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Thursday, 7 November 1985
Page: 1738

Senator FOREMAN —Did the Minister for Education see the article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 6 November in which it was reported that Mr Peter Shack, the Opposition education spokesman, suggested the creation of places in tertiary education on a full fee basis for those lucky enough to afford them? Will the Minister state what such a proposal would amount to in terms of equity, and what effect such a proposal would have on educational standards if money could overcome educational entrance requirement?

Senator Peter Baume —Mr Deputy President, I take a point of order. In his question Senator Foreman purported to say that Mr Shack, a member of the other place, had made a statement which included the words `fees for those lucky enough to be able to pay them'. I put it to you that Mr Shack said nothing of the kind. If the honourable senator is purporting to ask in his question what may have been said by one of our colleagues, it is incumbent upon him to quote the member accurately.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I cannot judge the accuracy of the statement. However, Senator Ryan should not assume that that statement is correct when she is giving her answer. She may answer the general thrust of the question.

Senator RYAN —Mr Deputy President, I think Senator Baume would agree that Mr Shack has made a number of statements recently advocating that Australian students have access to full cost places in Australian universities. I do not think there is any disagreement about that. The particular language in which he chose to put this suggestion forward is, I guess, not a matter of certain record. But he has certainly been advocating that Australian students ought to be able to get places simply by purchasing them. If that suggestion were ever to be implemented by any government, and it has certainly met with outright opposition from our Government, it would have the effect of creating a situation where standards in education would fall dramatically because no longer would places be allocated on merit, as they are under our system, but they would be allocated on the basis of wealth. Whether one wants to say that a person is lucky or unlucky to get a place under these circumstances is, I suppose, a matter of opinion. However, the implementation of Mr Shack's proposal would certainly undermine the high standard merit-based system which we have in this country. I point out to Mr Shack and all those who might be superficially attracted by his idea that the decision by our Government to make extra places available at full cost to overseas students does not involve any lowering of standards because those positions--

Senator Walters —The Finance Minister is not listening.

Senator Withers —Get on to Senator Walsh and tell him.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections from the Opposition.

Senator RYAN —Mr Deputy President, I realise that the Opposition has minimal interest in the question of education and even smaller interest when it comes to arguments about access and standards. But the fact of the matter is that, if institutions provide extra places to overseas students on a full cost recovery basis, those places will not be created at the expense of Australian students because they would not exist unless they were paid for by the overseas students. So that arrangement does not undermine either the merit-based system for Australian students or the extensive subsidised overseas students program which we run and which is also merit-based.

I also point out that the demand in our region for Australian university and college places is a demand that has arisen because of the high standards of Australian education. It is not a demand for cut price courses run by some fly- by-night private institution. It is a demand for the kinds of tertiary education which are available to Australian students. It is my very strong view that any tampering with the standards and any tampering with the merit-based system by suggestions such as Mr Shack is fond of throwing around would not only cause serious disadvantage to Australian students but also destroy the demand that exists in our region for participation in the system that we now have.