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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4563

Lyne Electorate: Regional Education

Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (14:41): My question is to the Prime Minister and relates to the feasibility study to lift education access and participation rates on the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales, funded by you in the previous parliament. This study has just been completed and has the exact opposite conclusions to those of the recent Grattan Institute findings around regional empowerment and growth. In light of this will you accept a presentation of these findings from the relevant Mid-North Coast advisory board chaired by former deputy secretary of DEEWR Jim Davidson so that the Grattan Institute model of picking winners for regional growth can be considered against real and practical evidence from regional communities fighting to address systemic inequality?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:42): I thank the member for Lyne for his question, and once again it is a serious question about opportunities for Australians in his electorate. I know that this has been a very long passion of his. I know that in the last parliament, when I was minister for education, he and some very determined and very effective advocates from his community who had worked with him for a long period of time came to see me about their concerns about low post-school participation in their local community. In truth, when we looked at the statistics the member for Lyne and his community had a lot to be concerned about, because by the standards of the nation and by the standards of some other parts of the nation their community was at risk of falling behind. And they were determined to change that. As part of that determination we worked with them to provide $165,000 to the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council to undertake a tertiary education feasibility study. It is very good work for a local community to do.

I spoke a while ago about the importance of keeping our economy strong, and of course that is central to everything that the government does. But I understand that, whilst we work to keep our economy strong, that in and of itself does not spread opportunity around the nation. We need to do more. And the work that the member has been doing with his local community is about doing more and is about making post-school opportunities available in his own community. Consequently, I am pleased that, through that work, an application will come forward to the regional round of the Education Investment Fund to create a multipartner university campus on the mid-North Coast of New South Wales. I know that the application will seek $20 million in seed funding. Of course, this will be looked at by our experts who oversee the Education Investment Fund, but this is very important work to build on what has been done in the past.

The member asked me to contrast this approach with the work of the Grattan Institute. I am a very big respecter of the Grattan Institute and, of course, I will study their work, but my sense is that in order to keep building opportunity in regional Australia we need to go down the kind of pathways that the member and his community are looking to go down. And I think we should reassure ourselves that change is possible. A lot of people said to me in my early days as Minister for Education that you cannot change the fact that when it comes to university education poorer kids and kids from rural and regional areas tend to miss out. They said it is a given, it is a disadvantage that is compounded earlier in life, and you cannot make a difference to it at the university level.

We have proved that wrong already by the changes we have made in university education: more places, loadings to universities to actually go out and work with low-SES communities, more reward in terms of a regional loading and a fairer system of youth allowance. The result of that is that, whilst the participation rate of rural and regional kids in university was going down under the Howard government, now it is coming back up. That is good news for anybody who genuinely cares about the prospects and life chances of people in rural and regional Australia. I certainly believe we need to do more. This is a pathway to do more. I think it will stand as a very innovative model for communities around the nation and I am looking forward to continuing working with the member on it.