Australian MPs try to push out unpopular education minister

January 28, 2000

Backbench supporters of the Australian government have been lobbying prime minister John Howard to dump education minister David Kemp.

Dr Kemp has proved to be one of the most unpopular ministers. In two years he alienated almost the entire education sector, including vice-chancellors, the education unions and a wide range of community organisations.

He has already been stripped of the employment section of his portfolio, which includes training and youth affairs. He was humiliated last October when a secret cabinet submission proposing a complete deregulation of higher education was leaked to the opposition, forcing Mr Howard to reject the plans.

Dr Kemp, a rightwing ideologue, was also unsuccessful in having universities banned from charging students amenities fees.

But it seems unlikely that the prime minister will consider a ministerial reshuffle this year because of the need for government stability after the introduction of a controversial goods and services tax.

The National Tertiary Education Union said the moves to unseat Dr Kemp would not affect the government's real agenda for higher education. The union said this had been revealed in government decisions arising from its triennial report on university funding, a white paper on research, and Dr Kemp's plans to form a national university quality agency.

Despite Mr Howard's assurances, the NTEU claimed the government still intended to cut its investment in higher education while paving the way for more deregulation, including a voucher-based funding system.

NTEU policy and research coordinator Julie Wells said: "The white paper on research opens a large portion of operating grant funding to private providers and introduces a voucher-style model for funding postgraduate scholarships."

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