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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7734

Senator CARR (2:56 PM) —My question without notice is to Senator Alston, representing the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Can the minister confirm that the Northern Territory University will be closed and replaced by a radically restructured entity, to be known as the Charles Darwin University? Can the minister further confirm that this action is to be taken as the result of the funding crisis faced by the Northern Territory University? Can the minister confirm that the Commonwealth will be required to pay another $10 million towards the new university and that it is a condition of the advance of the funds made to the university that this restructure take place? How many more universities face the same fate as the Northern Territory University?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —That is another good reason why you ought to aspire to government—you get much better service. And the way to do it is by coming up with good, well thought out policies, not any of this grubby nonsense and trawling—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Alston, I draw your attention to the question, and please address your remarks to the chair.

Senator ALSTON —I was being egged on, Mr Deputy President.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator ALSTON —Senator Ferris does an excellent job, I must say. No wish is left ungranted.

Senator Chris Evans —Why don't you grant our wishes when it comes to a division?

Senator ALSTON —I get along when I can.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Alston, address your remarks to the chair and ignore the remarks coming from the left.

Senator ALSTON —I do not know that I can assist Senator Carr with his question about the Northern Territory University or indeed the Charles Darwin University replacing it, but when Senator Carr strays into his usual area of fabricating this crisis about university funding I can probably help him a bit more. Financial measures indicate that higher education institutions generally retain strong liquidity, low levels of borrowing and a significant level of assets. In 2001, sector revenue was over $10 billion, an increase of $0.9 billion from 2000. The aggregate operating result for the sector was $460 million. Universities have access to higher levels of revenue than ever before. In 2002—I know it is a bit hard to believe but it is true—

Senator Faulkner —I rise on a point of order, Mr Deputy President. Senator Alston is desperately scrabbling around for a brief on this question about the Northern Territory University and the Charles Darwin University—he said any brief will do. My point of order is a point of relevance. He could just save us the trouble by taking an important question from Senator Carr on notice. He has no idea what the answer to the question is. He has admitted that. Any brief will do. He is going to read something into record. The minister should not waste our time. He should take the question on notice, try to get a sensible answer to a very important question and we can get on with the rest of the Senate's program.

Senator ALSTON —Mr Deputy President, on the point of order: Senator Faulkner has got half a point because if the question had stopped at Charles Darwin University and Northern Territory University then I would have to concede that he is basically right. Unfortunately, Senator Carr went a bit further because he could not help himself. He wanted to rabbit on about university funds and university crises and all the union stuff.

Senator Faulkner —It's just that none of it goes to the Northern Territory.

Senator ALSTON —My ears pricked up at that union bit, so I thought that here was an opportunity to set him straight.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Alston, what is your point of order?

Senator ALSTON —My point of order is that in fact there was enough in the end bit of the question for me to be able to respond to it. I can help Senator Carr in assuring him there is no such thing as a crisis in university funding. Some universities perform better than others in particular years but overall they do not.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Your point of order—I am still waiting!

Senator ALSTON —My point of order is that I do have a decent response to the second half of the question, and that is all I need to be able to have a run.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —All right. There is no point of order. The minister has two minutes and 15 seconds. I believe the minister is coming to the answer so, Minister, will you on the point of relevance address the question?

Senator ALSTON —It is the epicentre, I can assure you. You had better take this down, Senator Carr: universities have access to higher levels of revenue than ever before. In 2002, it is estimated that the total revenue available to higher education institutions from all sources will be an estimated $10.9 billion, nearly $2.4 billion—that is more than 28 per cent—more than in 1995, and who was in government in 1995?

Senator Carr —I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy President. Senator Alston has entertained the chamber for some time. I asked a specific question which went to the issue of the Northern Territory University being closed and I asked whether he would confirm that this action was taken as a result of the funding crisis faced by the Northern Territory University. I ask him to please address the question.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. Minister, I draw your attention to the question that was asked and, in the one minute and 39 seconds left, you might respond to the question.

Senator ALSTON —In view of the time—and I know everyone else has got more important things to do, Mr Deputy President—perhaps we will call it quits. I will get whatever information I can for Senator Carr on that first part of the question.

Senator CARR —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask the minister to also seek in regard to this matter advice as to whether the Commonwealth will support the closure of the Northern Territory University and its replacement with a new entity arising from an amalgamation of Centralian College, the Menzies School of Health and elements of the Australian National University. I further ask: what other assistance will the Commonwealth be providing the new entity? Isn't this closure forced on the Northern Territory University simply an example of the consequences that have resulted from this government's bankrupt higher education policy?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I can give a comprehensive answer to that question. It was: will I seek advice? The answer is yes.

Senator Hill —Mr Deputy President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.