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Tuesday, 20 September 1994
Page: 963

Senator CHILDS —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment, Education and Training. Is the minister aware of the views expressed that the Australian National University's decision to charge a fee for participation in a legal workshop is a direct result of the government's policies? Is this the case? Can the minister inform the Senate of the government's commitment to funding higher education in Australia?

Senator SCHACHT —The question that Senator Childs asks relates to an issue raised yesterday by Senator Bell. However, Senator Hill, the shadow minister for education, could not resist putting out a statement, based on inaccuracies, accusing me of not being correct in my answer on behalf of Mr Crean. I just want to put the record straight so that members of the opposition do not go around misleading themselves and the public. There are a number of facts which need to be stated about this issue. Senator Hill refers to so-called cuts in funding since 1983. In fact, the total Commonwealth funding on higher education will have increased from $3 billion in 1983 to $4.8 billion in 1995, an increase of more than 60 per cent.

Senator Hill —Sixteen per cent.

Senator SCHACHT —I am glad Senator Hill interjects, because that is the very next point I will respond to. Commonwealth funding per student has risen steadily since 1987, when it was $11,457, to a projected $12,157 in 1996. I emphasise to Senator Hill and others that it is the university's decision as to which postgraduate courses it will charge fees for, what the level of those fees will be, and when it will charge those fees.

  The government has been prepared to relinquish some of its decision making authority to the universities, a policy which sought to promote flexibility, innovation and institutional autonomy—something I would have thought the opposition was in favour of. The decision to allow universities to charge postgraduate fees was part of this strategy and was developed in conjunction with the universities themselves. Furthermore, this freedom was provided without any reduction in the government's commitment. Indeed, we have increased the resources we provide to the postgraduate provision.

  As I said yesterday, government funds to postgraduate courses at the ANU have increased. Commonwealth funded postgraduate places will grow from 995 in 1994 to 1,030—a clear increase.

Senator Vanstone —You could get a ventriloquist to do this.

Senator SCHACHT —Listen Amanda, I would have thought that your performance in the recent leadership ballot meant that you were the last person to talk about ventriloquy when—

The PRESIDENT —Order! The minister should address the chair and not allow himself to be baited.

Senator Campbell —Deirdre wouldn't have to read it.

Senator SCHACHT —Deirdre is a very good member of our Senate team. We find it hypocritical of the opposition to make those comments. I re-emphasise that the vice-chancellor of the ANU, in a letter dated 15 September to Mr Crean, stated:

At no stage did the Council consider it was taking this action as a direct consequence of Government actions or policies in relation to the University.

The university quite clearly stated that it made that decision off its own bat—not as a result of any government policy.

Senator Hill —You don't give them any choice.

Senator SCHACHT —Finally, I refer to Senator Hill's remarks in a recent interview. He spoke about increasing funding for postgraduate courses in universities. He implied that, in the coalition—

Senator Hill —What interview was that?

Senator SCHACHT —It was on 13 September. It was an interview with Senator Hill and Simon Crean on 2CN. I quote:

Well there are lots of different options that can be included—

(Time expired).