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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 876

Mr DUNCAN(10.20) —We have heard a lot in the past few weeks about the possible reintroduction of tertiary fees for colleges of advanced education and universities. What we have seen in the Press to date has been based on speculation and hearsay. Let me say at the outset that the Australian Labor Party's policy on fees for study in universities and colleges of advanced education by Australian students is quite clear. As a member of the Labor Party I am bound to support the policies which have been determined by the conferences of our Party. In fact, as all my colleagues realise, the democratic nature of the Labor Party means that its policies are decided upon by the Party as a whole after extensive debate throughout our branches and affiliated unions. The delegates to State conferences and from State conferences to the national conference bring to their deliberations the confidence and support of the membership of our Party. As I said, I am bound by the pledge that all Labor parliamentarians signed, a pledge designed to ensure that the democratic nature of the ALP is upheld. In addition, the rules of the Party make quite clear the role of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. Rule 5d reads:

The Federal Parliamentary Labor Party shall have authority in properly constituted Caucus meetings to make decisions directed towards establishing the collective attitude of the Parliamentary Party to any question or matter in the Federal Parliament, subjected to-

(iii) No attitude being expressed which is contrary to the provisions of the Party Platform or any other decision of National Conference or National Executive;

The policy of the Labor Party is unequivocal when it comes to tertiary fees. It recognises the importance to the nation of a healthy tertiary education sector. In particular, section 8BT, in part reads:

A Federal Labor Government will ensure that Australia maintains a tertiary education system which makes a vital contribution to our social and economic well being, which contributes to the development of knowledge and intellectual resources and which makes itself widely accessible to the Australian community. Accordingly a Labor Government will:

. . . .

(6) Maintain the provision of free tertiary education.

This is clearly a commitment from the Labor Party to improve access to tertiary education for Australian students and, in particular, to maintain free tertiary education. It is not a statement which allows for an interpretation that would enable a Labor government to reintroduce tertiary tuition fees. It is, as I have said, unequivocal. It is a well known and well accepted policy in the community about which we have given assurances time and again and for which we blocked legislation in the Senate in 1978, when the Fraser Government attempted to reimpose fees for second degree and post-graduate students.

It is apparent when one looks at the available data why the Whitlam Government moved to abolish fees and why we as a party have continued to oppose their reintroduction. For instance, in the 10 years following the abolition of fees, the participation rate of women in universities rose by over 10 per cent. In the 20 years before 1974 women's participation rose by only 12 per cent. While it was rising more rapidly towards the end of that period, the abolition of fees provided a noticeable fillip to the increase. What is particularly significant about the participation of women in the universities is the fact that the actual numbers attending increased massively at a time when there was a marked increase in the numbers of men attending. Data referring to mature age students also shows that the removal of fees had a beneficial effect. By 1984, 47.25 per cent of students in universities were older than 23 years and 26.23 per cent were over 30 years of age. In the advanced education sector, 52.42 per cent were over 23 and 28.61 per cent were over 30. The remarkable thing about these figures is that over 50 per cent of mature age students are over 30 years of age, and in this group women are even better represented than in the overall figures. When the historical run of figures is examined it becomes patent that this trend has been accelerated quite dramatically with the abolition of fees. Since that time the age distribution of students in universities has changed markedly in favour of mature age students, especially those over 30 years of age.

The suggestion that a reintroduction of fees would benefit low income earners cannot be demonstrated. The evidence from later research by Don Anderson shows that a trend is emerging to a much better social mix in the universities and colleges. This is supported by research presented by higher education unions and student groups. It is also suggested in the data that the Minister-

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.