UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN SYDNEY BILL
Debate resumed from 13 November.
(Ku-ring-gai) [8.50 p.m.]: It is my pleasure to lead for the Opposition on this bill and to indicate that the Opposition supports it. The University of Western Sydney remains one of the proudest achievements of the western Sydney region and I am pleased to say that the New South Wales coalition is proud of its growth since its inception in 1989 following a coalition Government Act passed in 1988. It is important that honourable members hear about some of the successes and some of the profile of the University of Western Sydney. Since its inception it has grown to be the third- largest university in New South Wales, and the ninth-largest in Australia. The UWS has built into its name the character of the university, a statement through which the university defines the social and economic growth of the region it serves - the western Sydney region.
It may be interesting for honourable members to hear how the name "University of Western Sydney" was coined. On a recent evening I discussed this with my very good friend the honourable member for Hawkesbury, who had had a vision for western Sydney and for a university in western Sydney throughout his time in public life - and that includes in excess of 20 years in this place. The honourable member was talking to me about various proposals to name the university after certain past political figures. The honourable member for Hawkesbury went to the then Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, Terry Metherell, and suggested that the name for the new university ought to be University of Western Sydney on the basis that the tag "western Sydney" was so often applied as a derisory term by people from other parts of Sydney.
It was indeed the vision of the honourable member for Hawkesbury and others in the community that the tag "western Sydney" ought to be attached to things of lasting significance, things that the region could hold at the core of its being. Terry Metherell was persuaded and they went to the then Premier, Nick Greiner, who also thought it was a splendid idea. A meeting was then arranged with the then Leader of the Opposition, Bob Carr. According to the recollection of the honourable member for Hawkesbury, the then Leader of the Opposition was at first puzzled by the idea and then his face lit up as he saw the implications of naming a university after the region. It is worth recording how the name for the University of Western Sydney was born. As I said earlier its name has become part of the defining character not only of the university but also of western Sydney.
Close to 25,000 full-time students attend the university and with part-time students the enrolment totals about 30,000. Its budget is $237 million and it already has 29,000 graduates and a staff of 2,000. It
is a major contributor to the economy of western Sydney and underpins the growth of its economy. It is worth reflecting on the region that the university serves. The population of greater western Sydney is larger than the population of Brisbane and its area is larger than Perth and Adelaide combined. It is Australia’s largest urban area and its gross domestic product is about the same as that of Singapore. Over half the population of some suburbs in the region comes from non-English speaking backgrounds. A study commissioned by the university, conducted by National Economics and released in May 1997, showed that more than 70 per cent of local people over the age of 15 have no qualifications. That is one of a number of staggering statistics about greater western Sydney, which every member of this House ought to carefully note.
One of the most important points about the UWS is that through education it takes part in the generational change of families who live in greater western Sydney. As well as underpinning the economic growth of the region it underpins the social growth of the region and, therefore, one of the largest population bases in the entire nation. The importance of that cannot be overemphasised to honourable members. According to the survey conducted by National Economics greater western Sydney has nearly 10 per cent of Australia’s population; 26 per cent of that population is under the age of 15; and 31 per cent were born overseas. In that region there is strong employment growth and yet many suburbs have high rates of unemployment.
The area has a lower than average rate of educational attainment, and, as I previously mentioned, more than 70 per cent of people over 15 have no qualifications. The Opposition believes that that report firmly stressed that the competitiveness of greater western Sydney will be highly dependent on its ability to nurture and attract a highly skilled work force to its existing and emerging industrial structure. That means that the university plays an important role in the economic development - integral to the economic development - of greater western Sydney. The report by National Economics found that the UWS enhances the gross regional product of western Sydney by $280 million in 1990 terms and enhances regional employment by 4,800 jobs, and that although only 50 per cent of the staff live in the region two-thirds of staff income is spent in the region. The report makes the point that research contributes to the quality of teaching and therefore influences the development of the skills base in the region.
Because research at UWS is conducted in close association with business it has a direct and immediate business value for the region. As the report points out, delivering high-quality education brings greater western Sydney two major social benefits in terms of human capital; specifically, it provides the region with professional personnel, ensuring economic activity is not curtailed by the shortage of skills and, generally, it provides graduates with higher paid jobs and greater job satisfaction, and therefore contributes to greater economic activity in the region. It is interesting to reflect on the nature of the student population at UWS. The university’s student affairs committee has compiled information about students.
