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Universities indicate support for the Training Guarantee Bill; the continued Senate sitting may not consider matters of interest to retiring Senators due to the urgency of other business.

BRUCE WEBSTER: Another piece of legislation expected to be introduced next week is the Training Guarantee Bill, designed to incite employers to increase their commitment to workforce training. While the proposal has been castigated by business organisations, universities are welcoming the new opportunities. Frank Hambly, secretary of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee, suggested some innovative possibilities to Jenny Hutchison.

FRANK HAMBLY: From the universities' point of view, we have always strongly supported this legislation. We believed that for two reasons that industry or employers have a responsibility. We believe there's a user pays element in this that already required students to contribute through the higher education contribution scheme, the so-called graduate tax, to their education. We believe also that industry are beneficiaries of education in that they should either be putting something back into it or contributing towards it because a highly skilled, highly trained, well educated workforce is clearly in Australia's interests. There are many examples, I think, of the kinds of training which might be taken advantage of, under this legislation. I mean, clearly there can be on the job training which industry provides itself, but it also provides for employers who want to pay the graduate tax, that can count.

And let me just say as an aside to that, we understand that employers have to pay the fringe benefits tax on that graduate tax and we would like to see that lumped in as well so that will, in a sense, lessen the impact on the employers. But it's also expenditure on things like industry school centres and industry training bodies and the establishment and maintenance of associated training facilities and information systems, and importantly, from the universities' point of view, donations to tertiary institutions can be counted for this purpose, and that could be really quite significant, I think.

JENNY HUTCHISON: We have in the recent past, seen donations from business which have enabled the setting up of special professorial appointments. What else do you think might be possible?

FRANK HAMBLY: Well, as I understand it, under this legislation, if a firm wants to contribute to a building - I mean, that could be a lot of money - but if they want to do that or even just pay part of it, or to equipment, that will all count. Now, under the reforms which were announced by John Dawkins back in 1988, universities and other education institutions were encouraged to diversify their funding sources, not to have to rely so much on government. Now, this gives them a clear avenue by which they can actually exploit that. They can go to industry and they can say, well, if you give us this, it will meet your requirements under this industry training levy Bill and it will help us and it helps you, so it's good for everybody.

JENNY HUTCHISON: You mentioned internal training and of course, there would be a lot of that. In addition to that, the TAFE and CCAE sector has in the past, been quite involved in particular management training but the universities, not so much. This might be the chance for universities to ...

FRANK HAMBLY: There's no doubt, Jenny, that this brings great opportunities, I think, and a few responsibilities, but a lot of opportunities for universities. They can go to industry and they will say, well, you've got to fulfil the requirements under this legislation. We will mount a course for you and it may even carry a qualification at the end of the day - a certificate or a diploma or something like that. Secondly, because under this legislation, the people who conduct the training have to be properly authorised trainers - there's possibly a great market here for training the trainers, if you like - so that universities, it may even be through continuing education centres, I don't know, it will be up to the universities to develop their own proposals on this, but maybe they can mount courses which will train people who can train people in the industry or in the workplace.

JENNY HUTCHISON: But on the other hand, could you ever see the possibility of one tertiary institution - university - being set up almost exclusively to cater for this sort of training?

FRANK HAMBLY: Well, that's an interesting thought. I mean, maybe some of the big industrial concerns will take advantage of this and try and set up what might amount to their own tertiary training institution. You can see a big organisation like BHP or IBM or whoever, saying we will do it all in-house, we will in effect, become a private institution, a private university, a private college, and I might say, while we are on this, I mean, private institutions are emerging in Australia. We've already got the good old Bond University; we've got Notre Dame Australia coming in Perth; we've got the William Simon University, very narrowly based, in Sydney. Presumably they will be able to take advantage of this legislation particularly if they've got payrolls as at least two of them will have, which will require them to comply with this, so maybe they can get close to industry and get some money back for their own purposes.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Well particularly Bond University, which seems to need some financial injection, at the moment.

FRANK HAMBLY: Well, that's exactly right, and I think it's an interesting thought and I am sure that they've got some great entrepreneurs up there who might just take advantage of that.

BRUCE WEBSTER: Frank Hambly from the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee.

One long awaited Bill won't be discussed in this short autumn sitting period, the amendments to the Privacy Act. Senator Michael Tate, Minister for Justice and Consumer Affairs, explains the government's priorities. Also, a conundrum about the opening of a new Parliament while there is a continuing Senate term until the 30 June.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Next Tuesday, we get a new Parliament and yet in the Senate, there are several people who are serving out the end of the term - they're certainly not new Senators, and yet, they will come back to find that the Senate Notice Paper is wiped, there's nothing on it, even though there are lots of items they might want to try and push in their last few weeks.

MICHAEL TATE: For those three or four Senators who will retire on the 30 June, they have a bonus three weeks coming up in May.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Do I presume that you will attempt to expedite the chance of restoring to the Notice Paper, business they might want to see debated?

MICHAEL TATE: I doubt it. I think that there will be so much absolutely crucial legislation to pass. Quite obviously, companies and securities matters are absolutely vital as will be the additional estimates, and in the Senate, that generally takes a week or so, in any case. So I think that the Notice Paper will be crammed with absolutely vital crucial legislation that must be imposed by the 30 June and therefore the private delectation of particular Senators won't be taken into account.

JENNY HUTCHISON: There was some government legislation that hadn't passed through the Senate, at the end of the last sitting period, for example, the privacy legislation, for which I would think, you now have responsibility. Is that on the agenda for the next few weeks?

MICHAEL TATE: No. No, I think the priorities have to be those matters which is a matter of law or as a matter of imperative of organisation of the Commonwealth Government, have to be imposed by the 30 June. We only have an effective perhaps three weeks so this will require a shearing off of those important, but not essential matters, and the privacy legislation will have to wait till the Budget session which won't be an altogether bad thing because it will give me a chance over the winter, to consider the legislation and the amendments that have been offered by the Opposition, and proposed by ourselves. It would take too many days of parliamentary time at the moment, to try and push that through.

JENNY HUTCHISON: And presumably in that gap, you will have a chance to decide whether it might be easier to begin with a new Bill rather than continue with this much amended version?

MICHAEL TATE: Well, that will be a question but of course, if you start with a new Bill, you have to go through a second reading which means that you have a long debate where each Senator is entitled to speak for half an hour, and that could delay the passage of the legislation by some ten or twelve hours, and I don't know that we'd have that available in the Budget session either. So it may be best to take the second reading as given, if we can get agreement, and go into the committee stage, even though it will be fairly horrendous handling forty amendments from our side and as many from the other.

JENNY HUTCHISON: And not only horrendous for you, I mean horrendous for advisers, for draftsmen, and so on?

MICHAEL TATE: No, not as horrendous for them as it is for me because I am up there in the front, on the Hansard record, and I think this is the difference, that we have to take the pressure, feel the pressure, and particularly when you're taking through a multitude of amendments, as I discovered with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legislation, it does become physically quite wearing. But no doubt, supporting personnel will also feel some of the strain, perhaps more of my short temper as the evenings wear on, rather than in relation to the actual substance of the legislation. However, over the winter, when I talk to the Shadow Minister and to the Democrats, we might evolve a process to enable it to be dealt with in the Senate in a civilised manner.

BRUCE WEBSTER: Unfortunately, we didn't have room this week, for Senator Tate's interesting thoughts on whether there should be Ministers in the Senate. We will save them for another time. So until next week, it's welcome to the 33 new Members and the new Senators, and goodbye from the Ring the Bells team of Russell Thomson, John Rogers, Jenny Hutchison and Bruce Webster.