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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15748

Ms MACKLIN (2:43 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Education, Science and Training. It refers to his hypothetical student who missed out on a place in medicine. Isn't it correct that the government's unfair university changes will lend students $50,000 towards the cost of a full-fee medical degree that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne has priced at $150,000? Wasn't Laurie Oakes correct when he said on the 18 May Sunday program that the minister for education was `dishonest' because he claims students who miss out on a HECS place will get a loan that covers their full fees?

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker—

The SPEAKER —The member for Mackellar has a point of order. I was about to raise a point myself, but I will hear the member for Mackellar.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker, I refer to standing order 147, which requires—

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Melbourne!

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —that the language and the nature of a question be changed where you consider the wording to be unbecoming or not in conformity with the standing orders. I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that they are not in conformity with the standing orders, and I ask that the question be either ruled out of order or totally rephrased.

Mr Swan —Further to the point of order, Mr Speaker: the member for Jagajaga was merely quoting someone else's observation on this issue.

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker—

Opposition members—Oh!

Mr Albanese —It has been a bad day for you, Chris!

The SPEAKER —It will be an even worse day for the member for Grayndler if he does not exercise a little more restraint.

Mr Pyne —further to my colleague the member for Mackellar's point of order: not only was the question in breach of standing order 147, but it has become the habit of members of the opposition to use the word `unfair' before they ask any question to do with higher education changes. While once or twice is understandable, every time is in breach of standing order 144.

The SPEAKER —The member for Sturt anticipated a comment I was about to make. Any use of—and in this case, the persistent use of—the word `unfair' does impute motives and would not normally be tolerated in a question. I also make the point to the member for Jagajaga that language that would not normally be tolerated will not be tolerated simply because it is part of a quotation, as House of Representatives Practice clearly illustrates.

Ms MACKLIN —Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will finish the question. Won't students who have to pay $150,000 for their medical degree need wealthy parents who can find the extra $100,000 to buy a place—

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I did make the point that the question was in breach of the standing orders. The member for Jagajaga merely rose to continue reading her question. The ruling that I thought you made on my point of order was that the question was improper and therefore had to be rephrased—not merely read the rest of it. I ask you to either rule it out of order altogether or ask the member to totally rephrase the question, omitting the word `unfair' for starters.

The SPEAKER —I had not ruled the question out of order. I indicated to the member for Jagajaga that the use of the term `unfair' was not tolerated and that to quote someone, and so impute improper motives, was not tolerated either. I put on the record the concerns I had and allowed the question to stand. I fear, though, that the latter part of the member for Jagajaga's question may not have been heard, because I asked her to resume her seat. I ask her to repeat the latter part of her question.

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Further to your remarks a moment ago, the member for Jajajaga should withdraw the word `dishonest' which should not be in her question. Putting it in quotation marks does not justify its presence in her question.

The SPEAKER —The forms of the House would be facilitated if the member for Jagajaga were to repeat her question without those two references. I ask her to start the question again, without the references that I have deemed inappropriate.

Ms MACKLIN —Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the Minister for Education, Science and Training, who I think has probably got the drift by now. It refers to his hypothetical student who missed out on a place in medicine. Isn't it correct that the government's university changes will lend students $50,000—plus six per cent interest—towards the cost of a full-fee medical degree that the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne has priced at $150,000? Won't these students need wealthy parents who can find the extra $100,000 to buy a place in the full-fee trailer?

Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —I thank the member for Jagajaga for the question, because it is a very important one. There are a number of issues intertwined throughout this question. The first is the loans that are available for full-fee-paying students, who represent about 1.7 per cent of all students in undergraduate courses in Australian universities. We are not talking, at the moment, about the 98.3 per cent of students who are in HECS funded places—places which will be expanding by 31,500 over five years under this package. The second important point which is obviously implicit in the question is that, having totally opposed full-fee-paying opportunities for Australian students, the Labor Party's position now is that the government should lend more than $50,000 to those full-fee-paying Australian students. We will take that submission on board.

For the record, it should be pointed out that the 1.7 per cent—that is, 9,316—of full-fee-paying Australian students in Australian universities are in 784 courses. There are 264 students, in 13 of those courses, who are currently paying $100,000 or more. The government's reform package proposes that, in addition to the 1,170 extra HECS funded medical student places that will be put into the system over the next five years—beginning with 234 next year—for the first time, a student who has done extremely well at school and who has wanted to be a doctor all of his or her life will be offered the opportunity to take up a fee-paying place. The $150,000 to which Professor Gilbert refers emphasises the extent of the public subsidy which exists for HECS funded places. The Labor Party is now arguing that the government's $50,000 loan at 3½ per cent plus CPI capped at 10 years, which will cover two-thirds of all full-fee-paying places—including places in a Master of Business Administration at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management—needs to be raised. We will take that on board.

On this issue of fees and loans there are couple of points that must be made. I draw your attention, firstly, to the comments of Mr Ross Gittins, who I think is one of the finest economic commentators in the country. On 28 May in the Sydney Morning Herald he wrote:

I have long known how easy it is for unscrupulous political operators to panic [people].

... ... ...

With its repeated references to kids emerging from university with $100,000 debts, the debate has given people a quite exaggerated impression of the extent to which Brendan Nelson's plan would add to debt levels. The opposition parties and interest groups have used several tricks to mislead us.

First, they've got people's thinking muddled between two separate things: the changes to the HECS scheme and the changes to the arrangements for full-fee-paying places.

In Adelaide, David Bevan and Matt Abraham run a program on the ABC, as would be well known to the member for Makin and the member for Sturt, for example. On 20 May 2003 they interviewed the member for Jagajaga. She said:

When I go to primary schools, parents are saying to me, `Gee, are we going to have to start saving almost from that time to make sure we can afford to send our children to university?'

Mr Howard —Scaring little children!

Dr NELSON —And, Prime Minister—

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Port Adelaide!

Dr NELSON —credit must be given where it is due to these two ABC commentators. David Bevan then said:

And you would say to them, `No, of course not,' because there is a loans scheme here if your child wants to take a higher degree—they can take out a loan. They won't have to pay it back until they start earning over $30,000, so there is nothing to worry about.' You would say that to them, wouldn't you?

Then she said, `Oh, well—' and then five days later we got a press release from the member for Jagajaga entitled `Start saving now for your baby's university education'. It says:

Parents with a baby born today should immediately begin saving up to $44 a week if they want to be able to afford to send their child to university, Deputy Labor leader Jenny Macklin said today.

As Professor Mary Kalantzis, President of the Australian Council of Deans of Education—not a longstanding supporter of the government's policies—said in Campus Review last week, `The government has preserved HECS and effectively abolished up-front fees.' The point here is, as the member for Jagajaga herself was quoted as saying in the Sunday Tasmanian on 25 May:

`It's a shocking waste of talent to have people who want to go to university frightened off by the debt' ... `It's no good for students, families or the country.'

I could not agree more. It is not good. It is irresponsible. It is a manipulation of the emotions of everyday Australians to mislead them into believing something which could not be further from the truth. This government is opening opportunities for all Australians. What we are proposing to do is not only put a lot more money into Australian universities but also open opportunities to Australians who are no less deserving than those students who come from other countries.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Werriwa!