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Hansard Transcript, June 25, Question Without Notice, Ag Education - Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce

Posted June 26, 2014


CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (14:19): My question is to the Minister for Agriculture. Minister, given the excess demand for agricultural graduates in 2012 nationally—there were over 4,000 jobs for graduates but only 800 people graduating—and the related chronic shortage of postgraduate researchers, will you agree to meet with the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture to discuss what can be done to ameliorate the impact of budget measures on universities and the long-term future of agriculture in Australia?

Minister for Agriculture BARNABY JOYCE (New England—Minister for Agriculture and Deputy Leader of The Nationals) (14:20): I would like to say, first of all, I am only too happy to meet them; I look forward to meeting them. It is also encouraging to find out there are so many people who want to go into agriculture. It might be that there has been a change of government and we are turning things around. It might be that this is one of the reasons we have had such a large increase—in fact, a 19.3 increase —for the March quarter in agriculture.

Mr (Joel) Fitzgibbon interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Hunter.

Mr JOYCE: We are not the ones who placed the carbon tax on them. We are not the ones who shut down the live cattle trade. That was your side. You are the side that shut down agriculture; we are the side that is getting it going again. But I do acknowledge the issues.

To the member for Indi: what we are hoping is that, as there is a greater demand for agriculture—because our side has turned the show around—that will naturally attract people into the agricultural faculties. I also acknowledge that, if the sandstone universities decide to put up fees, that will make regional universities more competitive. I have had a look at some of these. Others think this as well. One is Jim Barber, the Chancellor of the University of New England, my old alumni.

He said: I have no doubt the big end of town in Australia will begin jacking up their prices in response to fee deregulation, but they will be doing so just as a range of new online, low-cost yet high-quality competitors are entering our domestic market. As a result, we are likely to see prices move in both directions … the prestigious university brands will find themselves going head-to-head with a raft of cheaper but equally high-quality competitors.

I note that at the University of New England the vast majority of students are external and they provide a very good product to the marketplace. Their former chancellor supports this. Also, the Regional Universities Network said: We recognise that, in a deregulated fee environment, the Government has chosen to ensure scholarships for low SES and other students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in higher education.

This is a great move by the Minister for Education. I think $1 in every $5 of extra fees goes towards scholarships.

To the member for Indi: these are the people in our towns, in the Quilpies, in the Baradines, in remote towns, who need access because the pathway to a greater life is through tertiary education. I remember that it was a former member for my seat, Mr Drummond, who set up the University of New England and recognised that. We will continue on this side to be the champion for regional education and for making sure that we get the best form of education, especially in the agricultural field.

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