Page 967 - Week 03 - Thursday, 3 April 2008
amongst parents and students. For that reason, I arranged to meet with the current vice-chancellor and the chief operating officer of the university to receive a briefing on the financial state of the university in March of this year, just a couple of weeks ago.
I said on Ross Solly’s program, I think it was yesterday morning, and I say it again today: I was impressed by the level of candour of these officials. They did not attempt to hide or downplay the problems at the university. They were open and honest about the problems and their finances. But I was disturbed to be informed at this briefing that the university expected to post a trading loss for 2007 of between $15 million and $16 million and that they were at the final stages of the Auditor-General’s examination of the accounts. The university is also expected to post a smaller but nevertheless a trading loss in 2008.
It has also been revealed that there has been a loss of 100 administrative jobs at the university, and this too is a dramatic sign of the problems that have occurred. The loss of people’s livelihoods is no small matter and whilst it can be packaged in terms such as a restructure, which always sounds nicer than saying we are sacking people, the fact is that it has caused obviously an adverse impact on a number of households in Canberra. Indeed, the vice-chancellor told WIN news that the deficit was largely as a result of the high level of redundancy payments.
I should add that these problems are not the making of the current administration at the university and it certainly appears to me that the current administration are taking steps to try to restore the financial viability of that university. Nevertheless, the financial problems revealed are severe and raise many questions about the management of the university and the government’s failure to ensure sound financial performance.
Although I was well aware from my own inquiries, prior to my briefing in March, that there were problems at the university, I say that I was disturbed by the revelation of this trading loss because there has been complete silence on these problems from the minister for education and the Chief Minister. Neither minister has given any warning to the Assembly that I can recall of the problems that were occurring at the university and the dire financial straits that the university was getting itself into. There has simply been no mention of any problems.
This is a poor result for government accountability and accountability to this place. When it falls to a member of the crossbench to unearth and report serious financial problems, problems that should already have been raised with the Assembly by the minister, one is justified in wondering what else ministers may know about but are choosing not to tell the Assembly and the public. These problems and the failure of the government to disclose these problems raise a number of questions, and questions which must be answered for the sake of openness and accountability.
First of all, the government must tell the people of Canberra when it first became aware of the dire financial straits of the university. I am told that Mrs Burke is a former member of this council and, if that is the case, I would be very interested to know whether she was across problems of this nature when she served on that council.