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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1519

Mr LINDSAY(11.50 a.m.) —-In the short time available in this debate, I begin by making a few observations about higher education funding and its effects. The first point I wish to make is that this Government, more than any previous government, has been responsible for the dramatic rise in the participation rate in higher education in Australia. The challenge of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) to all Australians to become a clever country has been matched by the Government in unparalleled increases in expenditure on education.

In response to the increasing demand for higher education across Australia, approximately $4 billion has been allocated this financial year, including extra funding to assist tertiary institutions with new buildings, research and additional enrolments. This represents a $200m increase in real terms. An additional $76m will be spent next year and $42m in 1993 to help tertiary institutions overcome pressures of overenrolments and overcrowding. This is in addition to a fresh allocation of $119m for academic salary increases this financial year. In the area of enrolment growth alone, the Hawke Government has allocated $70m over the next four years, including 13,000 new places in 1992.

Education remains one of the Hawke Government's fundamental priorities. Since it was first elected in 1983, the Hawke Government has continuously stressed its commitment to increase the level of skills in Australian society, particularly in the tertiary sector. It has matched its calls for excellence in education with ever-increasing budgetary allocations. In my own electorate of Herbert, the spectacular growth of James Cook University is in direct response to the enormous support that university has received from the Hawke Government.

In the time remaining for me in this debate, I refer to a number of developments at James Cook University which have important national significance. James Cook University was originally established in 1961 as a university college of the University of Queensland and became autonomous in 1970. The former Townsville College of Advanced Education merged with the University in 1982. James Cook University was Australia's first university in the tropics. Its student catchment area is approximately 750,000 square kilometres. It is the only higher education institute in a region three times the size of Victoria and the population of its catchment area exceeds that of Tasmania.

From 1970 until 1985, growth in student numbers at James Cook University was disappointing. The participation rate in higher education in north Queensland at that time was one-third the Australian average. I attribute much of the blame for denying thousands of north Queenslanders the opportunity of a tertiary education to the failures of past Liberal-National governments. Since 1985 student numbers have doubled. There are now nearly 7,000 students at James Cook University pursuing a wide variety of courses. About 10 per cent of its student load is at the higher degree level and there is a well-established research infrastructure in each of the university's major discipline areas.

The university's rapid growth under the inspired leadership of its vice-chancellor, Professor Ray Golding, has increased demand for new facilities and buildings. Over the 1991-93 triennium, the Commonwealth Government has allocated $13.1m for capital projects at James Cook University. This includes $1.3m to complete a library extension. The total Federal funding for this project, which commenced in 1989, is $7.4m; $6.8m is allocated for a general purpose academic building, with funding commencing in 1991, and $4.5m for a biological sciences building, with funding to commence in 1992. In late 1988, a general purpose academic building at James Cook University was completed at a cost of nearly $4m funded by the Federal Government.

Student residential accommodation at James Cook University is always in high demand. Accordingly, the Federal Government has contributed $500,000 towards the cost of construction of a project sponsored by Rotary to provide a student residential building to help meet live-in accommodation requirements for international students, as well as Australian students.

James Cook University has also established and developed a number of research centres. This is in accord with the university's fundamental commitment to supporting research of the first rank that is relevant to Australia's needs and, in particular, to the development of north Queensland. The university maintains research and research training in many disciplines and has developed outstanding expertise in three broad areas. The first area is applied science and engineering, such as cyclone engineering, geosciences and geotechnology, with reference to mineral industries, information sciences and electronic engineering. The second area is life in the tropics, with activities in tropical veterinary science and animal production, and tropical ecosystems and their conservation and management. The third area is marine science and technology, including mariculture and fisheries, resources management of the Great Barrier Reef and coastal engineering.

One such research centre is the Anton Breinl Centre for Tropical Health and Medicine. This centre had its genesis as part of a Labor Party policy for north Queensland which was developed prior to the 1980 Federal election. It was established by the university in 1986 after a long and exhaustive evaluation by the Federal Government on the need for such a facility in north Queensland. Honourable members would be interested to know that Australia's first medical research centre, the Australian Institute of Tropical Health, was established in Townsville in 1910 by the Commonwealth Government, and its first director was Dr Anton Breinl. In March this year a new director of the centre was appointed, Associate Professor Dr Rick Speare. The centre now has 15 postgraduate students. The work of the Anton Breinl Centre for Tropical Health and Medicine cannot be underestimated.

Topics of research include the incidence of malaria and infectious disease such as the Ross River virus fever, diabetes among the people of Palm Island and hepatitis B. The work of the centre expanded last year with the establishment of a major research program on lymphatic filariasis in the western province of Papua New Guinea. The program has had enormous support from the local people. About 4,000 local people participated in the initial dosage program which was conducted in July this year.

One new project involves research on the incidence of melioidosis. Over the past two years at least 237 people in Townsville have tested positive for antibodies to the tropical disease melioidosis. This disease was responsible for a number of deaths in northern Australia last wet season. The centre, in collaboration with the CSIRO in Townsville, is not only preparing a computerised soil map of Townsville suburbs to determine areas with the most likely host soils, but also developing a sensitive and reliable technique to isolate the bacterium from soils. The researchers at the Anton Breinl Centre hope that this exercise could set a pattern for the production of computerised locality maps on other tropical diseases such as Ross River fever, a serious, debilitating disease which is mentioned in a book I read recently on germ warfare.

The Anton Breinl Centre is also hoping to obtain funding to develop a more rapid diagnostic test for melioidosis so that a more positive identification can be made within hours rather than one or two days, as is presently the case. Unquestionably, the Anton Breinl Centre is making a significant contribution to public health education and training in northern Australia. Already, the centre has shown an outstanding ability to respond to the needs of public health education and research in north Queensland.

The initiatives announced in the Budget with respect to education, employment and training are without parallel in the history of this Government and certainly are unmatched by any initiatives taken by any previous Liberal-National Party government. I am confident that these initiatives will lead to a dramatic rise in the participation rate in tertiary education in this country. So the Australian people--relying on the Hawke Labor Government's commonsense, tenacity and vision for this country--will respond to the challenges announced by the Prime Minister to develop a clever country, enabling Australia in the twenty-first century to show the lead to the rest of the world.