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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20152

Ms MACKLIN (3:47 PM) —The member for Chisholm has an extraordinary record; she has now identified two occasions on which this serial misleader, the Prime Minister of Australia, misled not only the Australian parliament but also the Australian people. As the member for Chisholm pointed out in her question today, she was quoting the Prime Minister in the House Hansard of 14 October 1999 when he said, in response to a question from the member for Grey:

There will be no $100,000 university fees under this government.

There is a pretty plain statement, made before the last election, that there would be no $100,000 university fees under this government. But what is it that they are in fact seeking to do? They are seeking to massively expand the number of $100,000 university degrees. I thought I would draw attention to another statement by the Prime Minister when he was answering this question, because if I were the current Minister for Education, Science and Training I would be a bit worried. Back in 1999, the Prime Minister said of Dr Kemp, the then minister for education:

... the minister has done an outstanding job in the portfolio that he has had.

So, Minister, I think your life in this portfolio may be short! The previous minister tried to introduce these outrageous policies; you are now following suit. The Prime Minister thought the former minister was outstanding; he thinks you are outstanding. We will be able to wave you all goodbye pretty soon! Maybe that is why this minister is really the master of the disappearing act. We are not talking about your earring, either, Minister. Words mysteriously disappear from his media transcripts, whole paragraphs disappear from departmental reports, statistics never make it onto the web site and whole columns fall off the web site.

Mr Tanner —It's the member for Houdini!

Ms MACKLIN —The member for Melbourne has stolen my line: this is the Houdini of the House of Representatives. One of his favourite tricks seems to be making numbers go astray. We know how much he loves numbers. They seem to be from time to time magically replaced by other numbers. This sleight of hand, we know, has been described by this minister as nothing short of misspeak. This misspeak is of course his equivalent of a get out of jail free card. In his land you can talk about anything you like and then just do a breathtaking backflip, so we expect to see quite a few of those over the next few months as the legislation gets debated. We saw one yesterday. It is really quite extraordinary.

This time it is not just any old figure that has disappeared. Where on earth is this legislation? It has been four months since it was originally announced in the last budget. The minister, we understand, does finally have his act together and I gather it is going to be introduced maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day—he still shrugs his shoulders. It will be extraordinary if he continues this incredible delay. You would have to say that it is the legislation that is now missing in action. The legislation is not here, we cannot have the debate about this extremely important issue and the minister himself seems to have gone missing on this very vital issue. You would think that, if you put out a major policy in the federal budget, you would be out there hammering it, selling it day after day, and you would be getting questions without notice here in the parliament. Have we had any questions without notice on universities? Not asked by that side. We have not heard anything about them from this minister.

Over the last few hours we have sought high and low to find out where the minister was in fact selling his university package. Maybe he knows the Prime Minister really means it when he calls him an outstanding minister and that this policy is not one to be spruiked, because it has so little support. We did hear him on the radio this morning, though, responding to the point that the member for Sydney raised in question time—that at least 1,350 HECS places will be cut from New South Wales universities because of this government's university changes. The minister's response to the member for Sydney was the same as on the radio—that the government was not making the universities cut places. In fact, the implication was that too many young people want to go to university. They cannot all fit in, so really we should just stop talking about it.

The minister does not seem to care about the heartbreak—and I have to tell him it is heartbreak and disappointment—that these university changes are going to mean for current year 10, 11 and 12 students. These students, especially the year 12 students who are applying for university courses right now, are going to find that the bar to get into university is just being set higher and higher. The government is forcing universities to cut back on HECS places over the next three years—the universities will tell you that. The university in my own electorate, La Trobe University, know that if they do not cut their overenrolled places they will be penalised. They are not being compensated in the next three years with the same number of places to make up for those cuts.

It is going to get harder and harder for young people to get a university place. The people from New South Wales who actually deal with university entrance have come clean about what this really means for current year 12 students. The New South Wales Universities Admissions Centre have described what is going to occur as `fierce competition'. More students will be applying for fewer places. We also know that, in addition to the government cutting the number of places that are available, any student that might have deferred is going to try and make sure they take up their place next year to get in before this government's changes take place and they have to pay 30 per cent more for a university education. This, of course, means that the cut-off scores for university entrance are going to skyrocket, and thousands upon thousands of students right around Australia are going to be turned away from courses that they are qualified to do.

