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Wednesday, 12 February 1986
Page: 162

Senator RYAN (Minister for Education)(12.01) —I was just about to rise and congratulate the Senate for the constructive tone of the debate on the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission Amendment Bill 1985 which will rationalise and reorganise the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission councils. However, unfortunately I am not able to do so in an unqualified way as Senator Teague, whose contribution to the debate was generally constructive and sensible, decided to conclude his remarks by making some quite outrageous and unsupportable criticisms of the Hawke Government's performance in the area of tertiary education funding. I simply must put on the record that the growth which we will have achieved in the number of places available in higher education, 28,000 at the end of this triennium, cannot in any sensible fashion be described as insignificant or minor growth. There has been massive growth in the number of tertiary places available and we expect that that level of growth will continue.

Not only has the Hawke Government been highly successful in turning around the cuts and the decline in the tertiary sector characteristic of the Fraser years but also we have achieved enormous success in increasing participation rates in secondary schooling to the end of secondary school. The demand for places will continue. I think that 28,000 new higher education places is an achievement of which our Government is properly proud. Similarly, I must say that the figure that Senator Teague used in his concluding remarks, of 30,000 qualified students being turned away, is simply unsupportable. At this stage there is no data on the disparity between demand and supply of higher education places. However, last year it was a maximum of about 10,000. There is every reason to expect and to hope that it will be significantly lower than that.

To return to the debate, in general I express appreciation for the support of the legislation. I believe that the legislation will result in a more efficient Tertiary Education Commission. The councils will use their time and resources more effectively. The overall outcome of that will be stronger policy advice to government on the needs of the three sectors and of the whole area of tertiary education. Because my colleague Senator Reynolds dealt very adequately with the issues raised by Senator Peter Baume and Senator Macklin, I will not go over that ground. I note that Senator Sir John Carrick expressed misgivings and anxieties about the new structure, but I assure him I have every confidence that his misgivings will prove unfounded.

The Government is unable to accept the amendments proposed by the Australian Democrats because, taken together, they substantially undermine the effect of the Government's response to the Hudson report on the structure of the Tertiary Education Commission and ignore the totality of the changes endorsed by the Bill. I remind the Senate, and the Australian Democrats in particular, that the Chairman of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission made his recommendations after a thorough review of the complexities of existing structures and wide consultation. The majority of the submissions received agreed that change to the structure of the Commission was needed and concluded that the extra layer of statutory councils was the cause of much of the complexity in the system. The Chairman went on to identify the voluminous reports as a key factor in the inefficiencies in the existing system. The effect was to absorb council time and deflect councils from the important role of advising on total sectoral needs and priorities for policy action. Councils instead were repeating in detailed terms recommendations on financial allocations. The importance of a major statement on sectoral needs was recognised by the Chairman and by the Government and is reflected in the legislation that is before the Senate, which specifically provides for each council to make a major report each triennium.

The Bill also provides for the councils to report to the Commission as required in order to enable the Commission to respond to government funding decisions and requests for advice. The councils will also have a significantly expanded voice on the Commission itself, which is very important. Six members of the Commission which comprises ten members, including the Chairman, will be members of the sectoral councils. In other words, the councils will have significantly more influence on the Commission and their ability to influence the advice provided by the Commission is greatly enhanced. The extra reporting provisions sought by the amendments are unnecessary, while the additions to the financial reporting procedures would result unnecessarily in a return to the old system of extensively detailed claims for institutions or States. I would remind honourable senators that councils will report on the overall needs, but we do not wish to return to a situation where they go into unnecessary and detailed recommendations taking up the demands of particular institutions or particular States. It is not necessary for the councils to provide such detailed financial recommendations at the stage of assessing overall sectoral needs.

The Bill as drafted does not remove the right from councils to provide recommendations on needs, including financial needs, to support priorities and the new policies proposed by the councils. The Bill was circulated to the States prior to its introduction in the House of Representatives and I think it is significant that no State has objected to the provisions of the Bill along the lines sought by the Australian Democrats' amendment. In conclusion, I thank honourable senators for their contributions to the debate. The Democrats' amendments are not acceptable to the Government. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time