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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17500

Mr LINDSAY (3:23 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Minister, would you inform the House of the benefits that will flow to James Cook University in Townsville and Cairns when the government's higher education reform package, Backing Australia's Future, is implemented? Is the minister aware of other statements or policies which place the future of higher education at risk?

Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —I thank the member for Herbert for his question. His advocacy for James Cook University is matched only by his advocacy for defence personnel in his electorate. The James Cook University will benefit substantially from the government's $1.5 billion transformational reform package for higher education, as will all regional universities. Apart from a 7½ per cent increase in its core Commonwealth grants, it will also get a 7½ per cent extra loading for Townsville, Mount Isa, Mackay and Cairns campuses and will be able to access additional places in nurses and teaching, increased funding for the training of nurses and teachers, and 25,000 scholarships to support students in educational costs and, for regional and rural students, to support their accommodation costs. It will also be able to access a $138 million learning and teaching performance pool and a whole variety of government initiatives which include support for low-income students and Indigenous students. As has been said by Eric Wainwright, an official from James Cook University, in the Cairns Post on 27 May:

If the proposed changes go through parliament, access to university education in Far North Queensland is likely to be improved overall. James Cook University, he said, will be a beneficiary of the extra funding proposed for regional universities, particularly that proposed for nursing and teaching education, so much needed in far North Queensland.

Today the alternative policy, if you could describe it as a policy, is one of obstruction and obfuscation from the Australian Labor Party, adding to the Treasurer's very long list of things that the Labor Party is doing to hold back Australia's economic and social development. Having refused to participate in a year-long review of higher education, which included not just universities and the business community but also unions and students and a whole variety of people, including regional communities, the member for Jagajaga stood up at the Sydney Town Hall five days before the federal budget and announced to union officials and a few friends that she would be opposing, before they were even announced, the government's reforms to higher education. Now Labor have announced that they want a Senate inquiry which will finish at the end of November. The Australian newspaper today reported that:

... the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee described Labor's move as “pointless” last night and said it would endanger federal funding and deprive students of the time to make course selections.

The AVCC believed there was “no point at all in putting it to yet another Senate review”, executive officer John Mullarvey said.

What is it about the Labor Party that has enabled it in the space of 18 months to alienate a group of people who traditionally were seen to be essentially supportive of Labor Party largesse? That takes a lot of skill, and one would wonder who might be responsible for it. Finally, as Professor Gerard Sutton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wollongong, told the Bulletin magazine last week:

Labor is quite wrong. My view is that overall the package is a strong positive for universities; $1.5 bn of new money in the sector is a substantial increase in anybody's language. I would have hoped that Labor would be prepared to negotiate on it because, if this package goes down in the Senate, then universities will be facing a genuine crisis.

That is Professor Gerard Sutton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wollongong. Every person on the Labor Party side should reflect long and hard about his or her contribution to the future of this country and either get out of the road or get on the bus.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.