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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 13044

Mr HALE (1:46 PM) —I commend the member for Braddon on his contribution to this debate, as well as the members who have gone before him on our side of the House. I rise today to voice my strong support for the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill 2009. The bill will amend the previous government’s voluntary student unionism legislation and deliver a balanced, measured and practical solution of rebuilding student services and amenities of a non-academic nature. The bill will also restore independent democratic representation and advocacy in the higher education sector.

If those opposite continue to oppose this bill it will cause the decline, or even the complete closure, of critical services at Charles Darwin University, or CDU, in Darwin. Under the current arrangements, close to $170 million has been ripped out of university funding, resulting in a decline in services in some instances and the complete closure of vital health, counselling, employment, child care, sporting and fitness services. The failed passage of this bill is likely to hit students from the bush and regional areas like mine the hardest because it will prevent universities like CDU from providing vital services which support not only students but also local jobs.

The Country Liberal Party in particular have betrayed students from rural and regional areas. The services and amenities at Charles Darwin University are used not just by students but by the entire community. Universities have reported having to redirect funding from their research and teaching budgets to make up the shortfall of funding for campus services. Regional universities like Charles Darwin are already struggling to provide important services to their students. By not supporting this legislation those opposite have put at risk the remaining services that are already under pressure. The Rudd government remains committed to rebuilding student services on campuses because it is in the best interests of our students, in the best interests of the community and certainly in the best interests of regional universities. The National Party and Country Liberal Party claim to represent the bush, but they continue to vote against legislation which would support our vibrant community activity in Solomon.

In my electorate of Solomon, Charles Darwin University is a fine higher education institution. CDU has evolved from adult education classes in 1951 to Darwin Community College in 1974 to Northern Territory University in 1989 to Charles Darwin University in 2003. Professor Barney Glover is the Vice-Chancellor of CDU. I spoke to him yesterday. I rang up the vice-chancellor because often on these bills it is important to talk to the people who are at the coalface, the people who are working in the day-to-day grind of delivering services, delivering education outcomes, enrolling people and making sure that they are looking after the people whose education is entrusted to them. Barney said to me that this is a vital piece of legislation. He said that we really do need to make sure that this bill goes through. He reiterated the point that I have already made—that it is the services on the edges, the support services, that will be subject to closure and will not be able to be funded properly. He would lose money out of his operating grants. He would have to redirect money from the operating grants, which are there to deliver educational outcomes, into support services for students.

Let us face it, many students these days are having to also work part time. Some people are going back to study when they already have a family, so there are a lot of outside pressures on students that might not have been there in the seventies and eighties. It is vital that we have those services around these people to make sure that they are given every opportunity to study, every opportunity to achieve their best possible results, and not at the sacrifice of their personal life or their friends and family. I am a former student of CDU. The experience I had there was when there was a very strong student group, a community focused group. It was a fantastic time there. There were always a lot of activities going on that were put on by the student group. It made it feel like a university community.

I was very excited to see in a press release from Charles Darwin University that it has posted a record year of enrolments in its higher education offerings. In fact, the university grew its higher education enrolments by nine per cent this year, lifting the total number of higher education students to 7,445. I am very happy to read this: it was the third successive year in which CDU has grown its higher education enrolments. Recently the quality of research at Charles Darwin University was recognised in a new international ranking for universities. The Spain based SCImago Institutions Ranking 2009 World Report published the first index of institutions that are active in research and ranked CDU in the top five Australian universities. I congratulate CDU on this fantastic achievement, one I know that Barney and his team are determined to build on.

Charles Darwin University has become an integral part of the innovation ecosystem in Northern Australia. It is not, however, the limit of its ambition. I understand, through Barney, that CDU is determined to be part of the national conversation by joining the Innovative Research Universities network. CDU has been recognised internationally for its teaching and research, especially in the fields that draw on the unique culture and natural heritage of our beautiful part of the world, whether it be in tropical knowledge, cross-cultural and Indigenous knowledge or savannah and desert knowledge. That is why it is fantastic to be part of a government that believes in investing in education and innovation.

