Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 5 May 1987
Page: 2294

Senator CROWLEY —Is the Minister for Education aware that students throughout Australia, particularly in Sydney, plan to hold new protests beginning tomorrow against the Government's higher education administration charge? Can the Minister inform the Senate of the Government's response to the higher education administration charge monitoring committee report? Does the Minister have any advice to students who may be advocating disruption of the Department of Education's regional offices?

Senator RYAN —I am aware that the media has carried reports of announced intentions by students to have a week of protests, to invade Commonwealth Department of Education offices in capital cities and so on. I have some comments to make on that. At the outset, I say that we in government recognise the rights of students, as of any other group, to make their views and criticisms of government policy known, but we expect them to do that in an orderly fashion. Since the higher education administration charge was announced in the August Budget last year, there have been numerous demonstrations, rallies and protests throughout Australia. I have seen virtually a continual stream of student delegations in Canberra and throughout Australia. Many of those protests have been orderly, or within the bounds of what is acceptable behaviour; others have not. For example, the rally that ended with a sit-in and demonstration in the Commonwealth Education Department office in Goulburn Street on 25 March was not an orderly demonstration. It resulted in a great deal of intimidation of the staff of my Department, and it resulted in damage to property, including computer cables, equipment, furniture, shelving and plate glass doors. The damage was later assessed at $6,000.

As well as that, and perhaps of more interest to the students who seem particularly self-interested in this matter, employees of the Department whose sole job it is to assist students-to assess their applications for Austudy and so forth-were seriously disrupted in their capacity to carry out their duties. In that sense, as well as in many others, demonstrations of this kind are counterproductive. I hope that students will not engage in activities such as the kind that they engaged in in that office in Goulburn Street or in any other office of the Commonwealth Department of Education. I remind them that the people working there are working in their interests. They are committed to assisting students, and do greatly assist students. It is unfair in the extreme to intimidate or disrupt those workers in carrying out their duties. All of the issues, criticisms and complaints that students have about the charge are now on record with me. Not only that, the monitoring committee that was looking at the impact of the charge on different groups of students has reported to the Government and we will now take that report into account when making any further decisions in relation to the charge. So all in all I do not think there is any need for any further action on behalf of the students, but if they decide that they want to continue their protest, I hope that they will do so in ways that are within the law and do not involve intimidation of workers carrying out their jobs.

In conclusion, students have gone as far as they need go to draw our attention to their views about the drawbacks and deficiencies in the $250 charge. Maybe it is time they turned their attention to the other side of the chamber and to the undertakings by Mr Shack, the Liberal education spokesperson whose policies I gather have not yet been made redundant by the recent demolition of the coalition, that any further places to be made available in higher education will be made available at full cost to the students. So I think that students might now turn their energies and their analytical and critical capacities to the fact that, as far as we know, the Liberal Party policy and indeed the National Party policy is to charge any future students, any students now aspiring to higher education, in the vicinity of $8,000 or $10,000 a year. I think it is time that the students paid a bit of attention to that.