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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2082

Senator TEAGUE(3.07) —This report has been called for and much awaited by the Senate. On 2 December, many months after the decision was announced that there would be an administration charge, the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) announced that there would be a monitoring committee. It had to be as late as yesterday that the committee reported in order to make sensible estimates of the numbers of and changes in enrolments in our education institutions, and after four months of study, in particular three important meetings, the monitoring committee has reported and the Minister has tabled its report.

I turn first to the four recommendations which are set out on pages 20 and 21 in this rather succinct report. The recommendations endorse all that the Liberal Party of Australia has said in the Senate over the period since the announcement of the $250 administration charge. The committee found that it is a direct burden on categories of students beyond those who had gained exemption from payment of the charge and, in particular, is a direct burden on part time and external students. Accordingly, the first recommendation is that categories of part time students and some others be given sympathetic consideration in the way in which this is administered.

The second recommendation is the crucial one. It is the most important of the recommendations that flow from this analysis. It is that a pro rata rate be adopted in the levying of this administration charge for part time and external students. The recommendation states:

The Monitoring Committee recommends that in order to achieve greater equity in its impact, an administratively efficient means be devised whereby the charge is linked to the length of courses, so that the maximum payable by an undergraduate student passing all subjects is the multiple of the charge and the full-time length of the course whereas for students who fail subjects it is the full-time length of the course plus one year.

There is a similar recommendation with regard to postgraduate students. It is an eminently sensible finding and it is one that I believe should not be linked in the future to any compulsory application of this administration charge but, rather, flexibly and sensibly administered according to the decisions of the institutions involved. The principle of a pro rata fee-that is, a different fee for part time and external students-ought to be well received by all honourable senators and endorsed. I certainly trust that the Minister, given that she has already established her own commitment to a compulsory fee for higher education institutions, will adopt all of the recommendations, particularly this one.

What is most significant politically in this recommendation is that it is a total rejection of the notion of an administrative charge. It is squarely facing up to the fact that this is a revenue raising measure by the Government. It is a fee and it has been introduced by a Labor government, despite all of the claims made before all of the recent elections that it would not reimpose tertiary education fees. I make this quite clear by referring to the Government's denials up to this point, often made in the Senate by the Minister for Education. She said that the Government could not introduce a pro rata charge, that it has introduced not a fee but an administrative charge which is the same in cost to an institution for each category of enrolment, whether full time, part time or external. That is patent nonsense, which was obvious even before the Minister tried to put such an argument. It is seen to be patent nonsense in this recommendation of the monitoring committee report. I remind the Senate that three Government members-indeed one of the Government members from this chamber was a member of the monitoring committee-endorsed that report. Mr Staples, Senator Zakharov and Mr Gear-the Government's own members-are saying that it is not a common administrative cost and so a common administrative charge. Financial assistance is also referred to, and I commend the other recommendations to the Government.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Morris) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.