Thursday 18th October 2012

Hansard of the Legislative Council





Second Reading



[3.02 p.m.]

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - I must say that I appreciated the briefing this morning. There were nearly three hours of briefings, but most of my speech had been prepared overnight between 1.15 a.m. and 4 a.m. this morning. If I doze off at the lectern you will understand.


Mr Hall - Did you change it at all?


Members laughing.


Mr FINCH - We had such a rich vein of information from the student representatives and Sir James Walker in particular who led the charge, and from Chancellor Damien Bugg. I gleaned a lot more information that I would have liked to have worked into the speech but I am trusting that others will bring that information out and we can discuss that more fully, and particularly some aspects of concern about the bill.


I have a number of concerns about this University of Tasmania bill and I had better stress at the outset that this is a bill concerning the University of Tasmania and not the university of Hobart. While I abhor Tasmania's perpetual regional rivalries and parochial arguments we must recognise that the university does have three campuses - Hobart, Launceston and the Cradle Coast campus at Burnie - well, five as we heard this morning, there were a couple of new additions - but certainly there are those regions that generally spark the parochial debate.


We must not forget history. We must not forget how the university was formed as a statewide institute when the Launceston Tasmanian State Institute of Technology became the Launceston campus of the university. That campus now has the school of performing arts, the school of architecture, health science with its important nurse training role, the faculty of education and the Australian Maritime College - all vibrant centres of education. It also has a high proportion of the university's overseas students.


The Cradle Coast Campus is a vital centre of higher education for the north-west coast. It is the only centre but, like Tasmania, is often left off the map. I am sure, Madam President, that you and the honourable members of Windermere, Mersey, Murchison, Launceston, Western Tiers and Apsley support a fair representation for our tertiary education in that northern, wider half of the state.


While we are on the subject of representation and that fairness, let us look at the present university board and administration. We know that the majority of university students throughout Australia and probably most of the world are now female. I cannot prove it, I do not have the exact figures, but I know that I have made a speech here in parliament - it would have been maybe 18 months or two years ago - in respect of the numbers of female students at the university who outnumbered the male students at that stage.


There is evidence that more than half of the UTAS staff are female and that the female student component is increasing every year. We might very well ask how is this represented in the current UTAS council? Poorly, I might say. Only four of the 18  council members are women and the term of three of them expires in December. We just need to see if the numbers change with the passing of this bill; where those numbers sit. In the briefing we talked about it being merit based, but I also get a sense of gender equity where possible that we have to strive for in our community. The debate has been hot and strong of recent times.


If I go back over my notes here to the speeches that were made in 1992 in parliament, there was a reference then by Christine Milne to what about gender equity in respect of the formation of the new council for the university at that time. It does not seem that we have travelled very far.


One woman in an important role, but not on the council, is the Pro Vice Chancellor for Regional Development, Janelle Allison, and I will refer to her again shortly. A large part of the university's students and income comes from overseas students and I suggest that there is not a single non-Anglo on the university board. The UTAS board in its present form is not properly representative of students and staff, and its composition therefore I do not believe can lead to those balanced decisions that you would like to see come from the council.


Janelle Allison is tasked with developing the two northern campuses. I certainly do not envy her job. She is seconded to the job and her role is not permanent. May I suggest that unless more effort is put into promoting the north-west and northern campuses, would-be students in northern Tasmania will turn to remote courses with Victorian universities. They are doing some of those courses now. They are doing remote courses to Hobart now and some of those students are going to look further afield and look to the big universities in Victoria that might provide them with those opportunities.


This bill is part of the wider restructuring, a restructure that affects staff at the Launceston campus, particularly in arts. For months they have continued to be uncertain about their future. As one staff member told me, there is a lot of talk about consensus and consultation, but in the end they only tell you what they want you to know. It was interesting that in our briefing this morning there was a mention of the absence of consultation. As members would know, I bang on about it all the time, that people say, 'Yes, we have consulted', and the government, particularly, say, 'We have done the consultation'. No, sitting around in a room and talking to the same people about the same issue for a long period of time is not about consultation with those who are affected by the decisions that are going to be made.


I am thinking there is a future for me after parliament; I might become a consulting consultant to find out those ways to make sure that when you say you have consulted that you have in fact done what you said you were going to do, to actually consult.


Ms Rattray - I think that is called an auditor.


Mr FINCH - I am setting myself up here as a messenger of some of these things from the north of the state. There is a history of a perception of contempt. I know it is a strong word. I have gone back over that to check with people I have spoken to, to see whether that is too strong a word. They have suggested not.


