously disadvantaged were to be abandoned, if the growth in public places were to be frozen, which is one of the undertakings that have been made by Mr Shack, the question is rightly asked: What would happen to those students who were not in a position to buy themselves one of the extra full cost places which are proposed in Mr Shack's policy? What would happen to Aboriginal students coming from poverty-stricken communities? What would happen to students who live in poorer areas, such as the outer western suburbs of Sydney or Melbourne or country towns which have had a long period of unemployment? Regardless of their academic merit, it seems that they would have to buy themselves a place at $12,000 a year. Alternatively, and in some sort of contradiction with the pronouncement that there would be no new extra public places-that the present number of public places would be maintained but that extra places would have to be paid for fully by the students themselves-on top of this freeze procedure, there is some sort of suggestion that there would be some sort of national examination. What sort of criteria would apply? Who would administer it? What account would the autonomous institutions-our 19 universities and 46 CAEs-take of this examination? We simply do not know.

Opposition senators interjecting-

Senator RYAN —Mr President, it is very clear that not only is Senator Chaney extremely sensitive about any reference even to published Liberal Party policies, but half of the Liberal senators opposite are screaming and shouting and trying to interrupt any comments on what would happen to those students who are currently aspiring to higher education places in the event that there were no more public places available to them, in the event that they had to face full cost fees or in the event that there would be some sort of scheme of national examination. If there can be no proper answers to that, I think--

Senator Teague —Mr President, I raise a point of order. The Minister is speaking hypothetically because the Opposition's higher education policy does not mention the word `examination' and does not mention the word `freeze', so the basis of her answer is hypothetical and is misleading to the Senate and she should be told that this is not in order.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order, but I would remind the Minister that she is beginning to debate the matter, and I would ask her to answer the question as soon as possible.

Senator RYAN —Perhaps it is right that the question is hypothetical because after all, from the leaked document from the Liberal Party headquarters that we had made available to us yesterday, it was perfectly clear that the Commonwealth education function-all programs and all systems-would be abandoned and the whole thing thrown back to the States to pay for the lot.