Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 03 Hansard (Thursday, 3 April 2008) . . Page.. 970 ..
having educators going into development ventures or ministers trying to run car leasing businesses.
MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Business and Economic Development, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Minister for the Environment, Water and Climate Change, Minister for the Arts) (3.39): It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to discuss this matter of public importance brought forward today by Mr Mulcahy.
The University of Canberra is an important institutional pillar of Canberra’s educational community. It is, as many have observed, our university. The University of Canberra began life in 1967 as the Canberra College of Advanced Education. Since 1990, it has been a fully-fledged university. Its legacy is truly significant for our town and our community: 60,000 graduates with qualifications ranging from bachelor degrees to doctorates. It trains professionals in 30 different fields, from nurses and teachers to communication professionals, designers, businessmen and women, government administrators and international specialists. The University of Canberra has its own character. It copies no-one; it emulates no-one. Its niche is quite different from that of the Australian National University, and different again from the Canberra Institute of Technology. Its focus is on the education of professionals and on applied research.
There is no disputing that the university has recently had to make some tough budgetary and administrative decisions. The irony is that its financial situation today, about which Mr Mulcahy attempted to make some cheap political points, is in some measure due to those very decisions. The university’s operating deficit for 2007 was roughly $15.9 million. But let us examine that more closely. One of the single biggest components of this—almost a third of the total—was $4.7 million for voluntary separation packages, as part of the new vice-chancellor’s bold restructuring of the institution, its staff and its courses. All of this will be recovered in salary savings in 2008 and this will free up more resources for the University of Canberra’s core business of professional education and applied research.
Another $7.3 million of the operating deficit was made up of repayment to the commonwealth government of overpayments in 2006 and 2007. In other words, two years of liabilities were accrued in 2007. The reason? To give the university a clean slate moving forward. Again, that makes good sense, but it is something about which Mr Mulcahy attracts a one-day headline. Another $2.7 million of the deficit was accounted for by bad and doubtful student debts from earlier years and $1.4 million was for depreciation that had not been included in the 2007 budget. So we see, suddenly, that there are reasons—explicable and reasonable—for the dollars that go to the deficit.
There are almost always two sides to any issue, and more complexities to any matter than are usually appreciated. The financial stresses experienced by the University of Canberra can, in part, be attributed to a decline in student numbers that we know had been driven by the growing financial burden of increased HECS fees. Of course, if we are casting about to apportion blame on that score, we need to look no further than to Mr Mulcahy’s own former Liberal colleagues federally, who paid so little attention to the need to invest in any level of education over their period in office—most particularly higher education.