Everyone on this side of the parliament hopes that this will not put people off applying to go to university. We know that so many people who want to go currently miss out, and I say to the minister that he should stop misleading the Australian public about what is going to happen over the next three years and how bad it is going to be next year, because it is going to leave a lot of people very disappointed. The minister's only response, as we heard in here today and of course on the radio, seems to be that the only way to deal with overcrowding is to have fewer students. It is not the fact that young Australians want to get a university degree that actually threatens standards; it is the fact that, thanks to the Howard government—thanks to Dr Kemp and now to Dr Nelson—universities all around Australia have had $5 billion worth of funding cuts. That is why we have got overcrowding in our universities. That is why quality is being threatened in our universities.

You could say, `The minister has not been answering questions in here, he has not been doing any radio; maybe he was on television.' But the last time I found him on television was when Laurie Oakes politely called him `dishonest' on national television.

Mr Swan —He hasn't been on since then.

Ms MACKLIN —I have not seen him on national television since then. On the radio, I am sorry to say that, except for this morning, he seems to have been missing in action, except for an extraordinary interview when he was caught out on Triple J on the classroom talkback program. The minister admitted to a young student that he would not have been able to pay $135,000 for his medical degree.

Dr Nelson —That is true.

Ms MACKLIN —He says that is true. He would not have been able to do that but he, this minister who could not have paid $135,000 for his medical degree, is going to make sure that 10 per cent of medical students in this country pay up to $150,000 for a medical degree. That is what this minister is doing. We know it is a fact. We know that that is what the University of Melbourne has said it will cost. We just seem to have a minister who is not prepared to go out there and spruik his policy, defend his policy and make sure that he gets some support for it. You might wonder why.

Ms Jackson —Indefensible.

Ms MACKLIN —That is exactly right. Why would you want to go out and talk about a 30 per cent increase in university fees? Why would you want to say to aspiring young medical students—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The member for Jagajaga will address her comments through the chair.

Ms MACKLIN —`You will have to pay $150,000 for your degree'? Why would he get out there and say to school leavers who are desperate to get into university that the opportunities that they have to get a HECS place will be dramatically reduced because of his changes?

The one place that the minister does seem to still be found working is in the North Shore Times, his own local paper. He has a regular column in it, and he writes about a whole range of different issues—the struggle for love, enlightenment and understanding and the romance habits of his pets. That is where inquiring eyes can find the only visible signs of the education minister taking positive steps to defend his university package. He penned a column just a month ago having a go at university students for daring to protest against the government's changes. He certainly seems to have changed from when he was outside the parliament or on the back bench. Back then, he was much more youth friendly. In fact, he said in 1998 that there should be a decision-making process for young people so that they could make their views about their lives felt. Of course, that has all gone by the by.

We certainly know from this month's column in the North Shore Times—this is a real beauty—that it is doctors' remuneration that the minister has changed tack on. In the column this month he dismisses as inconsequential $43,000 for a medical degree in light of medical earnings. But let us just go back to when he was President of the AMA, back in 1993. Back then, he said:

... all this rhetoric I believed about rich doctors and all that sort of stuff was not true ... the only doctors who were making any money were those working a 90 hour week.

So what has changed? What has changed from 1993?

Mr Swan —He's joined the Liberal Party; that's what has changed.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Jagajaga does not need any support from the member for Lilley.

Ms MACKLIN —Not only have we got a serial misleader in the Prime Minister but we also can see that the minister has completely changed his tune since he left the Labor Party, as the member for Lilley says. The minister is extraordinary in his number of backflips. The minister knows that it is not just students who are very concerned about having to pay massive increases in fees, having to pay full fees of $100,000 or even more. There has been a string of false starts and delays in introducing this legislation. The last false start was when David Kemp tried to introduce it.

The minister knows the reason he is having trouble getting all this together—and this is really being pinged by the research that was done for the University of Western Sydney on people living in Western Sydney. How would you like research like this? Nine out 10 people interviewed in Western Sydney oppose this government's university plans. That is a pretty good effort. The survey also shows that over half the people surveyed say that the issue of university funding will influence their vote. So we can only hope that this minister continues along his merry way. I wonder if the minister has seen the details of this research and that is why we have not heard him anywhere, why we have not seen the legislation.

We know that this minister has massively misjudged this issue and got community sentiment totally wrong. People want their children to go to university; I do, the member for Lilley does. The minister wants his children to have the chance to go to university. But each and every parent knows that higher fees, $100,000 degrees and fewer places mean that it is going to be harder and harder to get a university degree in this country. If this legislation goes through, that will be the legacy of this minister, that will be the legacy of this government. That is why we will not be agreeing to $100,000 university degrees or any increases to HECS. (Time expired)