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Dissatisfaction with leaked cabinet submission advocating deregulation of university fees.

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PETER CAVE: The federal Education Minister, David Kemp’s dream for a brave new higher education world appears doomed, less than one day after Labor leaked his cabinet submission. Dr Kemp’s plan is to deregulate university fees, to apply real interest rates to the loan scheme and to move to a voucher system. Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra it’s being condemned as an elite education system based on wealth, which could put a $100,000 price tag on a degree.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The grand plan would let universities set fees and student places. There’d be no limits. The Higher Education Contribution Scheme, HECS, would be scrapped and replaced by a loan scheme subject to real interest rates. On the 7.30 Report , last night, Dr Kemp acknowledged this is his policy plan.


DAVID KEMP: The opposition has refused to table that document or make it available to the government. They’ve circulated something else which may or may not be identical with that document so it’s very hard to say, but it looks to me as though they have a leak of a cabinet document, yes.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The minister won’t talk details. He says it hasn’t yet gone to cabinet. Dr Kemp’s colleagues are quick to point out it hasn’t been circulated to any of them either so, according to them, it has no status and they hope it never will.


Labor says the document breaks clear commitments Dr Kemp and the Prime Minister gave last election that there was no intention to introduce a voucher system for university funding. The Democrats have joined Labor in roundly condemning the plan, saying Dr Kemp is hell-bent on an education system favouring those with a bank balance, not brains. The simple political equation dictates it would never get through the Senate.


Democrats Senator, Natasha Stott Despoja.


NATASHA STOTT DESPOJA: I think it’s reprehensible and we’ll be calling on David Kemp to promise to the parliament, to make a guarantee to the Australian people that he’s not going to destroy our education system as we know it.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the most damaging criticism of all comes from his own colleagues who say it’s pure ideology. One said Dr Kemp’s document is a skeleton of Fightback rattling in the closet, despite the fact it was pronounced dead and buried by the coalition back in 1993. A well-placed Liberal says after yesterday’s leak, the policy has zero chance of surviving; it’s too radical. In voter land, soaring education costs are not popular and key aspirational swinging voters are against saddling their children with debt. The Nationals aren’t keen either and they’re sure the Prime Minister won’t have a bar of it.


A government insider says Dr Kemp has been told there’s not a lot of enthusiasm in cabinet for his vision. It may save money in the long term but at a cost of $800 million to the budget bottom line in the first few years, it would take a great mind-shift for such a budget-conscious government to support it. And one senior minister’s office summed it up this way: the government is interested not just in economics but social impacts.


Competition is a sore point, especially for the National Party these days. The final report on national competition policy is due out today, and the government’s assessment: competition policy must be the servant, not the master.


PETER CAVE: Alexandra Kirk reporting.


Dr Kemp was asked to appear on AM this morning but he declined our invitation.