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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26170

Senator CARR (3:38 PM) —I move:

At the end of the motion, add “and, in respect of the Higher Education Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2004, the bill be referred to the Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee for inquiry on 19 August 2004 and report by 2 September 2004”.

It is an extremely unusual event in this Senate when a senator seeks to refer a bill to a committee and that request is denied. For the first time in living memory, according to the clerks, that occurred last week with a proposition to refer the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2004 to a committee. Now we have the second occasion in this regard with the Higher Education Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2004.

I raise this because I think it is a matter of deep concern to the Senate that the government should seek to frustrate the work of this place in its normal function, and that is the proper scrutiny of government legislation. A proposition has been advanced here that we should examine the details of a bill which covers some 20 matters concerning higher education in this country. A proposition has been advanced here by the opposition today that that bill ought to be the subject of a Senate inquiry with the reporting date of 2 September 2004. The consequences of this are that we lose not one day of sitting time in this chamber, but the government is proposing to try to stop this action.

As I said, this bill covers 20 separate matters, some of which are highly controversial and ought to be subject to proper scrutiny. The reason we have 20 different matters in an amendment bill is that this government failed to properly deal with these matters last December. Last December, when we were dealing with the changes to the higher education measures, the government refused to consider amendments from the opposition or from the crossbenches. As a consequence, we now have a bill before the chamber that seeks to address those mistakes made last December.

We were told last December that the bill was perfect. We were told last December that the government measures were, without question, beyond criticism, yet we now discover a few months later that 20 separate issues need to be corrected. If they were wrong in December, what makes them suddenly right now? That is why I think we are entitled to examine these issues and that is why I am asking the chamber to support this proposition. There are measures buried deep in this bill that go beyond the question of just cleaning up the mistakes from last year when, in the middle of the night, the government tried to ram through a bill—and were successful—which failed to address these fundamental questions.

Tucked away in the additional matters we have in this proposition before us today is a proposition whereby the parliament is being asked to add Melbourne University Private to the list of higher education institutions that will be funded by the Commonwealth. The proposition is that Melbourne University Private, a commercial entity, a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Melbourne, an institution that is not self-accrediting—that is, it operates under the act of the University of Melbourne—that does not issue its own degrees, that does not even have its own students and that does not employ its own staff, should be treated as a separate institution. The AVCC, the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, just last week refused the same entity membership of its august organisation, yet we are asked by this government to fund it. This is an institution that has only a five-year licence to operate in Victoria—no separate act of parliament like other universities. It is in fact on a rotational approval process, just like any other vocational college. (Time expired)