I rise to speak in relation to the bills before us this afternoon that deal
with the University of Ballarat, RMIT and Swinburne and Victoria universities.
Prior to the Christmas break a number of bills were before the house in relation
to the University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, Monash University and
Whilst I touched on all of those universities during my
contribution to concurrent debate on those bills, I spent some time on Deakin
University as it has a significant presence in the electorate of Western
Victoria Region, which I share with Ms Pulford.
I want to go through and talk about each of the institutions
that we are dealing with today because this debate provides an opportunity to
sit back and reflect on the activities of all four institutions. I think we have
heard from previous speakers that the University of Ballarat is one of this
country’s newer universities, having been declared a university in 1994. The
university merged with the School of Mines and Industries Ballarat, which had a
campus in Ararat as well as the one in the heart of Ballarat, and with the
Horsham-based Wimmera Institute of TAFE, which had a Stawell campus as well. Ms
Pulford and I have had a fair bit to do with the Horsham campus during our time
as elected members of this place.
Whilst the institution was recognised as a university as
recently as 1994, it actually goes back to 1870 when the School of Mines and
Industries Ballarat was founded; this makes it the third-oldest tertiary
education institution in this country. During this time, particularly with the
recent mergers, the University of Ballarat has concentrated on the issues that
confront the communities in which it has campuses, particularly Ballarat but
also central and western Victoria. It has been able to do that at the same time
as extending its strategic options within the region and overseas.
The university has spearheaded its way into making important
connections between industry and tertiary institutions. It has been able to
establish a very successful technology park that currently houses 10
organisations, including IBM’s South-East Asia office and research component,
the State Revenue Office and Ambulance Victoria, so we have services as well as
technology and education and research merging.
That is creating a lot of interest and delivering enormous
benefits to the local community.
The institution combines teaching and research, especially
teaching which is informed by that research. It continues to be highly relevant,
particularly with the work that is undertaken by the Institute for Regional and
Rural Research and Innovation.
In terms of my experience with the University of Ballarat in
Ballarat, at all the community functions that I can recall the university has
been not only present but involved in all the planning and rigour that is
associated with making sure that it is not just a university that happens to
have its major campus in Ballarat but is integral to and integrated into the
community and is part and parcel of ensuring that there is a progressive agenda.
I think members of this chamber will recall that in the latter
months of last year we had the fortunate experience of having the leaders of
Ballarat here at Parliament House. For a whole week we had the opportunity to
see and talk to a range of people connected with Ballarat as well as the
townships around Ballarat in Queens Hall. It was a showcase of what Ballarat and
the surrounding community has to offer the rest of Victoria, and it showed that
very strong marriage between the University of Ballarat and the whole area.
Every opportunity I have had for contact and a relationship
with the University of Ballarat has been very positive. It has always been particularly
interested in the parliamentary committee that I am on, the Rural and Regional
Committee, and it has made a number of submissions to the inquiries I have been
involved in over the last three and a bit years. I am sure Ms Pulford will also
have some comments to make about the University of Ballarat because it really is
one of the absolute gems that we share in the electorate of Western Victoria
As Mr Hall said, RMIT University began as the Working Men’s
College in 1887, and traditionally it has been a strong trades and
technology-driven institution. However, whilst that tradition has been retained,
RMIT has broadened its scope to deliver a whole range of different courses over
the last 25 years. International development, psychology, sociology and a number
of other schools are now part and parcel of RMIT. RMIT engagement initiatives
span a full range of university endeavour.
RMIT is engaged in research, learning, teaching, student
experiences and social responsibilities, but it also has a campus at Hamilton,
another location that is in the electorate of Western Victoria Region. In recent
times the Rural and Regional Committee has called on the services of academics
at that campus to assist with its inquiry into regional centres of the future,
and it is good to have academic experts of the calibre that we have in Hamilton
who can be part and parcel of the very engaging debate on regional development
that we have had right across this state.
Victoria University is a university with a strong tradition in
the area of technical and further education. It was founded in 1916 and became a
university in 1990. As we have heard, Victoria University is one of the largest
universities; it is culturally diverse and has a high proportion of people from
lower socioeconomic backgrounds — I think Mr Hall gave a figure of at least 20
The university is very much tied to the western suburbs, but it
also has a number of other campuses as well. It is an institution that has been
born out of those suburbs and very much reflects them in the way that it
delivers its courses, but it also ensures that there is inclusion from those
Swinburne University became a university in 1992. Essentially
it was established in 1908 in the eastern suburb of Hawthorn, but it has grown
from being a local provider of technical education into being a multidiscipline
multicampus provider of higher education.
