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Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Page: 10067

Mr TIM WILSON (Goldstein) (15:57): It's hard to know where to begin with this matter.

Mr Wallace interjecting

Mr TIM WILSON: You are right, it is also hard to follow the member for Fisher. It's hard to know where to start on this matter, because in the end what we have just heard is a sad, myopic understanding of what you actually need to deliver better education and—this is the critical point; listen to the words of those opposite—outcomes for Australian students. There was an obsession and a focus only on inputs, but there is no actual interest in making sure there are good outcomes for those people who go to Australia and invest in building their own career path, their knowledge and their expertise to be successful in life.

That's why I don't accept the terms of this proposition of the government cutting billions of dollars from universities, which the opposition is condemning. It's a completely ridiculous proposition. Firstly, it's not actually based on any evidence and it's not even true. In fact, what we know is that, during the final three years of the previous Labor government, it cut about $6 billion from higher education and research, including its cumulative 3.25 per cent efficiency dividend, which applied to research grants and the Higher Education Participation and Partnership Program. The government's proposed efficiency dividend does not apply to these programs, yet Labor now opposes a measure similar to what it announced in government, which goes to the heart of hypocrisy—let's face it.

More than anything else, it doesn't actually focus on outcomes: making sure that students who go to university get an education and get an improvement.

I'm not sure what the experience is of many members in this place in universities; but, having actually sat on the board of a university, what I know is that just handing out more and more dollops of cash to universities actually doesn’t improve outcomes for students. What actually—

An honourable member interjecting

Mr TIM WILSON: That's good; there are other members who apparently have been on boards. They might know the experience as well. But since I have been on the board of Monash University, in the great state of Victoria, I have seen firsthand how the myopia, dependence and chasing government money distracts universities from the core task of actually delivering outcomes for students. In fact, when universities are focused on delivering education services that people demand, and actually put them in the best position to go into the workforce to be able to live a successful life, students quite like it! They actually do understand. They understand, support and appreciate that you need to have equity measures and that, regardless of who you are—your background or your circumstances—if you have merit, talent and ingenuity and if you can make a significant contribution to this country that you can secure the opportunity for tertiary education.

Equity measures are appropriate to make sure that people do not face unnecessary burdens or limitations. That is why what Labor introduced—it was called HECS, and today is called FEE-HELP—still stands today. It doesn't matter who you are; if you are an Australian, you can go to a university and get FEE-HELP and support, and you can be in the best position to graduate. But there is a basic acknowledgement that if you are going to go through the process of getting that tertiary education—which is quite an expensive process for everybody, including Australian taxpayers who contribute a very substantial component of the costs of education—the benefits are both public and private. So the repayment has to involve both public contributions and private contributions.

But what we really need is a tertiary education sector that is export-oriented and focused; one that recognises the potential of the sector to grow and not just to provide services to Australian students—although that is an important part of it—but to be able to provide the services demanded around the world. That doesn't come from becoming lazy and sucking more and more money off the taxpayers' teat. It's about being—let's use those words—'innovative and agile', and being able to develop the sector that people want to invest in. This is at the heart of the criticism of Labor. They would prefer a system dependent on the government, not delivering improvement for student outcomes but delivering for the membership of the National Tertiary Education Union, who are the membership base of many of the people sitting opposite. In the end, they are not interested and have not focused in this debate on how we deliver better student outcomes. (Time expired)