In respect of the UTAS campuses outside of Hobart, when the former member for Launceston, Don Wing, was the member here, he took the opportunity at the annual graduation ceremony to tell the Albert Hall audience that only 25 senior teaching staff were based in Launceston compared with 168 in Hobart. He said it was a problem affecting the status and research capacity in Launceston.


The Chancellor, Damian Bugg, dropped on Mr Wing like a ton of bricks, there in front of the students, saying it was not appropriate for Mr Wing to have raised the issue at a graduation ceremony. I will point out - and I have had it verified by Mr Bugg - that he did receive that speech the day before, as Mr Wing thought that was the protocol. He received no admonition or recognition from Mr Bugg, so he duly proceeded with that speech. Then, rather than a vote of thanks, he had a vote of rebuke in front of the students.


Mr Bugg suggested that it was not appropriate for that speech to be made at what should have been a celebration for the students, but two wrongs do not make a right.


Madam PRESIDENT - I hope you are leading to the bill that we have in front of us.


Mr FINCH - Yes I am. I think this is the opportunity to talk about those things that are recurring in respect of this bill. I am going to drive a very strong point very soon in respect of this bill but my suggestion is that it is an opportunity for us now to talk about those things that we are hearing about in our communities.


This is our chance to have our message heard by the students who are represented here today and also by the representatives of the university. Certainly with the appointment of the new Chancellor, Michael Field, northwest born and bred, I trust that he will not allow that sort of occurrence to be part of those ceremonies again.


Mr Wing did say he was rebuked, that he had not made contact with the office, he said, between 2006 and 2007. He had made three written requests and one written and telephone request to the Chancellor for a meeting with him and two prominent northern Tasmanians to discuss the issue and no appointment was ever given.


I will move off that subject now but I want to quote the president and former member for Launceston:


The dismal failure of the leaders, a majority of members of the university council, to deal appropriately with this issue has had a serious impact on the academic status of the University of Tasmania at Launceston making it essential for remedial action to be taken urgently. It is heartening that immediately after his appointment as Vice Chancellor, Professor Peter Rathjen has undertaken meaningful discussions and has shown a commendable preparedness to deal with this serious issue.


I have alluded to the earlier days of the debate about the establishment of the new university. The debate started in around 1988. In 1990 the Higher Education Amalgamation Bill was given its second reading by the then Minister for Education and the Arts, Peter Patmore.


This bill was to amalgamate the University of Tasmania, the Tasmanian Institute of Technology and the Australian Maritime College. I want to quote Mr Patmore from that time:

[TBC - Paper Hansard 1990]

The bill provides for a single body corporate to be managed by a council established under part 3 of the bill. The functions of the body corporate are - to advance, transmit and preserve knowledge and learning; to encourage and undertake research; to promote and sustain teaching and research to international standards of excellence, to encourage and provide opportunities for students and staff to develop and apply their knowledge and skills, to provide educational facilities appropriate to the function of the body corporate, to provide access to higher education having regard to principles of merit and equity, and to provide such facilities as are necessary or convenient for the performance of its functions.


All that would seem to indicate a new university for all of Tasmania. Going to the situation in this bill where the University Council will move from Previous Hit18Next Hit members to 14 members, preferably 12, is my reading, and could come down to 10. The numbers are quite confusing.


It is called a corporate governance model and from that second reading speech the national code reflected in these proposed amendments supports continuing transition from a traditional and large representative governance model towards a contemporary corporate governance model. Particularly in relation to insistence on stricter governance and accountability of the academic quality and engagement and business competencies of Australian universities.


The University of Tasmania Act 1992 requires the council to provide the minister with an annual report to be laid before both houses of parliament. The voluntary code of best practice for the governance of Australian universities requires the universities to disclose in its annual report its compliance with the code of practice and provide any reasons for non-compliance. The reasoning for the reduction in size and altered composition of the council is that it should no longer be the traditional large body of persons appointed as representatives of particular interest groups.


We have heard about that during the debate and why are interest groups to be excluded? When I look at the student representative body, how can students feel that they have a say in how their very expensive education institute is run? We have already had that talk in our briefing about an elected student representative. I have suggested, and did not get an adverse reaction to the fact, that there might be a student from the north and a student form the south. How do we have them feel better involved in their university, than if they have a representative?