Students say that there are many unique features of an education at UWS, which they value and want to retain, that are part of the character of the university. In mentioning these I am trying to give another picture of the university’s unique character amongst Australian universities. Some of the characteristics highly valued by students include small tutorial classes, two-hour tutorials, flexibility, friendliness, access to teaching staff, a more personal approach to education, provision of Australian sign language interpreters in lectures and tutorials, physical access to all buildings for people with disability and a highly personalised international student services structure. The students have also hailed the federated structure of the university which provides for greater choice in study options and more flexible modes of delivery.
The 1996 employment destinations survey indicated that UWS students add value to the greater western Sydney community because on completion of their degrees 50 per cent of students return to the community. The survey further indicated that UWS graduates are highly employable with a 93 per cent employment rate. This bestows great credit on the university staff and students. The survey of UWS Macarthur students revealed that 59 per cent of full-time students and 85 per cent of part-time students are required to work while they study and this adds more complexion to our understanding of the university’s make-up. That is one reason that flexibility must be part of the university’s characteristics. Approximately 24.7 per cent of mature age students, those aged 30 years and over, study at UWS, representing more than many other Australian universities. A large number of UWS students in proportion to other universities are deaf and require sign interpreters.
A high proportion of students come from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, which certainly impacted on Rod West when he recently conducted the higher education review for the Australian Government. He has taken much information from UWS about programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff. Approximately 23.2 per cent of students at
UWS are from non-English speaking backgrounds. Female students make up 56 per cent of students at UWS. UWS students incurred higher transport costs due to the university’s large catchment area, which was another important factor in retaining the federated structure. Approximately 28 per cent of research and research consulting activities are conducted in the greater western Sydney area. I trust the House has understood the character of the University of Western Sydney, which has made it such a powerhouse among Australian universities and, indeed, an important part of the greater western Sydney region.
I suspect that the bill has been introduced in response to the regrettable events of 1995, referred to by the Minister in his second reading speech. Those events resulted in a review by Mr Justice Rogers, which led to further widespread regional consultation involving those directly associated with the university, staff and students. It was an exhaustive process led in an exemplary fashion and in true leadership style by Professor Deryck Schreuder; this House should pay tribute to him and wish him well for the future. That consultation process led to the introduction of this bill. The 1995 events were dramatic and threatened the federated structure of the university and, by implication, the region and the university’s role in the region, which I have outlined to the House. Through pressure from the Nepean campus the federation was under threat of break-up. Party politics played a hand in the issue. Professor Maling, who was chief executive officer of the University of Western Sydney Nepean, wrote to people in the following terms:
Prior to the recent state election, Minister Lo Po and Minister Debus announced that ALP policy would allow the establishment of individual universities from within the University of Western Sydney network, providing a number of criteria were met.
As evidenced by that letter from Professor Jillian Maling, no doubt Australian Labor Party politics and game playing directly contributed to the pressure that threatened the viability of the University of Western Sydney and its federated structure. A fly on the Cabinet wall surely would have noted a great deal of bloodshed over this issue with two Ministers proposing the break-up of the campus and, in all genuineness, the Minister for Education and Training trying the hardest to retain the University of Western Sydney in its current structure - at least that is the impression one has from this side. The Minister may comment on that in his reply. The Opposition listened to all sides of the break-up debate and consulted a number of people. It took the view in 1995 that the federated structure served the university and region well. The coalition wrote in these terms:
It is our view that Professor Maling was an unfortunate victim of this climate of conflict which could have been avoided had Labor adopted a clear cohesive policy approach when in Opposition.
The coalition also endorsed the thrust of the recommendations of the Rogers report. I shall not dwell on the political aspect. Suffice it to say that it behoves everybody to think when attempting to play party politics, particularly in the charged atmosphere of a looming election. Clearly, Australian Labor Party members, including the Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Women, and the Minister for Corrective Services, Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister Assisting the Minister for the Arts, did not bear that in mind when racing headlong into the March 1995 election. The New South Wales Opposition retains its support of the federated structure of UWS and is pleased to support the bill.
