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Friday, 17 December 1993
Page: 4954

Senator TEAGUE (11.13 a.m.) —I have listened carefully to Senator Bell, as we do with the Democrats. I think in every year since HECS was introduced they have consistently argued against there being any user-pay element for the students of Australia. This is not the view of the Liberal and National parties; it is not the view of the government; so they are in a small minority.

  The corollary of the Democrats' position is that the taxes on all Australians will be considerably increased. The corollary of the Democrats' position is a high tax approach to the decisions we make in this chamber. The Liberal and National parties reject. We want a responsible balance in what should be a small user-pay element for the students in our universities—20 per cent. Even then, it is not paid compulsorily up front. It is a debt to be paid when employed, and only if employed.

  Senator Schacht has said that he argued for the HECS approach on the floor of the national conference of the Labor Party. The Liberal and National parties now have, in a very similar way, a commitment to the HECS mechanism as being a fair one. In fact, I am confident that a majority of students believe that this is a fair thing. A majority of students regard this as being their appropriate contribution to their own education. It is for these reasons—it is now a settled consensus by an overwhelming majority in the parliament—that we reject the Democrats' amendments with regard to the whole idea of HECS. Of course, that is the way Senator Bell would put it—`the whole idea of HECS'. We respect his minority views, but they are not acceptable to us.

  I raise one additional matter. I refer to my colleague the Liberal member for Sturt, Mr Chris Pyne, who is the youngest member of the parliament and not far away from having been a student himself. He is one of the few in this parliament to have actually paid HECS. This good new Liberal member for Sturt has in our party discussions contributed an argument that I wish to refer to, that is, that the government has without warning, without including it in the election campaign, increased the rate of repayment of HECS for the students of Australia.

  It is after consultation with students that the member for Sturt objects to that in principle. He has been able to put his views, and it has been a matter of judgment within the Liberal and National parties whether or not the government's initiative to increase the rate of payment on the students of Australia unilaterally and without warning—a one-sided contract where the government has all the signatures—is a fair thing in principle.

  Some months ago, when Mr Pyne put that view, it was Senator Bell who moved a motion in this chamber congratulating Mr Pyne and urging that that be the view taken by all honourable senators. I do not imply that Senator Bell was wishing to embarrass the honourable member for Sturt because his views did not eventually prevail within my parties, but I want to recognise that this is the kind of consultation with students, with vice-chancellors and with all the education industry, all education institutions, we commend. There is no embarrassment, only plaudits, for Liberal members such as Mr Pyne and the consultation he takes on matters such as this.

  This is not what the Liberal and National parties would have done in government. This is a decision that has been taken by the Labor government. It is the elected government. This is an integral and substantial part of the budget, and we traditionally allow the elected government its budget.

  This Labor government has deceived the students of Australia by not only doubling HECS for some students, wanting to put a one-and-a-half times HECS on other students and increasing the rates of repayments of students, when none of these proposals, all of which were in the budget, was in any way referred to by the Labor Party prior to the last election. Rather, government members went around the campuses of Australia scaring students into not supporting the Liberal and National parties by putting forward the lie that we would introduce full fees for all students. It was a lie; it remains a lie. They scared a lot of students into supporting them.

  Let it be understood that we have not gone back on anything we have said prior to an election. We were honest in the election. The Labor Party was not honest. The Labor Party has deceived the students of Australia. It is on the Labor Party's head that the matters that are before us right now are being placed upon the students of Australia.

  I conclude by referring to the letter I received this week from the National President of the National Union of Students. Mr Ken Fowlie wrote to my colleague Dr Michael Wooldridge, and in this letter he made five requests. He asked whether, in this final debate in the Senate, the Liberal and National parties would seek to achieve those five objectives. All I can say is that every one of those objectives has been achieved by our votes today. I think the National Union of Students should read every word of these education debates and students should judge for themselves that the Labor Party has been the deceiver of the students of Australia. If they want an honest broker, if they want a policy that will increase participation in our universities for those who are currently missing out, the way to do that is through the policies we put forward honestly before the last election.