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Closure of Higher ed debate insult to democracy.

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Peter Andren MP - Independent Member for Calare

16 October 2003

Closure of Higher Ed debate insult to democracy

The Howard government today denied the democratic rights of representatives to improve its higher education plans by gagging parliamentary debate on the bill, according to Peter Andren, Member for Calare.

“The House dissolved into a rabble as Tony Abbott closed the debate before I could introduce my amendments to improve the education package, and before the Opposition’s education shadow minister had finished introducing hers,” Mr Andren said.

“It was an absolute travesty of democracy. The future of Australia’s higher education system is on the line and the government shuts down debate with no regard for the legitimate concerns of non-government members, universities, students and parents about this bill.

“This is government arrogance at its worst, with no chance to properly introduce amendments in the people’s house.

“As it stands, the government’s higher ed bill will allow the Secretary of the Department Education to attach conditions to funding grants.

“These include the types of courses offered, the number of HECS places to be made available and what extra funds, if any, go to regional unis like Charles Sturt.

“I supported the Oppositions’ effort to remove this power as these decisions could be made by a bureaucrat without reference to the parliament.

“The Opposition also sought to break the unacceptable link between government funding and how a university hires its staff.

“I sought to change the bill so that the current level of full fee paying places for Australian students be maintained at no more than 25% of the number of Government supported places, and that no interest loans be available for undergraduate students wanting to take up this option.

“The government wants to raise full fee paying places to 50%, which I believe is far too much and will not only disadvantage regional unis, compared with large city campuses, but will squeeze country kids out of HECS places.

“We need to keep places available for fee-paying Australian students who just miss out on making a course - even though they may have got the required entry score.

“I have long argued that debate on amendments should always occur in the House of Representatives, and not be left to the Senate.

“But yet again, this government, and no doubt previous Labor governments, have treated the people’s house with contempt,” Mr Andren said.

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