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Thursday, 3 May 1973
Page: 1698

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) (Minister for Education) - There are 2 institutions that are directly accountable to the Commonwealth Auditor-General, and they are not mentioned in this legislation. One is the Australian National University and the other is the Canberra College of Advanced Education. The position is that the moneys allocated under these Bills are State grants and the universities are accountable to the State Auditors-General. The honourable gentlemen are pushing us into a delicate area. We are trying to stand back and say that this is a grant under section 96 of the Constitution and then coming in with some sort of direct administrative action by this Parliament in this area to make the universities accountable to us instead of to the State Auditors-General. I do not feel that we can accept that, especially in view of the negotiations that are taking place with the States about future grants.

I think most of the information which is sought in the amendment will be found out by the Australian Universities Commission or the Colleges of Advanced Education Commission in their conversations and dealings with the institutions with which they are associated in the course of their action as commissions.

Mr MacKellar - Why should they not report to the Commission?

Mr BEAZLEY - They do.

Mr MacKellar - That is what we are asking for.

Mr BEAZLEY - Most of the points that the honourable member is asking for take place anyway, but there is some sense of intrusion in the prerogatives of the States when accountability is to the State AuditorsGeneral and you actually specify this. Therefore the amendment is not acceptable.

I have sympathy with what the honourable gentlemen have said about the lessons to be learnt from this and I am sure that we will learn these lessons. But I think that they misunderstand the situation that will arise and the reasons why this legislation is only a temporary measure. Let us look at the situation in which we now find ourselves, at least 50 per cent of which is the work of the previous Government because the Budget brought down by that Government will apply up to 30th June. For this academic year the scholarship system in the universities and the colleges of advanced education applies to more than 50,000 students, and 70 per cent of the students now attending Australian universities are having their fees paid. The cost in this full calendar year of 1973 is $46.7m. We are committed to continue to honour the scholarships granted by the previous Government. Therefore next year some of the students who are the recipients of scholarships granted by the previous Government will have left, but the new system will be phasing in the payment of fees for all first year students and for the 30 per cent of the other students in universities who were not receiving assistance under the scholarship scheme. The payment of fees for this calendar year under the tertiary scholarship scheme is worth $24.3m and means tested living allowances are worth $22.4m. In addition to what is left of this, next year - and this is subject to negotiations with the university vice-chancellors, the students and so on - there will be added the payment of academic fees, and I will say a word about that in a minute, and means tested living allowances to all students. I do not imagine that any of the students who are receiving means tested living allowances now were the recipients of any part of this $3m. I think the 30 per cent of students-

Mr Malcolm Fraser - But you do not know.

Mr BEAZLEY - There may be some cases where irrespective of the $1,300 a year there was an additional hardship.

Mr Malcolm Fraser - Our amendment would have told you, but you just do not know.

Mr BEAZLEY - But we will find out.

Mr Malcolm Fraser - How?

Mr BEAZLEY - This information will come to the Universities Commission. The Commission is conferring with the universities now.

Mr Malcolm Fraser - That is the purpose of the amendment.

Mr BEAZLEY - Yes, but I do not want it specified in the Act. I think it is an administrative procedure and I explained when I began my remarks why I do not want it specified in the Act. In addition to what is left of the $46. 7m commitment an additional payment for tertiary costs of about $56.5m will be made, which will be the cost of abolishing academic fees and extending a means tested living allowance to all students who secure admission to universities and colleges of advanced education.

Mr MacKellar - What will be the cost of abolishing fees?

Mr BEAZLEY - It will be about $23m. The means tested living allowances will cost about $23m; that is on top of what is left from this grant. There will be $10m for technical education fees and about $500,000 for private teachers colleges. So, assuming that all the negotiations about these matters are accepted and the Commonwealth scheme operates from 1st January next year, we do not actually envisage that there will be a need for this emergency grant. A living allowance will be available for all students who would have been entitled to this benefit. I presume that such students, under the means test, would be given assistance.

I admit that a number of contradictory positions have arisen. I stress that this was an emergency. The honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) was correct. I had an exchange of correspondence, which began accidentally, with Professor Lazenby of the University of New England. He spoke about the increased fees in New South Wales and the problem of students because of drought. I wrote back to him saying that whilst I could not cover all the New South Wales increase in fees the Government would deal with that problem in 1974, but that I was interested in the question of hardship. From that communication came this scheme of emergency grants. Honourable members may remember that in the original second reading speech I spoke about families whose income had been annihilated by drought and bushfire and so on. So we do not feel that this is a pilot project for a future tertiary education scheme. We feel that the needs of these people will be covered anyway in a system of universal means tested scholarships.

During the course of the debate I was asked what our present proposals are for assisting students. They are for the Government to pay all tuition fees, library fees, examination fees and registration fees for recipients of a means tested living allowance. There will also be an incidentals allowance which incidentally will be more than sufficient to pay union fees. But the Australian Union of students is still questioning us on the subject of union and student fees, and we have not made a decision to pay such fees. However, under the existing scholarships, which will be continuing - the Government will honour the previous Government's late agreements - existing scholarship holders will continue to have their union fees paid. The incidental allowances of recipients of means tested living allowances will be more than enough to cover those fees. So we do not feel that there is any grievance there.

The grant to various universities through the States has been differently administered by different universities. Some have made loans and some have made straight out grants. I indicated the circumstances in which I personally would have favoured straight out grants but I think that the information which the honourable gentleman set out certainly can be obtained by the Universities Commission without this provision being inserted in the Act and seeming to indicate a supervisory action on the part of this Government. We feel that the universities are accountable to the State Auditors-General that they have applied these funds to the purposes that the State decides following their acceptance of the

Commonwealth's conditions as the conditions when they make the grants to the universities.

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