Two voucher schemes, ten years apart

Julia Gillard’s part response this week to the Bradley report had me casting my mind back to an unscheduled, and rather more dramatic, higher education policy launch on 13 October 1999. On that day Labor ambushed my then boss, David Kemp, with a leaked copy of his Cabinet submission to reform the higher education system. I was his higher education adviser, and reform like this was why I was in politics.

In two respects, there are close parallels between the two launches. Both proposed a voucher scheme, but neither wanted to call it that. In the Kemp plan, it was a ‘universal tuition subsidy’. In the press clippings I have kept of the time, the voucher scheme in itself did not attract much controversy. There were a couple of the usual claims about regional campuses, but most of the voucher criticism focused on an alleged broken promise not to introduce such a scheme.

But there the differences end. While Gillard immediately ruled out any increase in fees, most of the 1999 controversy surrounded the plan to uncap fees (though there was some confusion in the media, with full fees being muddled with deregulated fees).
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