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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11896

Ms CAMPBELL (3:53 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Education, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and the Minister for Social Inclusion. Will the minister update the House on the phasing out of full-fee-paying undergraduate university places for Australian students, and are there any other views on paying for education?

The SPEAKER —I would remind the House that ‘any other views’ is not something that I look upon with great expectation of where it might lead. I hope the comments are contemporary, rather than ancient history.

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the member for Bass for her question. I know about her interest in university education, having met with various university education people in Tasmania as a result of her recommendations that I do.

This is a government that is proudly committed to phasing out full-fee-paying places for undergraduate students in Australian universities. That is because we believe that access to university should be based on merit, not capacity to pay. Of course, we are now in the last sitting week before this policy will start to be implemented. It will be implemented in the next academic year: in the 2009 academic year, the phase-out will begin. In terms of the phase-out, we have provided transition funds to universities. We have also provided extra Commonwealth supported places. We obviously want to enable Australian students to be undergraduates. We want the Commonwealth supported places to be there but we do want to make sure that all of this is done on the basis of merit, not capacity to pay. This is a great Australian value.

I have been asked whether or not there are alternative approaches on the question of paying for education. We know, of course, that the former Liberal government, after promising that there would not be $100,000 university degrees in this country, implemented just that. They introduced into this country the concept of Australian students paying for their undergraduate places. We are getting rid of that. When we look at the contributions of past education ministers on this question, the contribution of the member for Bradfield and the contribution of the current shadow Treasurer, they were people who supported Australian students paying for their undergraduate places.

My attention has been drawn to a series of statements by the shadow Treasurer on the question of education and the question of paid-for courses. My attention has been drawn to a statement she made in April 2006 where she talked about her own studies and said that she was privileged to be an international student at Harvard. Then in July 2006 she went on to describe that she was an international student at Harvard Business School in the mid-1990s, living amongst and studying with 180 senior business people from over 35 countries. She is nodding—that is right.

Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. What has this got to do with running the country? What is the relevance?

The SPEAKER —The Deputy Prime Minister will respond to the question.

Mr Randall —Not bad from an ambulance chaser!

The SPEAKER —The member for Canning will withdraw.

Mr Randall —Mr Speaker, on a previous occasion you did not make me withdraw when I said exactly the same statement. Can we be consistent, please? Seriously, you did not ask me to withdraw last time when I said exactly the same words.

The SPEAKER —I invite the member for Canning to withdraw.

Mr Randall —Mr Speaker, to help the House, I withdraw.

An opposition member—It’s Christmas!

The SPEAKER —Perhaps in the new year, if the House has concerns about what ends up happening when the questions are broad, they will deal with the matter. I will listen carefully to the Deputy Prime Minister’s response.

Ms GILLARD —On the subject of paying for education, my point is simply this: the shadow Treasurer has obviously tried to create an impression that she was at Harvard for an extended period of time in the mid-1990s. The truth is she was there for a summer program, for a course that now costs $60,000. That is $10,000 per week, $2,000 per day—

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Deputy Prime Minister was asked a question about domestic full-fee-paying students, and she is talking about courses taken overseas. How could that be relevant to the question about domestic full-fee-paying students?

The SPEAKER —I do not wish to get into a debate with the member for Sturt. I simply say that the precedents and the way that the House has handled that particular point of order means that it could have quite easily been done, because it goes to full-fee-paying university places—

An opposition member—In Australia.

The SPEAKER —No—in a discussion of that policy matter. If the House wants to deal with these things, I repeat: the concern that the House actually has is that whilst questions cannot debate the matter—although I think the member for Sturt will recognise that he was given great generosity with an earlier question on that matter—in the past the answers have been allowed to debate the matter, because the House has not taken on board Procedure Committee recommendations to apply the same rules to questions and answers. The Deputy Prime Minister will respond to the question and bring her answer to a close.

Mr Hockey interjecting

The SPEAKER —The Deputy Prime Minister has the call!

Ms GILLARD —Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Can I say to members of the House generally and particularly to the shadow Treasurer that you do not buy credibility; you earn it—something she has got to learn.

Mr Rudd —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.