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Wednesday, 4 December 1985
Page: 2902

Senator HARRADINE —In view of the urgings by the Minister for Education, my question is addressed to her. It relates to her request to school leavers to consider tertiary education. What advice would the Minister give to a school leaver on the north-west coast of Tasmania, where unemployment is very high-indeed, the highest in Tasmania-who is a member of a one-income family of five, whose two older sisters are at the University of Tasmania in Hobart where accommodation expenses for her parents are $190 a week, whose two younger brothers are at school, whose mother has had her family allowance cut by the Government by $84.55 a week from 1 November this year, and whose parents have told her that they just cannot afford the extra $80 a week in accommodation expenses which she would face if she had to go to Hobart for tertiary education as well as a further cut of $39 a week in the family allowance? What advice would the Minister give to that child and to the parents of that child? Is it a fact that the north-west coast of Tasmania is the most highly populated area without easy access to a tertiary education institution?

Senator RYAN —Nothing that Senator Harradine has recounted in his question suggests that any advice should be given to such a student other than that she should seek to gain access to tertiary education. It is difficult. There is a tertiary education assistance scheme or TEAS allowance which has been increased by our Government in successive Budgets and for which more increases are planned over the next few years. If the family is a low income family and there are a number of dependent children, it is quite possible that that student would qualify for TEAS if she is qualified to gain a place in the University of Tasmania in Hobart. The situation faced by that young student is one faced by many full time students throughout Australia, and they have to seek part time employment to supplement their TEAS allowance in order to undertake tertiary studies. It is difficult, but hundreds of thousands of students do it and indeed that is the traditional way in which students from anything other than affluent families have been able to get the benefit of tertiary education.

The fact that there are many more tertiary places available under our Government is an encouraging development for those students. The fact that we are looking at ways of making tertiary education available to students living in regional areas should also be a source of encouragement. We do not expect students to rely on their parents alone for income support. As was the case with most people in this place who had the benefit of tertiary education, it is usually necessary for students to seek part time employment. Because of the successful employment policies of our Government there is a great deal more part time work around than there was. Students have several months each year when they are not required to be at university involved in their courses, and during that time they can take advantage of part time work opportunities and they need to do so. If Senator Harradine would like to send me the details of the specific case he has raised, I will certainly investigate to see whether that student is eligible for tertiary assistance. If that student is not eligible for that assistance she is certainly not from one of the poorer families, because 40 per cent of students are eligible for some form of tertiary allowance. That is not to say that the people whom Senator Harradine mentioned are not struggling, but they are certainly not amongst the poorest families in our community because the poorest families are eligible for TEAS. My advice would be that if that young person has gained the marks to gain her a place in the University of Tasmania, she should take that place and get some part time work. Ultimately that would be the best possible decision she could make.

Senator HARRADINE —I ask a supplementary question, Mr Deputy President. Senator Ryan has not answered the last part of the question which was related to the north-west coast of Tasmania. Has she responded to the meeting of more than 200 such parents in the Burnie Civic Centre about this very question?

Senator RYAN —I thought that the last part of Senator Harradine's question was to do with the rate of population growth in Burnie and I do not have information available to me that would enable me to confirm or deny that it is the most rapidly growing part of Tasmania. I am prepared to accept Senator Harradine's suggestion that it is. I have not seen any direct message coming from that meeting of parents to which he referred but it is certainly the case that the whole thrust of our higher education policy is to provide opportunities in regional areas and there may well be some plans already being developed to enable students who live further than travelling distance from the institution to undertake studies by distance education. It is always a possibility for students to enrol in external studies courses. Again, we have several institutions on the mainland which are expert-Deakin University, for example-and which offer a very high quality of external studies courses. Students can enrol in those if they really find themselves unable to live away from home. I am prepared to look at any requests coming from parents about these matters and would simply repeat that there are far more extensive opportunities for students, especially students from poorer families, to undertake tertiary studies under our Government than there were under the previous Government.