I shall not enter into a lengthy dissertation about the provisions of the bill, as the Minister has outlined them. The strengths of the bill include retaining the federated structure while making sure that the university is responsive to the subregions represented in its large catchment area, which is larger than most Australian cities. There is an overall sense of mission in serving greater western Sydney, which is served by the federated university structure, yet there is still a responsiveness by individual university members to their subregions. That provides a sense of shared ownership and input to strategic decision making on behalf of the whole region. That was one of the tensions that led to the 1995 problems. The perception was that not all members had equal access or any access to decision making about the structures of the whole university. There was no overall sense of mission, particularly with the development of new courses.
One particular point that was made related to the development of courses in the law faculty, the main matter in contention being where that law course was best located. That the university now has two law courses is a vestige of those days. Had the structure of the current Act been in place, that argument would not have taken place in the same manner. The Act is an improvement brought about by the unfortunate events of 1995. Another strength is that the democratic structure allows for discussion at member campus level and board level. It provides a clear and independent arm for academic debate, discussion and decision making about academic aspects of the university’s operation in an independent style that is clearly appropriate. It leaves the day-to-day operations to individual members, which means that the board is not bogged down with decision making that more correctly should be made from within the members while allowing overall strategic decisions to be dealt with
by the board and other structures based at the overall management level.
I shall not delay the House by further discussing the bill except to say once again that the coalition is proud of the development that took place in the University of Western Sydney during the term of the coalition government. The coalition believes strongly that the university remains an integral part of the western Sydney region. It is part of the cultural and social change that only education can bring about, to which the coalition is strongly committed, particularly in the greater western Sydney region. Finally, I pay tribute once more to the leadership during this most difficult time of Professor Deryck Schreuder and wish him all the best.
(Albury) [9.20 p.m.]: The University of Western Sydney, after some difficulties and problems, is to move to a new era that will lead to great success for the university and the people of the region it serves. As my colleague the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai pointed out, the university serves a very large region, with a population estimated at 1.5 million - a population equal to or perhaps even greater than that of the State of South Australia. The university has three main units and teaching occurs at eight main sites. It has 25,000 students, half of whom are over the age of 25 years. It was estimated that there was one university place for every 32 students in western Sydney, compared with one place for every eight in eastern Sydney.
The University of Western Sydney was established expressly to cater for the educational needs of the people of the enormous area of western Sydney. Sixty per cent of the university’s graduates are the first in their families to graduate from university, which is an important statistic. The university has a budget of more than $200 million and a staff of well over 2,000, and is estimated to bring approximately $300 million into the economy of western Sydney. The most popular courses at the university are business studies and marketing, health, and communications. The Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, Sir Ian Turbott, leads the university. The three units at MacArthur, Nepean and Hawkesbury are led by Professor David Barr, Professor Chris Duke and Professor John Clark respectively.
Sixty students and staff worked in a co-operative way to develop the main point of this bill, to provide a federated structure for the university. Each unit will have its own board of trustees and its own management board, and each of the boards will report to the university’s governing body. The federated structure could be likened to the Federation system of government in Australia, under which there is a Governor-General, a Federal Parliament and each State has its own Governor and parliament. The university’s new structure will provide democratic governance for this high-achieving university that provides for the needs of the people of western Sydney. I join my colleague the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai in supporting this bill.
(Riverstone - Minister for Education and Training, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Youth Affairs) [9.22 p.m.], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai and the honourable member for Albury for their support of the bill. The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai raised a number of matters to which I should like to respond. He gave a potted history of the University of Western Sydney and outlined its development. It is understandable, I suppose, given his political perspective, that he would take a rather myopic view of that history - not to mention a rather truncated view. Having listened to the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai, one might be forgiven for thinking that the University of Western Sydney commenced upon the election of the Greiner Government. In fact, the university’s history goes back much further than that.
It was the work of the Unsworth Government and, previously, the Wran Government that established the university, and established it in a specific way. I know a fair bit about that history because I was directly involved as a member of Cabinet in the Wran and Unsworth governments. I acknowledge specifically the work of Professor Ron Parry, who carried out all of the lead-up work. Former Minister for Education Rodney Cavalier deserves to be thoroughly complimented on the establishment work in the days of the Unsworth Government. Perhaps the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai may not be aware that, as Minister for Youth and Community Services, I played a specific role in the establishment of the university. The university’s headquarters are located on land that at the time came under the ambit of the Minister for Youth and Community Services.
