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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15743

Mr CREAN (2:21 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I ask whether he recalls saying before the last election:

We have no intention of deregulating university fees. We have no intention of altering the current HECS arrangement.

Prime Minister, under the government's unfair university changes, won't students be liable for up to a 30 per cent increase in their HECS fees, leading to debts as high as $50,000? Prime Minister, isn't this just another case of you saying one thing before the election and doing another after it?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —The last time I was asked a question about what I had previously said on the question of HECS, particularly in relation to loans, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was caught out having misled the parliament.

Mr Crean —No, she wasn't.

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition has asked his question.

Mr HOWARD —I will take the opportunity of checking what I have said on that subject before I give any currency to the assertion made by the Leader of the Opposition.

But I want to take a moment to typify what is happening in relation to universities. We have a HECS arrangement in this country because it was sensibly proposed by the former government and sensibly supported by the former opposition—the Liberal and National parties. On this occasion, fast-forward to us being in government, the contrast could not be starker. We are proposing sensible changes to the universities and what is the opposition doing? Instead of doing what we did in 1989 and supporting a necessary change, what they are doing is taking the cheap political trick of opposing it. Let the opposition go on doing that. I invite the opposition to go on doing that between now and the next election so that once again the Australian people will have a choice between a Liberal-National Party government that believes in something and a Labor opposition whose only currency in politics is to oppose; whose only currency in politics is to take the cheap trick. Many of the reforms which the former government was responsible for, and for which they are given credit from time to time by me, were made possible because the opposition did not try to frustrate them in the Senate. We did not try to frustrate them because we thought they were in the long-term interests of our nation. The Labor Party does not care about the long-term interests of our nation; it only cares about short-term political opportunism.

Mr Crean —Mr Speaker, I seek leave to table an extract from Hansard in 1999 in which the Prime Minister says:

We have no intention of deregulating university fees.

Leave granted.

Mr Crean —It is in Hansard. You might come back and add to your answer.