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Tuesday, 26 June 2001
Page: 28563

Mr LEE (3:45 PM) —Today I want to begin by explaining what making Australia a knowledge nation means. For a typical Australian, it means ensuring that existing workers' jobs are more secure, more satisfying and better paid. Knowledge Nation for the typical Australian family means an expansion in the industries, companies and opportunities that offer Australia the greatest promise in years to come—and I will talk more about how we can work to enhance those opportunities.

Knowledge Nation means giving kids better access to quality early childhood education at Australian preschools, kindergartens and child-care centres in every state and territory. It means making sure that a typical Australian family's kids get a decent education at whatever school their family chooses to send them. Knowledge Nation means that, for the typical Australian family, we are working to improve the quality of all of our schools. It means providing more apprenticeships and genuine training opportunities— not the phantom jobs or the bogus training that this government has specialised in to produce bodgie figures about its training and employment policies. Knowledge Nation means giving parents and middle-aged workers greater access to a quality national training system so that they are able to have better career paths during their working lives, develop new skills and have new careers in life or make their existing employment more secure. It is also about working with the adult and community education sector to ensure throughout someone's life, working or retired, people still have access to learning opportunities. It means giving more students from ordinary families the chance to study at university and to reach their full potential, and not be denied access to university by the bottom drawer plan of this Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs to deregulate university fees and replace HECS with a real interest rate loan scheme, which we know he will do if this government is re-elected and he gets another chance.

Knowledge Nation means increasing the number of research training places at universities, especially in rural universities and in the rural campuses of metropolitan universities. It is about lifting national investment in research and development. It is about boosting the pure and applied research that should be taking place in our universities and in companies across the country. It is about making sure that the best of our new ideas and the best of our inventions are implemented and commercially developed. It is about making sure that the best of those new ideas and the best of our new inventions work to improve our society, generate new jobs and new industries and expand export income so that we can address the looming deficit in intellectual property payments. Our country is paying an increasing sum of money to other countries to use other peoples' ideas and inventions in new manufacturing technology, new computer software and new medical diagnostic tests. We in Australia must ensure that we are developing our own ideas, our own inventions, our own new manufacturing processes, our own ways to better process the minerals that we extract from the ground and our own computer software so that Australia is earning money from other countries when we sell them our intellectual property and allow them to use the ideas that we have developed here at home. It will only be by making sure that we receive royalty payments and licence fees that we can ensure we do not have an exploding deficit in intellectual property payments in future years.

I would like to give you a few simple examples, Mr Acting Speaker. In the past, we have focused on trying to expand our exports of coal or agricultural produce. Knowledge Nation means that we not only have to work at exporting more coal but also have to develop new ways of burning coal—new computer software so that we can manage not only the furnaces in Australian power stations but the furnaces in other countries' power stations, so that we can burn the coal more efficiently and also ensure that our country is getting paid to use the ideas that are trapped in those furnace supervisory systems. In my own electorate of Dobell there is a company that produces specialist software that controls the furnace control systems and safety systems for power stations and power units, even on oil production platforms. They are able to earn Australia export dollars by selling that computer software to other countries. It is great to see that, in many parts of our country, we have companies that are working hard to earn Australia dollars in this way. However, no matter how hard those people are working, we have a government at the top of our national leadership that is satisfied with where we are, that does not believe, like the Labor Party, that Australia can do better and that the national government can work with Australian companies and researchers to do better than we are today.

Let us look at a few statistics. The recently released Education at a glance: 2001 produced by the OECD, showed that Australia's public investment in education, at 4.34 per cent of gross domestic product, was well below the OECD average of five per cent. If you look at not just public investment but the total investment in education, Education at a glance showed that Australia was at 5.46 per cent and well below the OECD average of 5.66 per cent.

Let me remind the Prime Minister and the minister for education that the OECD average currently includes countries like Mexico, Poland, Turkey and Hungary, countries which we should not be benchmarking ourselves against. We should be benchmarking ourselves against the developed countries that are doing the best around the world. We should be ensuring that we provide national leadership to be up there with the best of these countries.

The OECD table shows that Australia had the third lowest growth in university enrolments in the OECD. It shows that we were one of only five OECD countries that actually cut expenditure on universities, by five per cent, between 1995 and 1998. This minister's own figures showed that we had a decline in the number of Australian students at universities. It actually fell by 3,000 last year. How can we expect to make Australia a knowledge nation when we have actually got a decline in the number of Australians who studied at university last year?

The figures produced by this minister's own department also show that the government has deliberately abolished more than 3,000 research training places at universities, particularly in regional Australia. Commonwealth funding to universities has been massively cut since this government was elected. If the government had kept direct Commonwealth investment in universities at 1996 levels there would have been an extra $3 billion invested in universities by this government.

