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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 80


Senator MURPHY (2:54 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Senator Vanstone. It relates to a review of indexation provided for at section 198 of the Higher Education Support Act 2003. I understand that the minister has decided to conduct an internal government review of indexation, involving his department, the Department of Finance and Administration and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Why has the government decided on an internal review and not an independent, open and transparent review, which would ensure a much greater acceptance by all relevant parties?


Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —My advice in respect of the review of indexation arrangements in the higher education sector is that the review is, as you say, being undertaken by the department in consultation with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Finance and Administration and the Department of the Treasury. That is clearly understandable. I am advised that a written invitation will be extended to the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee to provide a submission to the review, that the review will be completed by February next year, that the government intends responding to the review by April, and that it will give effect to its response when introducing the higher education support amendment bill in the May sittings next year. That is the detail I have.

Senator Murphy, I understand that you asked why it will not be done by an independent body. Someone who chooses to retire from parliament could write a book on the value of independent bodies. What oppositions usually mean by that is some people that they can try and control. It carries with it, unfortunately, an assumption that the federal public servants who are undertaking this review are not of the highest quality and would not do their job well. I go back to 1996, when we first came into government. I can assure you that one of the best public servants I worked with was an openly Labor supporter, who gave us the best advice on how to reform higher education. Public servants, irrespective of their political persuasion federally, do a very good job. I am sure you were not meaning to cast aspersions on them, but I am just encouraging you to have a little bit more confidence in their professionalism than your question indicated.


Senator MURPHY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note your response, Minister. I do not endeavour to cast aspersions on any public servants, but, as I said, it would probably provide for a better outcome if the review were seen to be more independent than what is proposed by the government. I also ask: given that the Australian Bureau of Statistics was the department previously asked to develop an indexation model—and, in fact, it did—why hasn't the ABS been asked to conduct the review, or at least participate in it? And can the minister inform the Senate if all universities, not just the AVCC, have been invited to participate in the review and of the period of time they have been provided to present submissions?


Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I do not have the detail of other invitees. It has been my experience that when any review is undertaken, while there might be specific departments that are involved, that does not preclude them seeking advice from authorities like the ABS and others. I am not saying that is going to happen, but it may well. I will ask the minister if he can give you a list, if he can respond to you directly, of the other invitees to the review.