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Thursday, 26 September 2002
Page: 4960

Senator HARRIS (9:58 AM) —I rise to speak to the message from the House of Representatives relating to the Higher Education Funding Amendment Bill 2002 and the Australian Research Council Act 2001. In noting that the House have acquainted the Senate that they have accepted some amendments, rejected others and also drafted amendments in place of certain Senate amendments, I would like to take note of the alternatives the House of Representatives have presented the Senate with. I will speak first of all about item 20, `Eligible private institutions to include information in annual report'. Proposed subsection (1) says:

The Minister must, as soon as practicable after the end of 30 June in each year, cause an annual report to be prepared by each eligible private institution that offers an eligible post-graduate course of study. The annual report must include (but is not limited to) ...

Then it sets out a series of requirements. Proposed subsection (2) says:

The Minister must cause copies of any annual report prepared under subsection (1) to be laid before each House of Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after completion of the annual report.

I believe that is the tenor of what the Senate was actually asking the original bill to be amended to. I draw your attention, Chair, to House of Representatives proposed amendment (4). I am now quoting from proposed section 98JA, `Eligible private institution to report information':

(1) The Minister must, as soon as practicable after 31 December in each year, require each eligible private institution that offers an eligible post-graduate course of study to report to the Minister, in an approved form, information regarding their operations during that year.

(2) The eligible private institution must comply with a requirement under subsection (1) as soon as practicable.

What does `as soon as practicable' mean? Does it mean that the institution can take six months or 12 months? We have a requirement for the institutions to actually provide the minister by 30 June each year with a report and then we have this open-ended proposed section. In accepting some of the Senate's amendments, the government has definitely improved the bill. The tenor of the amendments that we have before us appears to go a long way to recognising the issues that the Senate has raised, but we have this amendment on the requirement of the institutions that I believe is far too open ended.

In concluding, I would like to put on the record that the government has still not accepted the main issue that has been raised in this debate, and that is the issue that, for the first time, the government has listed two non-self-accrediting institutions to have access to PELS. I realise that during the debate the minister very clearly indicated that no institutions other than those that are set out in column 2—Christian Heritage College in Queensland and Tabor College in South Australia—will have access under this legislation. But the clear concern that was expressed by the vice-chancellors that we consulted was that they believed that this would start a process where other institutions would have leverage to be able to voice their particular position to also have access to the PELS scheme. I want to place very clearly on the record that the vice-chancellors are not saying that those non-self-accrediting institutions should not be financed—that is not their position. They clearly believe that the government should provide funding for those non-self-accrediting institutions through a different budgetary process. Their concern primarily stemmed from the fact that the $18.5 million that is available for PELS to approximately 120 institutions would be further diluted by access given to other non-self-accrediting institutions. I will place on the record that One Nation will support the passage of the bill, but it is disappointing that the government has not taken into account the concerns of the vice-chancellors of the universities.