Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 03 Hansard (Thursday, 3 April 2008) . . Page.. 976 ..
fact that we are seeing changes now from Professor Parker means that we should give him the benefit of the doubt that he is seeking to fix some of the damage that was left to him when he took over management of the university. It is certainly a concern to see deficits this large and we do want to see it reduced as quickly as possible.
There are serious questions which the Stanhope government must answer regarding previous governance of the university in the period when administrative costs were getting out of balance. This may again be a case of the current minister for education looking to blame some of his previous ministerial colleagues, as we have seen in relation to the school closure debate. We will put those questions in an appropriate way that ensures we have an informed debate at the end of the day.
The ACT government does not contribute directly to the recurrent costs of the university. Its only contribution is in the form of occasional grants of contracts—for instance, for research. The government does need to be accountable for the governance and oversight of the university. I note that the university has a strong enough balance sheet to ensure sufficient working capital to manage these deficits. It has low debt compared to the sector average and the debt ratio will still be low even as it incurs these deficits in terms of a round.
In addition to deficits and the importance of managing them, getting them down and bringing them back into surplus, we also need to ask other questions. How is the university going with efforts to get deferred maintenance back on track? That was an issue of concern commented on by the commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Is depreciation now costed at a realistic level?
What is the state of discussions with the ACT Auditor-General on risk management, governance and the operation of related institutions? Notwithstanding any new debt facility or increase in the university’s overdraft, is the UC balance sheet improving over time? Is the institution replacing its own capital stock by spending more on capital each year than the level of depreciation?
I do see a bright future for the University of Canberra. The government needs to ensure that improvements continue to be made. We do not want to see these kinds of deficits in future years. The government needs to take its share of responsibility for letting the situation get out of hand in the first place. However, I do not think attacking the current management is the way to go, because from what I have seen they are making reasonable attempts to get the university back on a reasonable footing.
I welcome the opportunity to have contributed to the debate. I think it is an important debate. The University of Canberra is an important institution. It is important that we look not just at the headline figures but at all that goes to contributing to that deficit. I am confident that the university management is doing all it can. I hope that it will get the kind of support and oversight that it needs from the ACT government, some of which clearly have been lacking in previous years.
DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (4.01): I am sure that members would be aware that concerns regarding management at the University of Canberra go back quite a way. Concerns were first raised with the Greens in 2002 regarding management of the university union and at the board level of the university itself. The matters were