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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5306

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (4:00 PM) —I want to make two points in this debate. We have seen a new procedure develop in the Senate where the Senate passes a motion asking a minister why they have not responded to something. In this case, the Minister for Education, Science and Training has written a letter in good faith, explaining that the response referred to is actually in the process of being printed and will be tabled shortly, and I understand it may be tabled within a day. But we have had Senator Carr spending 15 minutes talking about a three-paragraph letter and bringing in a range of other vaguely related matters. I was at least polite enough not to take a point of order. He sought leave to take note of this letter, which is purely an explanation of where this report is. We have seen a new procedure develop. It sends a message to the government that you do not do the right thing and write a letter. Mr Nelson could have just said, `Here's the report.' That is the market signal that Senator Carr sends to the government. He is not very interested in market signals.

That takes me to the debate about universities and the report that Senator Carr refers to. He said, `They got the report on 27 September.' That should ring some bells with honourable senators and others listening to the debate. We recall vaguely the events of September 2001! We were not only in the middle of the events surrounding the terrorist attacks but in the lead-up to a federal election. As Senator Carr knows—and I think he might have even referred to it in his own speech—it was a time shortly after which, as the minister said, there was a federal election. Of course, as Mr Nelson explained, there was a change of portfolios and the new minister took up his responsibilities late in that year.

What is the importance of that date in September when we are discussing a references committee report? References committees, as you know, are chaired by members of the opposition and have a majority of opposition and non-government senators on them. If you want to create a forum before an election so that you can belt the government over the head with an issue that you think is a good one, if you are on Senator Carr's side of the chamber and you want to create a bit of publicity for yourself, you create a reference about university funding or some other thing. Then you bring down a report which says that the government has it all wrong.

Of course, we did it in opposition too. We used to bring down reports that said the government had it all wrong then. This report, no doubt, would have done that. I have not read this report. I would not waste my time, because I saw Labor's record on education when they were in power. They closed down universities, amalgamated them and brought in HECS. They promised a free education but as soon as they got into power they brought in fees for students. We know that Labor does not have a policy on education. They tried to get a policy on education over six years but they still do not have one.

What Mr Nelson says in this letter—and let me at least refer to the letter, as Senator Carr did for about 10 seconds before he spoke about everything else—is that he is undertaking a thorough review of the tertiary sector. Of course, Senator Carr does not like that. He wants the university sector in Australia to stay exactly the way it is now. He likes the fact that it is tightly controlled by the unions. He is more focused on enterprise bargaining rounds and getting bigger pay packets for his mates in the unions. He does not want to improve their performance. He does not want to see universities create better outputs. He likes to see tight control by a tight-knit group of vice-chancellors and their union mates on the campuses.

Labor do not want to see reform in the university sector. They like to see it the way it is: centrally controlled, centrally funded and controlled by a union dominated elite. That is what Senator Carr likes, because it suits the Labor Party. They like to have student unions that collect student fees compulsorily, where students have no choice. They hate the fact that in Western Australia, where you have voluntary student unionism, it is a success and that people on those campuses can choose whether they pay a fee or not. You have seen in Western Australia the new Labor government, which is effectively a very old Labor government in terms of its philosophies, now trying to impose compulsory student unionism once again. That, of course, is the Labor ethos: do not allow students to have choice; do not give them choice in terms of university funding; do not give them any choice whatsoever. And, if they go to a campus, force them to join a union and if they do not join a union, force them to pay a fee. That is their model. They do not want reform of the education system.

What is the Labor answer? Give them more money. Do not give them more money in return for an increase in productivity, an increase in outputs, an increase in the number of students they educate and an increase in the quality of the research and the quality of the development. Just pour in some more money. Of course, Labor are always good at coming up with ideas about ways to spend money. They were the big spenders in Australian political history. They were the big taxers. The biggest tax increases in Australian history have been created under Labor. The biggest deficits have been created under Labor.

Of course, this government is committed to seeing an improvement all the way through the education sector. We want to reform the sector. We want to ensure, for example, that people in regional parts of Australia get much better access to tertiary education. What do Labor want to do? They do not particularly care about the regions. The Labor government in Western Australia are cutting funding to the regions in a number of areas. They are reducing access to tertiary education for people living in the regions and remote areas. They are ensuring that people who live close to the big public universities—and close to the cappuccino bars—get a good education but that those who live far away do not. That is the Labor way: look after the elites, look after your union mates, do not worry about the outcomes and keep those old institutions in place. And what is the answer? Spend more money.

This government has proved that we are interested in increasing investment in education in Australia. We are particularly interested in seeing the tertiary education sector create far better outcomes and far better quality education—world-class education, world leading education. Labor are not interested in that; they are interested in looking after their union mates on the campuses. Labor come in here and condemn the education minister for not responding to a politically motivated report put together by a majority of non-government senators in the lead-up to an election at which Labor were once again absolutely resoundingly trounced—and for good reason—when they have no policy alternatives in any area, let alone education.

Senator Carr has spent six years coming in here and criticising the government, day in day out. Labor came up with noodle nation. That was a fantastic idea, wasn't it? They got the poor old former science minister to come up with their education-technology sort of thing and he drew a diagram that even confused himself. It was like one of those snakes and ladders games, wasn't it? That is the best they can do. Their big attempt at the knowledge nation, the noodle nation thing, actually lost them votes at the election. That is what scared them off about policy in this new term of government. They spent a few months coming out with a couple of policies and they went backwards in the electorate. So you would be lucky to get any policy out of them now.

I say to the Australian Labor Party: start doing your homework, start doing some hard work and come up with some alternatives. Do not just spend more money. Let us not just go back to this old idea of cranking up deficits and spending more money. Let us ensure that you come up with something that is well thought through. It is a very hard concept for them to grasp.

Senator Carr —This report was well thought through.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —This so-called report was a politically motivated electoral stunt, and Senator Carr expects the new minister to drop everything and respond to his report.

Senator Carr —You haven't read it!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Knowles)—Order! Senator Carr!

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —That is what he expects us to do.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Wait until you see the report.