I was the Minister who handed over the land to establish the headquarters of the University of Western Sydney, where the administrative headquarters is located today. I was proud to do that for a number of reasons. I was then and am now a representative of an electorate in western Sydney. Unlike the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai, who has an interest in educational matters but does not have the passionate interest I have in western
Sydney, I grew up in western Sydney and have lived there from the age of 12 years. Not only have I lived in western Sydney, I have also taught there. I know what it means for the young people of western Sydney to have a university based in their backyard. The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai complimented the honourable member for Hawkesbury on the change of name to the University of Western Sydney. I do not wish to in any way denigrate or take away from the claims that the honourable member for Hawkesbury should rightly have in that matter, but I wish to make note of others who have contributed in that regard.
I thought it rather churlish of the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to heap praise upon the former Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, Terry Metherell, and his role in this matter. Frankly, the role played by Terry Metherell was disgraceful. I was in the place of the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai - leading on behalf of the Opposition - at the time of debate on the formation of the university and the fixing of its name. I did not have to look up any notes to recall what was said by Terry Metherell in that debate, because it is imprinted indelibly on my mind. To this day I very much resent his comments and innuendoes. It is well known that up to that stage the university was to be named the Chifley University. That name was suggested not in deference to a past Australian political figure but in recognition of a great Australian political figure. I hold the name of Ben Chifley in the highest of esteem, as do all members of the Australian Labor Party.
Terry Metherell, in the debate to which I am referring, said that Ben Chifley’s only claim to fame so far as western Sydney was concerned was that he once drove a steam train through the region. What a disgraceful statement from a former Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. At the time, all coalition members applauded Terry Metherell and agreed with him. What little regard a former coalition Minister for Education and Youth Affairs had for one of the greatest names in Australia’s political history, a man held in high esteem and whose achievements have been recognised in the unveiling of a statue to his honour in Chifley Square. As much as I am proud to support the University of Western Sydney, its name and its federated structure, I consider it important to place on record the statements made by a former Liberal Minister for Education and Youth Affairs about Ben Chifley, a man who contributed so much to Australian political life.
Ben Chifley in many ways epitomised the ideal to which so many of us aspire - the ideal to which so many of the tens of thousands of young people from Sydney’s west aspire when they go to university and when they finish their education. For many Labor, working-class people education is what makes the difference. That was Ben Chifley’s ideal and it is the ideal held by the University of Western Sydney and those associated with it, including Sir Ian Turbott and Professor Deryck Schreuder. I listened intently to the comments made by the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai, who delivered a mass of statistics about western Sydney. His dissertation was in many ways learned but dispassionate. When speaking about the University of Western Sydney one needs to talk about the opportunities for young people, and to put a bit of passion into it. For young people of western Sydney the university provides the opportunity to change their entire lives, the opportunity which will make the difference.
When I speak of the University of Western Sydney I talk of a university that is in the backyard of students from western Sydney, making it accessible, and of a university that raises ambitions and expectations. For those of us who grew up in western Sydney and did not have access to a university, it was a very difficult task. I grew up in western Sydney and, in order to attend university, I had to leave home at seven o’clock in the morning and catch the red rattler to Sydney university. I would get there at about half past eight or nine o’clock and would leave at about 10.00 p.m. or 10.30 p.m. to travel on the red rattler and arrive home around midnight. It took a special drive, and that is what young people of Sydney’s west had to expect in order to access a university.
If members opposite did attend university, they are somewhat lacking in their education. They certainly did not learn anything.
The honourable member for Sutherland has not contributed to the debate but now wants to big-note himself by interjecting. That is typical of the ignorant way in which he conducts himself, not only in respect of this debate but generally in this Chamber tonight. I suggest to the honourable member for Sutherland that there is an appropriate way of contributing to the debate. If he does not want the disgrace of it being apparent in Hansard
that he has made a fool of himself he ought to keep quiet and observe the proper procedures of the House. As a teacher in Sydney’s west for ten years I experienced difficulties trying to tell my intelligent
young students that they had a right to expect a university education.