I am particularly interested in, and have been for some time,
something that Swinburne has excelled at — that is, the application of
industry-based learning programs. Swinburne was definitely a pioneer in that
area. In my previous life in the car industry my direct experience of contextual
industrial-based learning was with RMIT and Victoria University.
It was important to ensure that not only skills were imparted
but that there was ongoing commitment to adult education. We were able to ensure
that a number of vehicle workers who had not completed secondary school, who
predominantly came from other countries and who were not necessarily literate in
the language of their country of birth were able to participate in courses that
were run by those institutions, but also all three institutions were prepared to
sit down with us and consult with the workers about the types of learning
experience they had had and about different education models to ensure that they
had new opportunities. A number of stories could be told, let alone a number of
PhDs written, about what occurred over those years.
Before us this afternoon are four bills which affect four
different tertiary institutions. They are all different — unique — but their
core objectives are to educate, research, impart skills, lead and strive for
To enhance the activities of these institutions, on 5 February
a review of the Victorian higher education legislation was announced. That is
contained in the document I have in my hand which contains an introduction by
the then Minister for Skills and Workforce Participation, Jacinta Allan.
The review was foreshadowed while a review was being conducted
of other education and training legislation in 2005 and 2006. While the
university acts are amended from time to time, there had never been a
comprehensive review of the acts in total and against each other. This review
was generally directed at developing robust legislation that meets contemporary
needs and, as far as possible, contrary expectations, with two specific
The first objective is to provide consistent provisions, and a
number of them have been drafted for all the university acts to ensure
operational consistency across the sector where appropriate — and we have heard
about that today, yesterday and in contributions about that prior to Christmas.
The government consulted closely and exhaustively with universities to ensure
that the revision of each individual act is in line with each university’s
objectives, and that each university will retain its own sense of history and
identity. Although each university’s act shares common features, it remains the
case that Victoria’s cultural diversity and long history of education and training is
reflected in the unique preamble of each university’s legislation. The
legislation has come out of this review process and will distinguish Victoria
from other jurisdictions in Australia by ensuring that the legal framework for
our universities is user friendly, transparent and entirely reflective of the
needs and aspirations of our communities.
Universities are operating in an increasingly contestable and
commercial environment, and they require some greater flexibility and less
prescription in their governance and administration. Essentially the four bills
before us modernise the foundation legislation of Victoria’s universities to
conform to contemporary standards and expectations, introduce greater
flexibility in governance and administration, standardise powers and provisions
across each of the university acts and remove redundant and obsolete provisions.
Although some common features are shared by each of the
Melbourne, Monash, Deakin and La Trobe University acts, as I said, it is
important that the cultural diversity and long history of education and training
at each institution is reflected in the preamble of each bill.
The minister will continue to be able to compulsorily acquire
land under the Land Acquisition Compensation Act 1986, and the universities will
still be unable to alienate any Crown land or land gifted by the state without
prior ministerial approval. There has been a change to the maximum values of
land or property. Similarly each university will be unable to grant or lease
land or property for more than 21 years. I use that as an example to demonstrate
the sorts of flexibilities that were envisaged not only with the streamlining
contained in this bill but which are now required as our universities move into
partnerships with a whole range of private institutions.
The technology parks that are being established in a range of
institutions essentially mean we need to have a more flexible framework in which
our universities can operate, and not just operate but excel and take us into
the future. Higher education obviously plays a vital role in respect of the
future of an innovative and creative economy in Victoria. The bills set out, I
would argue, a contemporary legislative framework that is good for governance
and administration of our universities and for the benefit of the people of
Victoria and the wider Australian and international communities in which they
Can I indicate at this point that the government will support
the amendments put forward by the Greens that are before the house. On that
basis I commend the Victoria University Bill 2009, the Royal Melbourne Institute
of Technology Bill 2009, the Swinburne University Technology Bill 2009 and the
University of Ballarat Bill 2009 to the house.