Question Time: Universities

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (15:07): I thank the member for Wentworth for her question. Without doubt, she is the best member for Wentworth this parliament has ever had. Even the Liberal Party agree. That’s why they’re trying to get you to join the Liberal Party. I’d take that as a compliment though, because they realise that they can’t beat you. My advice is don’t do it, or, better still, watch Nemesis and then you’d never do it.

Can I recognise, Mr Speaker, your abiding interest in this topic, as well as all topics in education. I recognise, also, and the work that you did before you came into parliament with the Australian Business and Community Network that has helped a lot of young people from my neck of the woods to get access to business communities and work experience in the time that they’re at high school. I really mean that. That counts. It does make a difference in the things I was talking about in answer to the other question about helping to make sure that kids from the outer suburbs and poor backgrounds make that big step to university.

I said earlier that Bob Hawke and Paul Keating had helped more people to finish high school and that now we need more people to go to university. I should have mentioned John Dawkins as well, because the fact is that HECS has blown the doors of universities open for more young Australians. Back then, in 1989, when I was finishing high school, only about five per cent of the Australian workforce had a uni degree. Now it’s more than 26 per cent. What this report says—and I’m going directly to it, I can promise you.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! The minister will pause. The member for Wentworth, on a point of order.

Ms Spender: The point is on relevance. I appreciate the flattery, but I think it is time to get to the question of HECS/HELP.

The SPEAKER: The minister was in mid-sentence saying he was getting to that point, so he is being directly relevant. I’m sure he was going to come back to the question. He has the call.

Mr CLARE: You’re a mind reader, Mr Speaker. I was right on it. What the report says is that HECS is fundamentally sound and that it has served our country well but that we can make it fairer and simpler. It’s got recommendations there for the government about changes to indexation as well as repayments. My answer to your question is the answer I gave to the House about an hour ago, which is that we’re going through all of the 47 recommendations in the report and we’ll announce the first stage of our response to the Universities Accord over the next few months.