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Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Page: 10056


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:12): This government is cutting almost $8 billion from our universities. A country that wants a strong economic future and a strong future for its young people doesn't cut $8 billion from its universities. Almost $4 billion will be cut from university funding and another close to $4 billion will be cut from university infrastructure when the Education Investment Fund comes under attack by those opposite if they get their way. This government wants students to pay higher fees and to repay their debts sooner for a poorer quality of education. What a rip-off! It's no wonder that around two-thirds of Australians who were surveyed recently by Universities Australia are opposed to those university cuts and it's no wonder that people in South Australia and Victoria are particularly opposed. For the Liberals and the Nationals—for those opposite—every change to universities during their time in government has been about funding cuts. There's no reform agenda from those opposite. It's always about funding cuts. It's never about helping students.

But, if it's budget savings that those opposite want, we're here to help. We are. We're here to help. How about those opposite dump their $65 billion big-business tax cut? How about those opposite dump their tax cut for those on $180,000 a year or more? There's another $19 billion we can find for them. How about they join us in cracking down on negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions? There's $37 billion that they could save. There you go: well over $100 billion that we could save them if they took some of our sensible suggestions instead of slugging students once again.

We have been very proud of our record on universities from the Whitlam days onwards, where we made a particular effort to open university education to students with merit, to students who were prepared to work hard and study hard, who were prepared to be judged on their capacity for hard work and on their intellectual capacity, not on their parents' bank balance. That has always been our record. That has always been our approach to university funding, but it has not been the case for those opposite. Those opposite want to return us to a day where only the rich can afford to send their children to university. It's very interesting that they're saying, 'Oh, look at that, look at that: wasting money here, wasting money there.' They've talked about high salaries for vice chancellors—and, actually, some of those salaries are pretty eye-watering. Nothing those opposite are proposing will actually bring these salaries down, but they do want to give those people a $16,000-a-year tax cut on top of the generous salaries. So the only people in this chamber who want to see those on high incomes in the university sector do better are those opposite.

Those opposite have also complained about the money spent on advertising. Well, it is a little bit rich, isn't it, from those opposite, when they're spending $15 million promoting the Prime Minister's favourite slogan of Australia being an innovation nation? So they actually want to cut university funding that delivers innovation but they're prepared to spend $15 million advertising innovation at the same time—I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees the irony in that—or spend $3 million on the now-axed Green Army, or $10 million congratulating themselves on signing free trade agreements.

It is also a bit rich for those opposite to be complaining about universities, which are enormous generators of economic activity in this country and which are enormous generators of export earnings for this country, actually advertising what they do. In fact, Deloitte Access Economics says that university-educated workforce participation added an extra $140 billion to Australian GDP in 2014. International education is a $22 billion export industry for this country. So I actually think it's probably a good thing that we're advertising to attract more overseas students to come to Australia to participate in our excellent higher education system.

Universities directly and indirectly account for about 160,000 full-time-equivalent jobs. It's only those opposite who think that it's a bad idea to be promoting an important industry like that in Australia. We will continue to stand with students, with academics, with university staff and, in fact, with any Australian who's concerned about our future in opposing the cuts of those opposite, in opposing the fact that those opposite want to jack up student fees by 7.5 per cent.

Those opposite want to bring down repayment thresholds so that students who are currently repaying their HELP repayments when they start to earn $55,000 a year would start to repay instead at $42,000 a year, just $6,000 above the minimum wage. If you reduce the repayment threshold to $42,000 a year, what you are effectively doing is asking some young Australians, most often women—let's be frank about it—to face 100 per cent effective marginal tax rates introduced at this budget. Those opposite say it's unfair for people on more than $180,000 a year to face a tax increase because that's a 'success' tax. If you're on $180,000 a year and you have to pay a bit more tax, that is a 'success' tax that will drive educated Australians out of Australia. But if you're earning $42,000 a year and you've just struggled to put yourself through university, and you're hoping that you can get that higher-paying job to pay for yourself to move out of your parents' home, or maybe start to save a deposit for a house or maybe pay the rent, then that's not a 'success tax', that's just fair enough, isn't it? For those people paying 100 per cent effective marginal tax rates, that's just fair enough.

We know also that this government wants to cut funding from the Education Investment Fund. I have travelled around Australia and I have been to university after university where they have proudly showed me the excellent investments that have come from this Education Investment Fund, proudly showed me the difference that this investment has made in providing state-of-the-art buildings and facilities for students—not just for Australian students but, again, to attract students from overseas to study in our excellent institutions. Those opposite want to kill that as well.

There is no more important investment we can make than in our young people—as individuals, from the time of early childhood education, right through a decent school education, in post-secondary education, through TAFE and through universities. Every individual young Australian benefits when we properly invest in our education system. It's not just the young ones. We know that more and more today, Australians won't be doing one job through their working life and they won't be doing half a dozen; they'll have half a dozen, a dozen jobs, in several different careers throughout their working lives and they will need to train and retrain for those opportunities.

If we don't make those investments, we are leaving people behind throughout their working lives and we are robbing ourselves as a nation. Highly successful nations invest in their people, and one of the best investments we can make as a nation in our national prosperity is to have a highly skilled, high-productivity workforce that invents and discovers and innovates—one that uses all of the opportunities of the Asian century, globalisation, automation and artificial intelligence, not to impoverish our people, not to see them washed up on the shores of fate, but to use those great global trends to benefit our people. We can't do it unless we're investing in those same people. We rob ourselves as individuals and as a nation if we don't make these investments. And that applies equally to the wealthiest Australian and to the poorest Australian, because we know that intelligence is not captured at the wealthy end of our population but spread across it.

I'm proud of the fact that when Labor was in government we boosted Indigenous student numbers by 26 per cent, and that there were 36,000 extra students from low-income families. That's the sort of change we need to invest in. (Time expired)