We talked about having an undergraduate representative and a post-graduate representative. I would be interested to see in the discussion that unfolds how others perceive that situation and whether some opportunity can arise that does accommodate the student representative body about their representation and the way they see their future involvement with the university council.


I remember when I was with the ABC, the board axed the staff elected member - we only had one - at a stroke, and it alienated the staff and made them feel voiceless. I realise that we are ending with one but I still feel that there is an opportunity for that number of two on that board. If you brought it down to 10 maybe only one, if you look at 12 then it becomes nebulous, if we decide on 14 there is more of an opportunity to have a representation there.


Mr Valentine - Do you want an amendment?


Mr FINCH - I will wait and see how the debate unfolds to see if there is an amendment. It was confusing to have that situation of the 18 down to as low as 10, 12 could be a figure but 14 maybe the flexible number. It is a bit of a moving feast and makes the bill not as definitive as I would have liked it to be.


My main concern is clause 5, 'Section 4 amended (Continuance and incorporation of University)'. The proposal is to amend section 4 of the principal act by inserting after subsection (4), the following subsection:


(5) For the avoidance of doubt, the University is taken to have continued in existence under the name 'University of Tasmania' since its establishment in 1890.


I have sought advice about this wording and the comment that came back to me, without naming anyone unless I have to, was that these are ridiculous words to put in a piece of legislation: 'for the avoidance of doubt'. What is being attempted here is that the new university created in 1990 is to be no longer. I think bringing forward this proposal is not a good initiative. Indeed, I think it is not necessary. It gains nothing for the university except that it creates the opportunity for future trouble between its component parts. I can only assume that the council of the university or the Minister for Education were not informed that in allowing the proposed amendment to enter parliament, they were directly denying the actions and intents of a predecessor council of the university and a previous parliament.


This proposed amendment represents a breach of trust. It cannot be and should not be supported by this Legislative Council. I am going to move an amendment that it be removed from the bill entirely but also, seeing what unfolds here, it could be referred back to the minister and to the council of the university for further consideration if that is the course of action that unfolds. The proposed amendment is an attempt to rewrite history. If passed, it will come back to haunt the university. I think it will diminish its stature and it will promote community and academic frustration in the northern half of the state, which will damage the credibility of the university council.


I want to go through the historical background of this. In the late 1980s, higher education in Australia was in a state of flux as the then Minister for Education, John Dawkins, encouraged universities and colleges of advanced education to bring forward proposals regarding their futures. As a consequence, many colleges of advanced education and institutes of technology became full universities in their own right. Other universities and colleges entered into discussion, some with goodwill, others under duress, regarding their futures. The pressure from the federal government was that bigger is better and more economical and that a good university needs to have at least 8 000 equivalent full time students if it is to economically and educationally survive in the brave new technological world. At about that time, the then University of Tasmania in Hobart had about 4 800 students, while the Tasmanian State Institute of Technology in Launceston had an enrolment of over 2 800 and was growing very rapidly. Combining the two, you do not need to be Einstein to see that the total of about 7 600 came very close to meeting the federal government's criterion. If you add in the extra 600 of the Australian Maritime College then the commonwealth's criterion on numbers was met in full.


The then Deputy Chancellor of the university council, Peter Cranswick, could count and, with the then university council's support, he and the then chancellor, Sir Guy Green, approached the Tasmanian Council of Advanced Education, the governing body of the TSIT, and proposed that discussions be entered into which would explore how the higher education needs of Tasmania might be better catered for in this brave new world. The university approach to the TSIT initially caused some disquiet in the council of advanced education. To cut a long story short, after some informal discussions in which the word 'trust' loomed large, the councils of both institutions agreed to set up a working party to explore, in goodwill and in depth, how the higher education needs of the people of Tasmania might be best met.


After long negotiations, the Higher Education Amalgamation Bill 1990, enabling legislation that preceded the University of Tasmania Act 1992, which is now up for amendment, was agreed by parliament. When introducing the second reading of the bill in this House on behalf of the Government, the honourable member for Newdegate, Mr Ginn, I believe, said, and I will quote from Hansard:

[TBC Paper Hansard 1992]

Mr President, in no sense does this bill amount to a takeover of any of the participating institutions. The heads of agreement documents provides for the formation of a new university for Tasmania under a new act of state parliament establishing a new governing body and university structure which includes the vice-chancellor to be appointed by the governing body and the agreement also provides for transitional agreements.


