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Thursday, 8 March 1984
Page: 658

Senator LEWIS(6.17) —The Senate is debating a motion moved by my colleague from Victoria, Senator Missen, deploring the decision of the Victorian Government to close and sell four hostels which were used for the accommodation of more than 200 country students in the Melbourne metropolitan area, condemning the failure of the Australian and Victorian Governments to get together to try to resolve this problem and urging a solution to the problem. I do not intend to cover the ground already covered by Senator Missen last week in his excellent speech on this subject. As usual he has done his homework well and again has demonstrated his care and compassion. As Senator Macklin pointed out, Victorian country students, and in particular country women, are being discriminated against by both the Federal and State Ministers for Education who have shown callous disregard for the plight of some 300 Victorian country students who, through their actions, have now lost access to low cost hostel accommodation. As Senator Macklin pointed out, unless this matter is resolved by 27 March these hostels will have been sold at public auction and the opportunity will have gone forever.

On 6 October last year I raised the question of the disposal of a number of hostels in response to representations made to me by many Liberal Victorian members of parliament. I think in particular of John Radford from Bendigo, but others, such as Tom Austin, John Delzoppo, Harley Dickensen, Bill Ebery, Lou Lieberman, Don McKellar, Tom Evans, Tom Reynolds and Adam Kempton, have made representations to us Victorians. They were trying desperately to get the Cain Labor Government in Victoria to have some compassion for country students. The Cain Labor Government was pushing the matter off to the Government in Canberra and it could not get any solution. We could not get any solution to the problem here either. When I put the matter to Senator Ryan on 6 October 1983 she blamed the postal strike for lack of advice from her Victorian colleague, Mr Fordham, and then said:

The provision of low cost accommodation for tertiary students was the subject for a current review by the Tertiary Education Commission.

At the time both Senator Chaney and I asked the Minister what year that would be and she claimed it would be 1983. Subsequently Senator Ryan had to retract that and, in effect, acknowledge that the Tertiary Education Commission would not be completing its investigation of this matter until 1984; that is, this year. So this Government will not do anything for these students before 1985 at the earliest. I ask Senator Ryan, who is in the chamber at the moment, to do something with her Victorian colleague and to have some care and compassion for these students of Victoria by seeing whether this terrible error can be rectified. Subsequently Senator Ryan advised me in a letter:

The matter is entirely the responsibility of the State. There is no justification for purchase of the hostels by the Commonwealth. In the circumstances it would be more appropriate for you to pursue your concern with Mr Fordham

Mr Fordham is, of course, the Victorian Minister of Education. The Victorian Government has been engaged in a spree of employing some 10,000 additional people in the short time it has been in office. The result of that has been that it has run short of money. It has raised taxes in the State to the extent that some people have estimated that it is costing the ordinary family in Victoria an additional $30 a week under this Government. Yet it is still so desperately short of money that it is selling the State's assets to outside organisations and leasing them back, on an operative basis, in order to give it some funds to carry on. What a terrible position for a government to get into after such a short period in office. It is a demonstration not only of its lack of heart and compassion towards these people but also of its lack of communication with the Labor Government in Canberra and the Minister in particular. On 21 February this year Mr Fordham, in a letter to Mr John Radford, the member for Bendigo Province , stated:

As you would be aware the Commonwealth accepted full responsibility for tertiary education some ten years ago and in this sense the accommodation needs of tertiary students is the responsibility of the Federal Government not the State Government . . . while the State Government does not have direct responsibility for providing accommodation for tertiary students we are doing whatever we can to assist.

What the Victorian Government is doing is selling, by public auction, these hostels on 27 March. I ask: Is the Victorian Treasury in such a parlous state that it could not await the outcome of the Tertiary Education Commission's deliberations before disposing of these hostels? What will happen after they have been disposed of? Will the Government have to purchase some other low cost accommodation for country students, or will it perpetually disadvantage these students? What will it do? Certainly whatever it will do will cost more money than it would if the Government had continued with its current accommodation. The absurdity of the situation is perhaps highlighted by the number of Victorian students who are now enrolled at the Australian National University and accommodated in low cost accommodation there. One must have sympathy for many of these students. I have heard of many students who have had to leave educational institutions in Melbourne in particular, who have had to drop out of educational opportunities, because of this problem. We must have sympathy for those who have managed to go on and their parents who will have to supplement their unindexed tertiary education assistance scheme allowances to enable them to pay for the expense of the alternative accommodation which they have had to find.