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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23623

Mr McMULLAN (2:45 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer. Is the Treasurer aware of a recent report by NATSEM which has found that generation Xers are finding it harder to jump the `first home hurdle' due to longer study and HECS debts and, as a result, face high levels of debt without a strong asset base? Won't today's interest rate rise make it even harder for these young Australians to own their own homes, particularly if they are bearing the burden of an additional $4,400 in HECS fees as a result of the government's proposed 25 per cent HECS hike?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I do not have that report in front of me. But the member reads out that people are studying longer: they are. Does the Labor Party say that is a bad thing? People have said then that they have HECS debts. That scheme was introduced by the Australian Labor Party. Does the Australian Labor Party say that was a bad thing? I am asked the question: does the fact that people are studying longer and have HECS debts work against them? My view is that, if they are studying longer—

The SPEAKER —The member for Grayndler is warned!

Mr COSTELLO —the probabilities are that they will later be in higher paid employment. If the Australian Labor Party has an objection to HECS we ought to hear about it now, because it introduced it in 1994. This is one of those questions which the Australian Labor Party produces to try and insinuate they have a particular policy when they do not have that policy at all. The old member for Werriwa used to be the absolute champion on this. He would insinuate that he had a certain policy—whether it was on higher income earners, matched savings accounts or share ownership accounts—but when you sat down and costed it, it was never actually a policy; it was always just an idea. It was an idea that could be jettisoned 24 hours, seven days or a month later, or however long it took him to change his mind on that particular issue. I am asked a question about people studying longer with HECS debts. I think studying longer, by and large—not for every Australian—is a good thing.

The SPEAKER —The member for Melbourne!

Mr COSTELLO —I think the HECS provisions that this government has put in place—

The SPEAKER —I have already drawn the member for Melbourne's attention to his obligations!

Mr COSTELLO —will provide for a better tertiary education system. The other thing I would say to young people coming through the educational system is this: hopefully they will not be coming out into a job market where unemployment is at 10 or 11 per cent—because it does not matter what your debt is if you cannot have a job; you will never be paying it. I think it matters in this country that under the Australian Labor Party unemployment was 11.3 per cent and it has been reduced to 5.6 per cent, because that means that millions of young Australians can get a start in life that they would never have had the opportunity to have under Labor and its mismanagement.