Recently, the federal Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, was in Darwin and he announced a $5.5 million investment for the Arafura Timor Research Facility. A landmark memorandum of understanding was signed between Charles Darwin University, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Australian National University and the NT government to unite research efforts on critical issues like sustainable development, protecting biodiversity and mitigating the impact of climate change.

During the same visit, the minister also opened the federally funded $17 million chancellery at Charles Darwin University. It is a very impressive building that has been long needed. The project employed more than 40 Territory businesses during its construction, and has resulted in substantial revenue flowing into the local economy. I was involved with another fantastic initiative for CDU earlier this year when I joined the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, and the Minister for Indigenous Health, Rural and Regional Health and Regional Services Delivery, Warren Snowdon, to witness the signing of a memorandum of intent between Charles Darwin University and Flinders University.

This memorandum of intent will mean that, for the first time, NT medical students will be able to complete their medical degrees without having to leave the NT. The memorandum outlines the arrangements between the two institutions for their collaborative partnership to deliver the new medical program. There is currently no medical school in the NT. Local students are required to travel and live interstate for much of their training in order to obtain a medical degree.

The Rudd government committed $32.2 million in its May budget to establish a full four-year graduate entry medical program in the Northern Territory. This funding provides a welcome change for medical students who previously had to travel interstate to study. It will also encourage medical professionals nationally to study and work in the NT, with obvious benefits to health service delivery. There is nothing that the CDU cannot achieve in the future, and possibly zoology might be another course of study. We might even be able to train astronauts, as the parliamentary secretary asked me about.

The government’s commitment to this NT medical program includes capital funding to Flinders University of $27.8 million over three years to build a dedicated network of community based medical education facilities. The government will also provide $4.4 million over four years to the NT government to enable it to support increased teaching costs and medical places for local students. These facilities will be centred around Charles Darwin University and the Royal Darwin Hospital, and will enable the NT medical program to be delivered. This will build on the existing NT clinical school collaboration between Flinders, James Cook and Charles Darwin universities and the Northern Territory government.

Over $1.6 million has been invested in local TAFE to support local jobs. This government has also invested almost $1.7 million at Charles Darwin University under the Better TAFE Facilities program. The funding will provide Charles Darwin University with upgrades on the construction, refurbishment and procurement of both the Palmerston and Casuarina campuses. It is great that local students, employers and businesses will benefit from these building upgrades.

I want to touch briefly on the youth allowance, which has once again been blocked in the Senate by the coalition. All students who receive the youth allowance will get a $2,254 Start-up scholarship every year. The parental income test will be raised so that families with two kids studying away from home can earn more than $140,000 before their allowances are completely cut. Students who choose to move away to study are eligible for a relocation scholarship worth $4,000 in the first year of study and $1,000 for each year after that. Students will be able to earn $400 a week, which is up from $236, without having their payments reduced. The age of independence will reduce progressively from 25 years to 22 years by 2012, which will see an estimated 7,600 new recipients of independent rates of allowance.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr Hockey —Don’t read the script!

Mr HALE —I know that those opposite do not like hearing this. It is great to see that the member for North Sydney has finally come back to the House after being the first male member ever to have a baby! What I want the shadow minister for education, the member for Sturt, to do is come to my electorate. I want him to tell the 271 students there they will be worse off under the coalition’s plan for Solomon—the Pyne plan, as they have called it, or the Pyne plantation as it should be called: all full of rubbish and should be cut down. Under the Pyne plan, almost $700 million over four years will be torn out of the pockets of students at the start of the scholarship, and it will reduce permanently by $1,254 every year. More than 150 students will be losing the equivalent of $24 a week each and every year.

During the election campaign, Labor made it clear that Australia needs nothing less than an education revolution, a substantial and sustained increase in the quantity of our investment and the quality of education for all Australian youth. This is required at every level of education, from early childhood education through to the education of mature age students. Education is the platform of our economic future. Our prosperity rests on what we commit to education now. One thing I have learned from my parents is that education is not something you just go through the motions of. Education is not something that you just do to win an election. Education is a commitment we set for the society that we want to become. It sets us up. As the Prime Minister said:

… I want people to understand that our reforms are essential to Australia’s future—because quality education is good for our economy, good for our community and good for individuals. It will help create jobs and higher wages, and will create better opportunities for all Australians.

I commend the bills to the House

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.