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Monday, 18 October 2010
Page: 521

Mr CRAIG THOMSON (8:20 PM) —I rise to speak on this private member’s motion and welcome the opportunity to do so. When Labor came to government we inherited a mess in relation to student support and the way in which that operated. I agree with some of the contributions we have had today in relation to how they have identified the problem. There was a problem with equity and there was a problem with access to university. So this government had an expert review the system—the Bradley review. We looked at what was suggested there and we took its advice.

We inherited a problem when we came to government, and that was that we saw a decline between 2002 and 2007 in enrolments at university from rural students. We also saw a decline in relation to those from low socioeconomic areas. In fact, the participation rate in universities of those from low socioeconomic areas was 15 per cent, as opposed to 25 per cent across the whole of the population. Over 10 per cent of people receiving the youth allowance came from families with incomes above $200,000, and three per cent from families above $300,000, and we saw a decline in the number of people from rural and low socioeconomic areas going to university. The problem was squarely an issue of equity. It needed to be reformed, and that is what this government did. We reformed this area so that there was greater access and greater equity. We made sure that we would get more people going to university. In my electorate there are close to 800 kids who are over $1,000 better off because of the reforms that went through, and those reforms were cost neutral. As the member for Hunter pointed out, we took a bucket of money and made sure that it was distributed in a way that was more equitable and in a way which achieved the aim of getting more kids going to universities. That was a good reform and it is something that we on this side of the House should be very, very proud of.

The previous system was broken for young people from low socioeconomic areas and, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, my electorate has the lowest household income in New South Wales, so people from my electorate were particularly disadvantaged. We are lucky to get 40 per cent of our kids finishing high school, let alone going on to university, and we had a system that was weighted in favour of those who were earning high incomes and who were able to work the system so that they could stay at home. They were able to use the system to continue to get youth allowance while those in my electorate and similar ones were simply missing out. That is not fair and it needed to be addressed, and that is why this government took the action it did in relation to student support reform.

It is almost the height of hypocrisy, though, for those opposite to lecture this side on anything to do with higher education, and in particular to do with the funding of higher education. The previous government had one of the worst records in the OECD in funding of higher education. So whether it is about putting caps on GP training places, about reducing the number of nursing places available at universities, about making sure that our universities did not have the funds to be able to do the work they needed to do to train the next generation of Australians or about the mish-mash of the student support system that was in place, those on that side are in no position to lecture this side on what is appropriate or on the best way of addressing issues within higher education. This government made sure that we had an equitable system for student support, a system that made sure that those from low socioeconomic areas got a fair crack in relation to being supported while they went to university, and we did it in such a way that did not lead to an increase in the overall burden on the budget—despite our hearing continually from the other side during the election campaign about the amount of money this side was spending. So we did something that was both economically and socially responsible and which provided equity. They were good reforms and they stand those kids going to university in great stead. (Time expired)