I repeat, Madam President, it was not a takeover of the TSIT by the existing university; it was a decision to abolish the acts governing both councils and both institutions, and will establish a different university, a new outward-looking statewide university under a new act. What happened then? To ensure the development of a unified and happy new university, the council of the new University of Tasmania appointed a new vice-chancellor from outside Tasmania, Professor Alan Gilbert, and his brief was to develop a new statewide university that would stand the test of time and put aside parochial differences.


Professor Gilbert tried very hard and was regarded as being very successful. For example, he proposed to the then university council that the old TSIT be renamed the University of Tasmania Launceston in order to emphasise the importance of the old TSIT in the new university, and this is agreed by the council. He set in motion steps to merge the old TSIT study centres in Devonport and Burnie into what is now the Cradle Coast campus in Burnie. He set up an academic leadership structure in the new university, which shared responsibilities between staff in the north and the south of the state.


Professor Gilbert publicly recognised the need for many more senior academic staff at professorial level to be appointed at the university at Launceston if it was to be a truly university-type institution. In so doing he was simply accepting that the old TSIT had not been a research-oriented institution and it had to have significant numbers of staff at professor and associate professor levels to initiate and promote the development of post-graduate studies and research. Further - he did not say this publicly - but he recognised that if the university in Launceston did not have ample numbers of quality senior staff it would have difficulty in recruiting ambitious young research-oriented academic staff and eventually could wither, as it is well known that any academic institution is only as good as its staff.


It was generally agreed that Professor Gilbert did an excellent job in bringing the various parts of the new university together. In fact, it resulted in him being snapped up by the University of Melbourne and he left Tasmania to become its vice-chancellor. When he left the atmosphere and the culture began to change. Under successive vice-chancellors and councils, the university reverted over time to being a Hobart-dominated institution. There are many illustrations of this, but the most dramatic manifestation is the reneging on the appointment of academic staff above the rank of senior lecturer; that is, professors and associate professors at the University at Launceston. This has resulted in the development of a renewed higher education binary divide in Tasmania.


That is in essence, there is now a teaching campus at Launceston, whilst teaching and research is primarily based in Hobart, although I must point out that I have been encouraged by the chancellor mentioning in the briefing that there is some research allocation coming to the northern part of the state or seeking to be provided - I am not sure of the faculty there - but there were certainly some moves and he did stress that Daryl Le Grew, as vice-chancellor was constantly promoting the recruitment of staff to the north of the state. But aligned with this has been the promotion of student enrolments in Hobart, at the expense of the rest of the university, as well as the demise of successful academic courses at Launceston in favour of Hobart. I am going to put up some simple statistics to illustrate some of these points, Madam President.


Madam PRESIDENT - I hope they relate back to the bill that we have in front of us.


Mr FINCH - It is the point that I am making about clause 5 and it is relevant to this moment in time, and the attempted changes. The figures show that in 1993, two years after the merger, there were 87 non-administrative professors and associate professors based in Hobart; 21 in Launceston and one in Burnie. In 2009, the numbers of professors and associate professors had nearly doubled to 168 in Hobart. There were 25 in Launceston, an increase of four, and five in Burnie, an increase of four.


Including the AMC in the statistics, the most recent figures - which are those quoted on the university's website for 2011 - are 201 Hobart-based professors and associate professors, 41 in Launceston and seven in Burnie. Putting it another way - as of the year 2011, there is one professor or associate professor for every four academic staff at the university in Hobart, whilst there is only one professor or associate professor for every eight academic staff in the entire northern half of the university, that is, Launceston and Burnie combined. I have tried to elicit the latest figures by email to the university, stressing the urgency of getting those figures by today, but those figures have not been forthcoming and they are not on the university website.


These statistics clearly show that over the past 20 years there has been a clear bias toward growth in Hobart, for both students and senior staff. The new statewide role of the new University of Tasmania that was exhibited in the early 1990s now appears to have been well and truly lost and, today, the final nail in the coffin comes in the form of this proposed amendment relating to the insertion of this new subsection. In essence, this is an attempt to rewrite history.


It says that the goodwill, voluntary merger of 1990 never really took place. The old university took over the TSIT, rather than amalgamating with it and de facto this provides justification for a continuation of the bias towards the development of the university in Hobart to the detriment of the institutions in the northern half of the state. Whilst this may be good for the university at Hobart, it is not good for the university as a whole and I do not believe it is good for Tasmania.


I am not happy with the way the bill has been presented. I will wait to hear what other members have to say and what they make of some of the issues that I have highlighted and I look forward to presenting in the committee stage.