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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21526

Mr RIPOLL (5:39 PM) —Never before has a government done so much to hurt so many people for so little in return. Before coming to the chamber to speak on these very important bills—the Higher Education Support Bill 2003 and the Higher Education Support (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill 2003—I was trying to crystallise in my mind just what these bills represent, and my opening sentence was the one sentence that kept coming into my mind. Why is it that this government is bent on destroying the future and dumbing down our young people? Every single one of our young people deserves the opportunity and the right to have a decent education, whatever they choose that decent education to be. This government does not have the right to take away from them their hope and their chance to get into university if that is what they want to do—there is no way that this government has the right to do that.

The titles of the Higher Education Support Bill 2003 and the Higher Education Support (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill 2003 are more examples of the traditional doublespeak of this government, which gives titles to bills that do not represent in any way, shape or form what the bills are about. These are higher education destroying bills and higher education dumbing-down bills—these bills do nothing to support higher education or the young people of Australia. These bills destroy the great Australian dream that you can do better than your parents did, be the first in your family to go to university and do better than others did before you. That is the great Australian dream and that is what young people want—the opportunity to be able to do that. But there are no measures in these bills at all that go anywhere towards actually being able to deliver that.

Labor, on the other hand, has an alternative—Labor has a solution; Labor has a plan to actually deliver to young people what they deserve. Over the last 7½ years that the Howard government has been in power we have seen an increase in taxes—it is the highest taxing government in history. We pay more for our services, health and education and we get less in return—that is what this government has delivered. It has delivered suffering to ordinary Australian families and suffering to young people who, because they have no choice, are losing their hope and not going to university—this government will not allow them to get there.

The Howard government have cut over $5 billion in funding to education. We are now the sixth lowest country in the OECD when it comes to public spending on education, and that is because the government do not believe in investing in all Australians; they only believe in investing in some Australians—their Australians, not all Australians, as was promised by the Prime Minister when he was first elected. Since the government were elected, costs have risen for students by 85 per cent, class sizes have gone up by 30 per cent and student debt is at a record high of $9 billion and will be climbing in the next few years to $13 billion. This means in practical terms that a young person studying and loading themselves up with the sort of debt that will be necessary for them to be able to go to university will never have the opportunity to buy a home. They will never have that start in life that maybe their parents had or other people have got.

What do the government do in response to that? They deliver with a gleeful smile a $4 `sandwich and a milkshake' tax cut and say to people, `You should be happy with that; that's all you're going to get'—a measly $4 `sandwich and a milkshake' tax cut, using the words of their own minister at that time.

Mr Hockey —When did you last give tax cuts, you mean miser!

Mr RIPOLL —It is a tragedy that this government is putting a tax on education. It is a tax on young people and a tax on our future. As always when I speak on these issues you get a minister in here who gets all upset because they hate hearing the truth and hate being reminded of what they are actually doing. They can do it as long as they put on their earmuffs—just do not tell them too loudly exactly the sort of damage they are doing to young people in this country.

The Minister for Education, Science and Training turns around and asks, `But why won't Labor support full fee paying places for Australian students? We allow it for overseas students, so why won't you treat Australian students just like overseas students?' We do not want to treat them in the same way, because they are different. Australian students and their families have paid taxes in this country all their lives and Australian students will pay taxes in the future after they graduate—lots of taxes and lots of revenue to the government—

Mr Hockey —You are the high-taxing party!

Mr RIPOLL —Overseas students do not pay taxes. They pay a premium to come to this country just to study. That is the difference, Minister—that is what it is about and that is why they should be treated differently. But you probably already know that; you are just never going to admit it publicly. On top of that, what do we see the government doing? What is its incentive? It wants to increase university fees across the board by 30 per cent. It says it is going to cap it at 30 per cent, but it quite cleverly forgot to actually put in the legislation that it is capped. So it is going to run wild, it is going to run free. It will not be just 30 per cent. It will be whatever the vice-chancellors and the universities decide. It is also up to the discretion of the minister. He can direct that entire courses be full fee paying. We also have the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne saying that university courses will cost $150,000.

Labor will not stand for this. Labor will not accept that this is the future that young Australians have to live with. This is not the future that their parents have worked hard for—that all Australians have worked hard for. We often hear the minister rambling on in this place about people who will never see the inside of a university. Do you know what their great contribution is? Maybe they will not see the inside of a university, but maybe their children will. There is nothing wrong with that—not everyone has to go to university. But, if they want to do it, they should be given the opportunity, and they should be given that opportunity based on merit—on deserving to go. This is the great Australian way. This is what we are about as a people, a nation and a culture. If you deserve something based on merit you can rise up—you can become anybody you want to become in this country. But you can do that only if you have a government that supports you through legislation and actually does something positive to help you through. That is what this government should be doing—not what it has done with this legislation.

All families want is a fair go. I have not talked yet about the impact on families. If you have a young family with kids growing up and you hope that one day they will go to university—maybe you have not been, but you would probably like your kids to go—what is the impact on you? You had better start saving your money now, as if you were going to buy another house, because that is the sort of money it will take to send your kids to university. Is this the future that we want for our children?

What Labor will do is abolish the increase in fees. We will make university affordable and we will not support real rates of interest on loans for students. This government wants to slug students. If you are a student and you borrow $50,000, the government wants to slug you with real interest rates, and you will not be able to pay that back until you have paid your HECS; and if you work it out, that is going to take you 20 years. You will be in debt to this government for the rest of your life—but only if you cannot afford it. If you come from the northern suburbs of Sydney and you are rolling in dough, you buy yourself a university degree. You can actually buy yourself one. If your dad is a lawyer or a doctor, then lucky for you. But if your dad is not, then what do you do? You work hard at school and all you ask of the government is that they are supportive and that they give you a chance and a hope. That is all you want. If you work hard and get the grades, you should be given the same opportunity as someone from those rich, northern suburbs of Sydney. Just because they can buy a degree does not mean that you should miss out on a place. That offends me and I know that it offends many families.

What we are talking about is giving people a fair go—a real shot at making a decent life for themselves. We know the statistics. The jobs of the future have not yet been imagined. We do not know what they will be. But I can tell you this: if you work hard at school and you want the opportunity, you should get the opportunity and be allowed to get into university so that you can achieve your dreams and do whatever it is you want to do. If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer—anything you want to do—you should be given that opportunity. If you want to become an apprentice or if you want to get job training, you should be given that opportunity. This government should be supportive of young people and give them the opportunities which they deserve and have worked hard for. As I said before, this is the Australian way, this is the Australian fair go, and this is the fair go that is being ripped away by this government.

Labor will do something positive. Labor will allocate 20,000 new places for TAFE. This is not just about university. Many young people want to go to TAFE and get an apprenticeship. I did one myself. I went through the TAFE system and got myself an apprenticeship, which gave me the base and the ability to go out and do other things. It gave me a rock-solid base of a career and a trade behind me. If it were not for that opportunity, I might never have gone to university. That is all I asked at the time. The only reason I got to university was because we had a HECS system in place that allowed me to go to university and pay it back later through my taxes—which I did happily because it gave me a huge opportunity in life to seek out the things I wanted to do. I want that opportunity for every single child in this country, and this government should not take it away from them.