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Wednesday, 16 October 1985
Page: 1318

Senator FOREMAN —Did the Minister for Education see in the Australian on 2 October 1985 the article by Christopher Dawson on the Opposition's proposals for deregulated education? If so, can the Minister advise the Senate what such a move would mean to education courses in general and what her views are on the obvious slur cast upon the present levels of teaching implicit in that article?

Senator RYAN —Yes, I did see the article and I have heard some other comments from the new shadow spokesperson on education. I will be interested to see just how long Mr Shack is going to persist with this extreme right wing deregulation dry approach to education. I will be interested to see just how long it will take him, once he interests himself in education issues and has discussions with people who provide education in this country and people who get it, to realise that education is simply not a commodity like soap powder. He can have a free market for soap powder; he can put his soap powder on the shelves with other soap powders to see whether he can undercut his competitors and make a profit. That process may be relevant to some manufactured products, although we notice that the coalition partners of Mr Shack and the Liberals show no interest at all in having a free market for rural products or manufactured products. That process may have some relevance to manufactured and rural products, but we see it as having no relevance whatsoever to a process which takes the best part of a person's life.

Mr Shack will find very quickly, as other dries from his side of politics have found, that the business of setting up education systems, be they at school level, tertiary level, in the technical sector or in research, are simply not processes which are amenable to this free market process. For example, for a tertiary institution to achieve high standards of teaching and research in a wide range of disciplines is a process that takes many years. It takes the training of many researchers and academic teachers; it takes expert administrators and it takes many things which simply cannot be turned off and on in the same way as a consumer can choose to buy soap powder from the shelf or not. Mr Shack also seems to be under the impression that our universities, colleges of advanced education and technical and further education colleges are full of staff who sit around all day and do nothing and that teaching standards and research standards as a result are very low. These are very ignorant views about what actually happens within our tertiary institutions.

Australian institutions have a very high reputation internationally, particularly in research. Nobel Peace Prize awards have gone to Australian medical researchers and scientists of all kinds. Australian research is very much in demand in our region. Those honourable senators who have taken an interest in the Government's policy of exporting education services will be aware that there is great demand in our region for the export of research consultancy and teaching services. These things do not come about as a result of the operation of the free market, as Mr Shack in his very early days as shadow spokesperson of education seems to think; they come about because resources have been made available over a long period, policies have been implemented, skills have been developed and it has been possible to achieve a high standard of education. If Mr Shack thinks that he is going to attract votes to his cause by offering to dismantle this whole process, I think he is very much mistaken. When he has had discussions with the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, with the Australian Council of Directors and Principals, with the academic unions, with student organisations, or with TAFE directors, he will find no interest at all in the proposal to dismantle the system, which has achieved very high standards, and replace it with some crude voucher system.

I am growing sick and tired of attacks on higher education standards in this country. It is very easy for slick journalists, slick media personalities or inexperienced Opposition spokespersons to insult-

Opposition senators-Ha, ha.

Senator RYAN —Yes, it is pretty laughable, I guess. It is very easy for these people to insult teachers, researchers, scholars and students in a way that really betrays their own ignorance. In conclusion, the great and growing interest being expressed in our region-I think this will be expressed, for example, by the Chinese Minister of Education, who will be visiting this country this week-for access to our education resources demonstrates that we do indeed have a very high standard product and that certainly the responsibility of our Government and of me as Commonwealth Education Minister is to make sure that those standards are maintained and enhanced.