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Democrat amendments will test Independents' commitment.

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Senator Natasha Stott Despoja Australian Democrats Spokesperson for Higher Education 1 December 2003 MEDIA RELEASE 03/860

Democrat amendments will test Independents’ commitment

The Independents have let the Government off lightly by supporting the higher education legislation at second reading, according to the Australian Democrats.

Democrats’ Higher Education spokesperson, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, said the legislation remains fundamentally flawed, despite piecemeal offerings by the Government in recent days.

“Despite their purported concerns with the legislation, the Independents have given the flawed Bills the green light when they should have sent the Government back to the drawing board,” said Senator Stott Despoja.

“I hope their eagerness at this stage of the debate is not an indication of eagerness to close a deal with the Government, rather than work with the Senate to achieve the best legislation for students, future students, staff and the higher education sector.

“Core problems with the legislation remain. In fact, every problem that has been identified by the sector and other Senators is covered in the Democrats’ amendments,” said Senator Stott Despoja.

These problems include:

• a lack of indexation;

• fee increases for students;

• the real interest rate on student loans;

• the intrusion into University autonomy;

• privacy intrusions for students;

• scholarships being taxed;

• the merging of private and public providers;

• that some universities will still be worse off; and,

• the definition of a University.

“In the committee stage, the Democrats will move more than 120 amendments designed to address these and other outstanding issues,” said Senator Stott Despoja.

“If Senators - and the Independents - really want to fix these Bills, they will support our amendments.

“The Independents can not, in good conscience, support any form of fee increase when Australian students are already paying among the highest fees and charges in the world for public higher education.

“A commitment to indexation, which must be enshrined in law, as well as more public funding and scrapping the HECS hikes are the bare minimum for improving this package,” concluded Senator Stott Despoja. For media inquiries please contact Serena Rogers on 0419 833 571