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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5171

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (1:01 PM) —Senator, I am sure you are aware that the constitutional relationship between the Commonwealth and universities is a quite complex matter. They are technically state institutions, they are regulated by state parliaments, but the expenditure of Commonwealth money is covered by measures that are regulated by Commonwealth legislation. The Commonwealth does not seek to establish a relationship between the university and individual students other than for those purposes for which the Commonwealth has appropriated money. That is effectively the basis upon which that discussion is held. The Commonwealth is now moving, through the reform measures, to broaden the level of engagement with the university system, consistent with the fact that these are state institutions enacted by state legislature. We have no intention to change that particular matter.

The fact remains that, with regard to all of those verification processes, the arrangement is between the Commonwealth and the institution—the vice-chancellor or whoever it happens to be. The authorised officer signs off, verifies, that Commonwealth moneys that have been expended in that university are in accordance with the arrangements made with the Commonwealth. If there are students who have complaints about the expenditure—for instance, regarding my area, people have written to me about the award of an Australian postgraduate award, as to whether they have been properly treated—that is effectively a matter for the university. The relationship is with the university in terms of the actual administrative arrangements for those awards. If there are broader complaints, and we are looking at these issues, in terms of accreditation arrangements—this is part of the Bradley reforms that have been proposed; in my case there are questions that we are exploring with the universities about research misconduct—a series of measures are changing that relationship, but those relationships are governed by the legislative framework passed by the parliament to this point.