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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2863

Senator KILGARIFF(12.45) —Mr Deputy President, I rise today to bring to the attention of the Senate a matter which I believe gives very grave cause for concern for the future of thousands of young Australians and I particularly refer to the young people of the Northern Territory. My concern for these young people arises out of the attitude which has been adopted by the Federal Minister for Education, Senator Ryan, and certain officers of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission in relation to the Darwin University College. Senator Ryan's responses to questions put yesterday by Senator Robertson and Senator Teague have done nothing to allay those concerns. In fact, if anything, the inaccuracies in Senator Ryan's responses and her clear lack of knowledge of the tertiary educational requirements of the Northern Territory raise some pretty serious questions about her grasp of what I thought were fundamental facts.

I will come later on to the inaccuracies in the information that Senator Ryan perpetrated in the Senate yesterday. First, I would like to give a brief outline of some of the other matters relating to the history of the University College in Darwin and the way that it has been dealt with by the Federal Government. The first point which I believe should be made is that there is a desperate need for access to university education within the Northern Territory. The lack of access to such a facility has until now meant that the number of Territory students who go on to university study after year 12 is only one-third of the national average. That is far from a satisfactory situation, particularly in view of the rising numbers of year 12 students in Territory schools. Last year there were some 690 students; this year there are more than 900. Of course, if this increase happens year by year we will be up to 2,000 in a very short while.

Those students who wish to go on to university have been forced to go interstate, usually to Queensland, to study. But increasingly it has become difficult for Territory students to obtain places because of the imposition of quotas in universities in southern capitals and the fact that some institutions are now giving preference to students from their own States, which is quite realistic. This brain drain is a reality in the Northern Territory and the majority of students who study interstate rarely return to the Territory to work. The Territory is rapidly losing the cream of its youth and this situation has to be arrested. The logical answer to this problem would seem to be obvious: The Territory should become self-sufficient in the provision of tertiary education and begin now to lay the foundations on which the future of tertiary education in the Northern Territory will be built.

I would like to consider for a moment what the Federal Government's response to this situation has been. The only offer the Federal Government has made is to fund a limited number of university subjects for up to 20 students within the Darwin Institute of Technology next year. There would be funding for another 20 students in each of the following two years, rising to a total of about 60 students over three years in a limited number of subjects. Already the University College has attracted 254 applications for next year alone, but the Federal Government has set down the ultimatum-20 places next year or nothing. In order to enforce this ultimatum, the Federal Government and the Minister have found a very vindictive method of penalising, not so much the Northern Territory Government, but the young people of the Northern Territory. What the Minister has decided to say is that if the Northern Territory Government will not take these mere 20 places, the students at the new Territory university will be discriminated against in that they will not be regarded as entitled to receive Abstudy or Austudy.

I should point out here that the University College in Darwin is a college of the University of Queensland. Its courses are accredited courses of the University of Queensland and its academic standing is not questioned. So, a student who travels from the Northern Territory to Queensland and does a course, exactly the same as that offered in Darwin, will be eligible to receive Austudy or Abstudy, as the case may be. The student who does exactly the same course or study in Darwin will not be permitted to receive either Abstudy or Austudy; a rather discriminating situation, to say the least. This is quite an incredible situation, in view of the number of times honourable senators have heard the Minister stand in this chamber and piously tell the Senate how much she, her Department and the Labor Government are doing for Aboriginal people.

The Minister would be well aware that the financial circumstances of many Aboriginal families are such that they cannot afford to send their students to university outside the Northern Territory. There is a growing need, and the tide is beginning to turn. Even those who qualify for Abstudy find the cost of accommodation and other living expenses so prohibitive that it is just not economically possible for the children of these families to further their education. I am speaking not only of Aboriginal families; this applies to many of the workers, the battlers, in the Northern Territory. Yet the Minister for Education is not interested in providing more than a miserable 20 places for Territory students, many of whom would be Aboriginal students, as I have said before, to improve their education and their prospects.

We have really a ludicrous situation where Territory students who wish to continue on to tertiary study, and to do it at home close to family and friends, are being penalised. They are being forced to go out of the Territory at great cost to themselves, their parents, the Federal Government, which has to pay them three air fares home per year, and, ultimately, the Northern Territory. I would have to agree with the Northern Territory Minister for Education, the Hon. Daryl Manzie, who described this attitude in the Legislative Assembly earlier this week as `sheer bullheaded bloody mindedness'.

I turn to the inaccuracies in Senator Ryan's answers yesterday here in the Senate, and they are indeed very worrying. The first and most incredible is the Minister's statement yesterday in relation to the Darwin Institute of Technology. In arguing that it should carry the 20 students in the first year of the University College, the Minister was telling the Senate that it was logical that the facilities of the Darwin Institute of Technology should be used; that they were not overly taxed already, that there is plenty of room for more students. The Minister, Senator Ryan, said:

The Darwin Institute of Technology is a relatively new, relatively small, higher education institution. It is going quite well and the Federal Government wishes to support its development. It currently has in the vicinity of 300 students.

That was Senator Ryan speaking. So the Federal Education Minister thinks that the Institute has 300 students. In fact it has 8,500 students-I repeat-8,500, not 300. One could perhaps excuse the Minister for making an approximation which is a little less than accurate. But for the Federal Minister for Education to be so out of touch with reality as to think that an institution of over 8,000 students has only 300 students raises serious doubts regarding her grasp of what is going on in tertiary education institutions around Australia; or perhaps she knows what is going on elsewhere but just has not bothered to inform herself of what the situation is in the Northern Territory. Perhaps there is another thing, too, that she is getting very bad advice from somewhere and this may become a little obvious in a moment or two. That may in fact be the true position as there are certainly very big gaps between the real situation and that which was presented by the Minister in this place yesterday.

Let us consider some of her other responses in the Senate yesterday. The Minister said that she would not allow higher education policy to be determined unilaterally by State or Territory regimes. Yet a resolution passed at the fifty-second meeting of the Australian Education Council last year provided that the Commonwealth should acknowledge that the wishes of each State with respect to the development of its tertiary education system should be treated as the most important source of advice about the needs at the State level in the triennial planning process. The Northern Territory Government has not even been asked for its advice about its needs.

A second part of the Education Council resolution requires the Commonwealth and States to negotiate to accommodate each other's views. The Northern Territory Government has tried to negotiate but has been greeted with nothing but the ultimatum to which I have referred. When Northern Territory educational representatives met with Mr Hugh Hudson of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission in Canberra recently to discuss the University College, the Northern Territory officials were subjected to a tirade of abuse from this supposedly senior public servant. They were accused of being wankers-nice language from a senior education person. They were told that they were snobbish and generally treated in a manner which suggests to me that the particular public servant, the CTEC official, Mr Hudson, is not fit to hold the office which he does.

I suggest that the Minister might look at these complaints that are being made and at her inaccuracies and the information that she has been fed. Perhaps Mr Hudson could be moved sideways in the interests of education in Australia, and particularly in the Northern Territory. Senator Ryan also referred yesterday to the University College as a gross misuse and wastage of public funds, yet she fails to realise that it costs far more to send students out of the Territory to be educated than it will to educate them in the Territory. The other errors which she made during her speech are too many to enumerate in the time which I have available here today, but I will certainly take them up with the Minister and I will be interested to see whether, in view of misleading information which she has put before the Senate, the Minister is prepared to learn a bit more about what is really happening in the Northern Territory before she takes any further action to discriminate against the Northern Territory students.