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Tuesday, 28 August 2001
Page: 30373

Mr LINDSAY (3:19 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The member for Braddon is warned!

Mr LINDSAY —Minister, would you advise the House of projected increases in university places? Are you aware of any alternative policies dealing with this issue and what is your response to them?

Dr KEMP (Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the honourable member for Herbert for his question and I acknowledge his great interest in the expansion of opportunities for young people in the electorate of Herbert to attend university. The government has taken the view that it is very important for the future of Australia that there be growing opportunities for young Australians to lift their level of knowledge and skills, and this has been a quite dramatic contrast with the attitude taken by the Leader of the Opposition when he was the minister. We remember his view that, at that time, the Australian universities were big enough; there were enough places in Australian universities. As he told the Age in February 1992:

The desperation to get into higher education is really misplaced.

Indeed, the Australian reported in February of that year:

Mr Beazley said that Australia had `unquestionably reached a point' where people's expectations about entering university had to change. `You cannot provide universal higher education,' he said.

In November of that year, he further emphasised his view that there was no need for further places in Australian universities. He said, `We are approaching the limit of our capacity to continue to expand publicly funded university places.' This is a view that has never been accepted by this government. It has been our view that young Australians with proper qualifications are entitled to attend university and to get university training. Since 1996, the total number of student places has increased, to this year, by 28,000 places.

On Friday, I announced the universities where 2,670 extra students will begin their studies next year, with the allocation of an additional 2,000 new places each year in maths, science and information technology, which are vital for Australia's innovation, and a further 670 places each year at campuses in booming regional areas. Those additional new places each year will produce some 20,800 additional places in Australia's universities over the next four years. Regional Australia received more than half the places, enabling almost 1,485 additional places to be made available next year at regional campuses. I am sure that the member for Herbert will be particularly pleased that James Cook University received an additional 100 places for integrated bachelor programs in information technology and e-business and a further 25 places for other courses. Australian universities are now projecting that total university places will reach some 599,000 equivalent full-time places by 2003, which is a 30.5 per cent increase on enrolments since 1995.

The fundamental difference has been that we were not prepared to take the view of the Leader of the Opposition that Australian universities were large enough and that there was no further need for additional university places. Our view is that Australia's comparative advantage in the world depends on having a highly skilled and highly qualified work force. Like some latter-day Atlantis, the noodle nation has sunk beneath the waves—it has vanished!

Mr Beazley —You wish!

Dr KEMP —Well, say something about it!

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The minister will address his remarks through the chair.

Dr KEMP —The Leader of the Opposition says, `You wish.' Not a single reference has been made to noodle nation or knowledge nation by the Leader of the Opposition since he launched it. It has just vanished in this House—disappeared beneath the waves. It has evanesced entirely, even though he committed himself and spent every working day trying to implement it. We have not seen a working minute in question time in this House devoted to it. The problem with the Leader of the Opposition is that he has no consistency, he has no reliability, and he will say anything in his efforts to win office. The trouble for him this time around is that the Australian people know him too well.