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Tuesday, 20 September 1994
Page: 977

Senator BELL (3.19 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction (Senator Schacht), to a question without notice asked by Senator Childs this day, relating to proposals to charge fees for graduate courses at the Australian National University.

The subject of the question asked today by Senator Childs is the decision by the Australian National University to charge $5,000 for a legal workshop postgraduate course to enable law graduates to obtain the qualifications necessary to begin their professional careers. The essence of Senator Schacht's answer was to correct the very poor answer that he had given to a question I asked yesterday which asked the same thing—why was the Australian National University put into a situation whereby it had to charge such fees? The implication in my question was that it was a direct result of government policy and actions. Senator Childs's question sought to give Senator Schacht the space to correct that impression; but he could not do so because the fact is that that is why the Australian National University is in that situation.

  Senator Schacht attempted to follow the line of the minister responsible, Minister Crean. Senator Schacht's answer attempted to follow the line that the Australian National University had options and that it could do a number of things. I suggest that the ANU was presented with very Hobson-like choices: it could use the alternative of cutting other courses; it could charge other courses; it could seek the cooperation of the profession in the ACT to engage in a joint program to give professional experience in fields such as articles, as is done to some extent in some states. Each of those choices was forced onto the university by the government's policy.

  Senator Schacht attempted to confuse us—or at least to provide us with enough facts and figures to make it hard to trace—by suggesting that the government had increased spending on education. That may be so. It is quite a superficial line to pursue that, overall, the government's spending and allocation of funds to tertiary education has increased in recent years. Of course it has. The most useful figure—the figure which is real; the figure which has a direct impact on how much money universities have available to spend on courses—is the funding per equivalent full-time student.

  A table contained in a 1992 paper produced by the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee entitled Universities in a changing world: report for the 1993-95 triennium, sets out the allocation that the federal government made between 1983 and 1992. Quite simply, the government's funding per equivalent full-time student declined from a provision in 1983 of $10,377 to $9,302. For the minister to try to hide behind any suggestion that funding had increased is both duplicitous and misleading. To attempt to do that in an explanation of this situation should be condemned. It should be recognised for what it is: an attempt to weasel out of the very recognisable fact that funding has reduced and therefore universities have been put in the position of having to charge students.

  In this case, students are over a barrel because unless they engage in the postgraduate course the initial qualification of the first degree will be useless. The minister should be condemned. This government should be recognised for doing what it has done—putting students in a situation where their qualifications are useless unless they pay $5,000 up front to be able to start in their profession.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.