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Thursday, 21 August 2003
Page: 19309

Mr Danby asked the Minister for Education, Science and Training, upon notice, on 26 June 2003:

(1) Can he confirm that earlier this month the Government inserted advertising pamphlets into HECS statements being posted out to all students, promoting the Government's higher education policy.

(2) Can he confirm that the pamphlet says FEE-HELP “will cover up to the full amount of their tuition fees,”; if so, is this statement an accurate reflection of the position for the majority of students.

(3) Was the pamphlet prepared by his department; if not, (a) which organisation or individual prepared it and (b) how much was this individual or organisation paid.

(4) In respect of the pamphlet, what was (a) its total cost, (b) the cost of the (i) production, (ii) printing, (iii) artwork, (iv) design, and (iv) layout, and (c) in each instance, which organisation did the work.

(5) Was any public relations advice sought on the pamphlet; if so, from whom and how much did it cost.

(6) What was the cost of the distribution.

(7) From what budget were the costs of the pamphlet funded.

(8) How many people in (a) Australia and (b) in each federal electoral division received the pamphlet.

(9) Who made the decision on (a) sending the pamphlet and (b) to whom to send the pamphlet and when were these decisions made.

(10) Has his department received a list of recipients of the pamphlet.

(11) Why were taxpayer funds used to promote a Government policy which has not yet been enacted by the Parliament.

(12) Is this an example of political advertising criticised by the Australian National Audit Office as a waste of taxpayer funds.

(13) Will he allow alternative policy proposals also to be distributed using taxpayer funds.

Dr Nelson (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) The Government provided a copy of the brochure, Higher education reforms: Information for students, to all Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) debtors who received a HECS Information Statement.

(2) The brochure actually states that, for eligible students, Fee-Paying Higher Education Loan Programme (FEE-HELP) “loans will cover up to the full amount of their tuition fees with students able to borrow up to $50,000”.

This statement is correct. The loans are available for tuition fees only, not other purposes. The maximum students are able to borrow is $50,000. It should be noted that the majority of courses are under $50,000.

(3) Yes.

(4) (a) The total cost of the pamphlet was $31,172.

(b) (i) Production $0

(ii) Printing $31,172

(iii) Artwork $0

(iv) Design $0

(v) Layout $0

(c) Production, artwork, design and layout work was done by the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST), and J S McMillan Printing Group printed the brochure.

(5) No.

(6) $5,397.

(7) The cost of the printing and distribution of the brochure was covered by DEST funds.

(8) (a) Distribution of the brochures were as follows:

· 945,377 to existing HECS debtors;

· around 85,000 to universities;

· 5 pamphlets to each school with year 11 and 12 students; and

· inclusion in the higher education reform policy packs.

(b) DEST does not have the above information by federal electoral division.

(9) DEST made these decisions, in consultation with my office, prior to the release of the higher education reform package.

(10) No.

(11) The higher education reform package represents the Government's policy regarding higher education. Both current and future students have the right to know how these policy changes may affect them so that they are well placed to make informed decisions regarding their future. This was the intent of the brochure. The brochure also clearly states that the implementation of the reform package is subject to the passage of legislation.

(12) No. In his report Number 12 of 1998-99, the Auditor General indicated in his draft guidelines that, it was appropriate to spend funds on communication activities to “inform the public of new, existing or proposed policies or proposed revisions”. The current guidelines require that all information programmes conducted by departments should be impartial and as complete as practicable based on the information needs and capacities of the target audience. It is appropriate use of Commonwealth funding to inform students about intended changes in policy that are likely to affect them. It is usual practice for Government Departments to release information relating to Budget measures.

(13) No.