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House of Representatives passes education bill; Members criticise gagging of debate.

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Thursday 16 October 2003

House of Representatives passes education bill; Members criticise gagging of debate


PETER CAVE: Academics and students have been on strike across Australia today and while the strike was going on, the Government's higher education legislation was passed by the House of Representatives. 


No surprise there, because the Government holds the numbers, but what was surprising was that the debate was gagged by the Leader of Government Business Tony Abbott. That's despite the fact that the legislation is unlikely to be introduced into the Senate until late next month.  


From Canberra Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath reports. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: In Question Time today, Brendan Nelson was promoting his higher education legislation 


BRENDAN NELSON: This Government is undertaking major reform of Australian universities because it's in Australia's long-term interests. What the Government is proposing to do is to invest an extra $10 billion of taxpayers' funds in universities in the first 10 years.  


CATHERINE MCGRATH: But it was a different story this morning when debate on that legislation was gagged. It all happened when Shadow Education Minister Jenny Macklin began to speak to her move to try to amend the industrial relations element of the legislation, and she was stopped. 


JENNY MACKLIN: This Government is seeking to gag debate on this legislation, this most significant legislation that we've seen that will… 


SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The Member for Jagajag resume her seat. 


The Leader of the House. 


TONY ABBOTT: Mr Speaker, I declare that this bill is an urgent bill. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: And soon after that the vote was taken. 


Independent MP Peter Andren called the closure of the debate and insult to democracy. 


PETER ANDREN: It's an absolute bloody disgrace, quite frankly that the House of Representatives on this most crucial of bills is not allowed to even complete the introduction of amendments that the Opposition had, and which I had a couple, and I gather a couple of other crossbenchers had.  


For instance, Mr Windsor and I represent two regional campuses, large campuses for Sydney and for Armidale and for Charles Sturt University, we've got strong feedback about the flaws in this bill.  


We as we should do, introduced amendments to ensure that the regional campuses and their students enjoyed the best outcome from this. Where else would we be able to introduce those amendments but in the people's House? We were denied that and it is an absolute disgrace and a blot on this Government that it treats the Lower House with such contempt.  


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The New South Wales Independent MP Peter Andren. 


Jenny Macklin says it's now up to the Senate. 


(To Jenny Macklin) Jenny Macklin, the debate was gagged this morning, but effectively you knew it was going to get through the House of Reps, does it really matter? 


JENNY MACKLIN: It does really matter because Labor was seeking to move amendments to get of the worst parts of this higher education legislation. Labor wanted to get rid of the 30 per cent increase in higher education fees. We wanted to get rid of full fees, that's fees of $100,000 for Australia undergraduates.  


We wanted to get rid of this Government's ideological industrial relations conditions. And the Howard Government basically refused to allow debate on Labor's nine substantial amendments to this bill.  


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Late today, Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives Tony Abbott denied that debate was gagged.  


TONY ABBOTT: I think basically people were just recycling the same old arguments. But it was very important that this matter come out of the House of Reps in this sitting period so it can go into the Senate in the next sitting period, so that the Senate's got plenty of time to consider things. 


REPORTER: It couldn't have been adjourned for another time? 


TONY ABBOTT: Well, look, I don't think anyone who had sat through or half listened to the couple of days of debate that we had on the package would say that new insights, new analyses and new information were emerging.  


Basically, it was just the recycling of arguments that had been more than fully canvassed, and it's high time that it moves out of the House of Representatives and into the Senate.  


PETER CAVE: Tony Abbott, the Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives