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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1976


Dr CHARLESWORTH —In light of the recent highlighting of the issue of tertiary education by the activities of some student groups, I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Education: How does the record of this Government in the creation of places in higher education compare with its predecessor?


Mr DAWKINS —This is obviously an important matter. In the last four years of the Fraser Government a miserable 13,000 extra places were provided in universities and colleges around Australia. That is to be compared with the first four years of this Government-the first four of many years, I would imagine-in which we have created 37,000 new places in universities and colleges, nearly three times the number of places that were created by our predecessors. As if that were not a stark enough comparison, if we were to look at the policy revealed by the Leader of the Opposition recently, we would find that any re-elected Liberal-National government would provide not 37,000, not 13,000, not 3,000, but precisely zero new places in universities and colleges. Before anyone jumps to any particular conclusion about that, one needs to qualify any Leader of the Opposition produced policy with the qualification that we do not really know where the National Party stands on this issue. If there is one thing we know about the Leader of the Opposition, it is that he is desperate to dance to the tune of whoever happens to lead the National Party. That is why this Leader of the Opposition continues to have the affectionate support of the current leader of the National Party, who knows from years of long experience that one can always rely on the Leader of the Opposition, John Howard, to do precisely what the National Party wants. The problem at the moment is that the Leader of the Opposition is not quite sure about which tune of which Leader of the National Party he is supposed to be dancing to.


Mr Spender —I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question was about education. What the Minister is saying has nothing to do with the question, and he knows it.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Chair was about to ask the Minister to get back to the question.


Mr DAWKINS —On 5 February, when the Premier of Queensland, the putative Leader of the National Party, was asked what the differences were between him and the Leader of the Opposition, he said:

He's not reducing the government expenditure as I said, by doing away with all this duplication . . . He wants an education department which costs billions and billions of dollars every year but he doesn't teach one single child. He is only . . . shuffling policies around and trying to tell the States what to do--


Madam SPEAKER —Will the Minister get back to the question.


Mr DAWKINS —This is about education. The Premier said:

`He does that in every single section and I say, get rid of them, so we're different on policy'.


Mr Spender —I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order is the same. The Minister is not dealing with education; he is quoting somebody from the Queensland National Party which has nothing to do with the question being asked of him.


Madam SPEAKER —The Minister is quoting at the moment. I hope he will then continue with the rest of the answer.


Mr DAWKINS —So, a few days later in response to this statement by the Premier of Queensland, the Leader of the Opposition said--


Mr Porter —So what?


Mr DAWKINS —I am about to quote him. The honourable member probably has not heard it. The Leader of the Opposition said: `It is no good shifting a function from the Federal Government to the States; what you have got to do is abolish the function altogether'. So the Leader of the Opposition, on 18 February, in response to what the Premier of Queensland said, was saying that the education function should be abolished entirely. It was only a matter of two weeks before he unveiled a policy for higher education which quite clearly involved a continuation of Commonwealth involvement in tertiary education. The important point is that any student in Australia is entitled to judge our policy and compare it with the Opposition's policy.


Mr Hawke —And record.


Mr DAWKINS —And, as the Prime Minister says, with our record. Nobody knows at the moment what the Leader of the Opposition's policy really is. We will never know what the Leader of the Opposition's policy is until such time as the National Party gives him his marching orders. Those of us who observed--


Mr Downer —Madam Speaker, I draw your attention to some of the points of order that have already been made. This question was a request for a comparison between the performance of the Fraser Government and that of the present Government. It had nothing to do with the policies of the Opposition at this time-policies which will give young people very real opportunities that they currently lack.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.


Mr DAWKINS —As the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs says, it does not worry someone who has got the assets and the resources of the honourable member for Mayo. Those opposite can pay what they like.

Honourable members interjecting-


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Minister will draw the answer to a close.


Mr DAWKINS —Those opposite are in an incredibly excitable frame of mind this afternoon. One reason for their anxiety and their discomfort is that they know-the Liberal Party particularly knows-that they do not know what their policy is until the Leader of the Opposition gets his instructions from the National Party. I have been a fairly persistent follower of the policies of the Leader of the Opposition and particularly his conduct in government. For the benefit of--


Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, on a point of order: The same point of order is being made--


Madam SPEAKER —The Minister is now comparing the policies. I hope that he is now going to draw his answer to a close.


Mr Spender —The question that was asked of him was about places under the Fraser Government and under the present Government. This is a direct debasement of Question Time.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. The Minister for Trade representing the Minister for Education will draw his answer to a close.


Mr DAWKINS —In fact it would have been half as long if it had not been for the interruptions from honourable members opposite. I think it is a matter of importance to allow the people of Australia to know precisely where the Leader of the Opposition stands. So with that in mind I have prepared a brief document about the way in which the Leader of the Opposition--


Mr Connolly —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. You gave the Minister an explicit instruction to draw his answer to a close. He has spoken for a whole minute and now he is about to start another performance.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Chair has asked the Minister to draw the answer to a close. He will do so promptly.


Mr DAWKINS —I would give members of the Opposition a copy of this document, but I expect they would just turn it into confetti as they did on an earlier occasion. The important point is that this document identifies--


Mr Aldred —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. You gave a most precise instruction to the Minister. He is not putting that instruction into effect.


Madam SPEAKER —The Minister is drawing the answer to a close right now.


Mr DAWKINS —The document, which I table, recounts in fairly exquisite detail the number of occasions on which this man as Treasurer was stood over by the National Party. That is why the current leadership of the National Party would like to have this weak, spineless and vacillating leader as Leader of the Liberal Party-they know they will always get their way.


Mr Hand —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. The people listening to this program will have trouble hearing the answers, like we are. I ask you to ask members of the Opposition to behave better in the House.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! I ask the House to come to order.