In those days, university was not only far from them geographically; it was far from everything they were accustomed to. It was far from their family expectations and aspirations; it was far from what anybody had ever told them they had a right to expect - a university education. Because the University of Western Sydney was located in a federated structure on Werrington, Hawkesbury, Macarthur and Nepean campuses, it immediately became an achievable objective for so many of those young people of Sydney’s west who otherwise would not have been able to achieve a university education. The statistics quoted by the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai were quite significant.
The honourable member pointed out that the University of Western Sydney has a higher than average number of mature age students. Of course it has, because many people who grew up in Sydney’s west and had a right to attend university were unable to do so, for financial or geographic reasons. Now, at this stage in their lives, they have a university next door and they are able to go there. That is why the University of Western Sydney has a higher than average number of mature age students. A higher than average number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and a higher than average number of disabled students attend that university. That is due in no small measure to the university’s equity programs, of which it and the Government are very proud.
A higher than average number of female students attend the University of Western Sydney. Of course, the females in Sydney’s west were among the most disadvantaged by not having access to higher education. It was expected that they would leave school first and probably be employed doing menial work. Many females who graduated from school, and those who did not obtain the higher school certificate, were expected to go into servile jobs. Indeed, many of them did not gain employment at all. Now the situation has changed because of the University of Western Sydney and the leadership there. One of the worst aspects of the speech by the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai was his attempt to claim some recognition for the coalition Government in the establishment of the University of Western Sydney. The reality is that the coalition Government had nothing to do with the establishment of that university.
The Opposition should acknowledge the calibre of the people who founded the university and the type of leadership it had. The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai attempted to attribute political background to the problems that emerged in 1995. In fact, the old Act, for which the former coalition Government was responsible, allowed the three university members to operate fairly independently and did not include the office of vice chancellor, the central administrative arm forming the university structure. There was no central control and the powers of the Board of Governors were not wide enough. This legislation, under which the university of Western Sydney will be governed, will correct that flaw in the old Act - of which the honourable member claims the former coalition Government should be so proud. If the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai is so proud of what has been achieved at that university, he should have at least spoken up about the disastrous impact that Federal Government funding cuts have had on universities.
Not one word was said about the $1.2 billion which the Federal Government has cut from university funding. That has had a dramatic impact - more dramatic than on most other universities - on the capacity and the ability of people in Sydney’s west, who are not as socially and economically advantaged as people from other areas, to access university education. If anything, the Howard coalition Government in Canberra has made it more difficult for the battlers in Sydney’s west to obtain a university education. I am very proud of this legislation and of the people responsible for it. I compliment Justice Rogers, Sir Ian Turbott and the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Deryck Schreuder, who has been an absolute gem. He has shown great leadership and courage and he has a feeling for social justice. It is a great pity that we are to lose him to Western Australia. He is a man of great intellect who has served the people of Sydney’s west extremely well and who will serve his new university well.
I am proud and honoured to have had an association with Deryck Schreuder, a man who has made his mark on the University of Western Sydney. The young people of Sydney’s west will always be in his debt. I take this opportunity to pay him a compliment, as I do the Chancellor, Sir Ian Turbott, who came from different circumstances but who recognised only too well the special needs of the young people of Sydney’s west. His leadership demonstrated a sense of social values, social justice and educational equity for those young people. I thank the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai, the honourable member for Albury and the Opposition for their support for the legislation. However, I thought it was important to set a few things straight about the comments made by the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai.
I am extremely confident that under its wise leadership and with this current legislation the University of Western Sydney will have a framework which will enable it to continue to provide first-rate education for the young people of Sydney’s west and the sorts of opportunities it has provided in the past. For example, Karen Hunt, a Hansard reporter who has been reporting this debate, is a graduate of that great university. For many tens of thousands of young people who grew up in Sydney’s west and were probably the first members of their family to graduate from high school, the opportunity to attend university and obtain a degree, and the opportunities in life that such a degree will provide for them, is indeed something very noble. Once again I extend my congratulations to Chancellor Sir Ian Turbott and to Vice Chancellor Deryck Schreuder. I also congratulate Justice Rogers on the way he conducted his inquiry and those who have had a hand in bringing down this legislation and laying the foundations of a great future for the University of Western Sydney and for education in Sydney’s west.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.