I am sure my colleagues behind me have seen this graph before. It is a graph that we have displayed in the House on several occasions. This is an important graph because it demonstrates that this minister has misled the House on many occasions in his claims that the government has not cut funding to universities.

Dr Kemp —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. If a claim is going to be made that someone has misled the House, there should be a substantive motion moved. There has been no substantive motion in this case.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—I listened carefully to the words chosen by the member for Dobell, and they were within the practices of the House. He did not indicate anything that needed to be—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I do not think I need the assistance of the Minister for Foreign Affairs at this stage. The member for Dobell's words were well within the guidelines that have been set down by previous speakers.

Mr LEE —Thank you for your protection, Mr Deputy Speaker. I encourage the minister to read the standing orders. I did not say that the minister deliberately misled the House; I said that he misled the House. He misled the House because on many occasions he has incorrectly claimed that the government has not cut funding to universities. This graph from the minister's own report on tertiary education makes it clear that as the government has doubled HECS payments—as the charges paid by students have basically doubled since 1996—the Commonwealth's own direct investment in universities has fallen.

This minister adds together the Commonwealth's own direct investment and the higher payment by the students and together claims that there is a stable level of funding going to universities. The minister was so embarrassed by the fact that week after week we have been raising this in the House that he had this table redone. If you look at the latest version of his department's table, you will see that the HECS payments and the government's direct investment have been combined, to deliberately mislead any person who seeks to question the information that is brought before the House. The point I make is that this minister has misled the House in seeking to claim that the government has not cut funding to universities.

The other point to make is that the minister has misled not only the House but also many Australians with his claims about what has been happening to staff-student ratios around the country. The Chifley report, which the Labor Party commissioned from a number of very highly esteemed Australian academics, found that there had been a rapid increase in university staff-student ratios, rising to 17.8 students per staff member, on average, in 1999. This is based on figures produced by this minister's own department. In fact, the minister's own leaked cabinet submission from October 1999 had the following statement:

Higher student:staff ratios—

this is David Kemp, minister for education—

less frequent lecture and tutorial contact, the persistence of outdated technology and gaps in key areas of professional preparation ... are fuelling a perception of declining quality.

So the minister admits in private what he denies in public: that there has been an increase in student-staff ratio. Yet, having admitted this in private, the minister put out a press release last week claiming that Australia's student-staff ratio was down to 11.8 students per teacher. He claimed:

Student to teacher ratios for Australia ... are significantly lower in the case of university education.

The minister said in his own press release:

At the university level, there are 11.8 students per teacher compared to the OECD's 16.2.

So the minister puts out a press release that completely misleads the Australian people. I challenge the minister to repeat in the House here today that misleading statement that is contained in his press release, because we know that the minister's own figures prove that he is wrong. In fact, we have learned over time that you cannot believe anything that this minister says. You cannot believe the bodgie figures he produces and the bodgie statements that he makes.

The Prime Minister at question time here today claimed that the innovation statement provides some massive boost to the nation's research and development effort. Here is another graph that I am sure my colleagues have seen before, produced by the group of eight, that demonstrates that as a percentage of national income there was an increase in investment in R&D until 1996 and then a steady decline. The impact of the innovation statement is this pimple down the bottom of the graph that simply alters the slope of the declining investment as a percentage of national income into these areas.

We in the opposition offer the country an alternative to this path that the government has chosen. We believe that you do have to increase national investment in education, training and research. Let me quickly run through the 10 positive policy alternatives that Labor has already announced in education. We have committed to redirect the $105 million that this minister is directing to the wealthy category 1 schools. We will use that money to fund a massive increase in capital works in public schools; to fund 1,000 per year new teachers scholarships that will forgive the HECS debts for the best of our year 12 students, to encourage them to become teachers; and to fund 10,000 teacher professional development reskilling packages over the next three years.

Labor's positive alternative policies also include establishing several dozen education priority zones across the country to ensure that students in the poorest parts of our country have the extra resources to ensure that their learning outcomes can be improved. We are going to fund the Learning Gateway to ensure that we are investing in the highest quality Australian made content and we will abolish the enrolment benchmark adjustment. We will establish the University of Australia Online to make Australia a world leader in online education and have 100,000 Australians studying online as undergraduate students by 2010. We will also double the number of research fellowships and improve communication links at regional universities as well as providing more research training places there.

It is a simple choice between a government that has massively cut our national investment in education, training and research or the Labor Party's 10 alternative constructive policies that will improve our schools, enhance research opportunities and ensure that existing workers get better access to training, to ensure that all Australians, whatever stage they are at in life, get the best possible opportunities to be part of that knowledge nation. (Time expired)