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Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Page: 10081


Ms HUSAR (Lindsay) (16:36): I rise in support of Labor's position on the Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (A More Sustainable, Responsive and Transparent Higher Education System) Bill 2017. I represent a community of hardworking people. Traditionally, we have been the tradies, the labourers, the administrators and the retail staffers. We now live in a time when those jobs are changing, and as those jobs change so too does the way in which we educate—especially for people in any community.

It's one year ago today since I got to stand here and address the federal parliament with my first speech. One of the things that led me here was a comment made by a Liberal predecessor of mine as member for Lindsay, former MP Jackie Kelly, who famously declared Western Sydney did not need a university, because we were in pram city. So outraged at her comments was I, as a 20-year-old, that I wrote a letter to my local newspaper about my disgust for such comments. I'm pretty sure this was my first interaction on my political activism journey. The future of work is changing: the jobs are changing and our workforce needs to change. I'm so glad that Kelly's comments were not heeded and that, instead, we have Western Sydney University right in my backyard. It is a university whose alumni I belong to, in fact, along with my mum, who was the first in her family to study and studied as a mature single mum of two kids. This provided me with a great desire to go on to university, and I followed there a few years later.

This isn't a unique story across my community. Sixty per cent of the students who attend Western Sydney University are the first in their families to attend university, and that is a staggeringly high figure. Twenty per cent of the students are considered low-socioeconomic status, and 37 per cent of those students speak a language other than English at home. These statistics indicate the transition my community faces from the traditional jobs we have had and the ones we will need to be prepared for in the future. The changes that the government seeks to make in this bill will diabolically affect my community and my university. In fact, the cuts this lousy bloke who calls himself the Prime Minister wants to make are the second-highest in this country. Western Sydney University will lose more than $98 million in funding over the next four years. This is the highest amount of money being taken out of any university in New South Wales.

For 25 years, Western Sydney University has been at the forefront of addressing the educational inequity facing our community. In Western Sydney, 16.5 per cent of under-34-year-olds have a tertiary qualification, while greater Sydney enjoys a level of almost 25 per cent for the same age bracket. These figures are important. They help businesses to decide where to locate, to know whether the population will be able to support their company with adequately qualified and trained staff. Why on earth would Turnbull support anything that jeopardises the access to university for anybody in Western Sydney? Does he think so little of the people that I represent in Western Sydney that he would callously allow these cuts to take place? Does he think so little of our community and that we're all just a bunch of high-vis-vest-wearing workers who are not capable of university-level study? You only need to look at his actions. He skulked into Western Sydney—I know, right? I'm surprised he even knew the way. He didn't come by public transport, though, to give his press conference—which is a shame, after his famous electioneering train-rides not so long ago, because, if he had, he might've learnt that, where he was headed to, there is actually no train. He went to Erskine Park, he got out there, and he said to the press that he promised plenty of jobs for locals and that we should all live where it takes 30 minutes to get from home to work, to education and to recreational facilities. I mean, really! Thirty minutes! Did he drive, from Erskine Park, 30 minutes in any direction? He might've tried, but I can guarantee he wouldn't have got very far. He made this announcement at TNT, a freight and logistics depot. We know that, on average, one of those warehouses has five jobs for every hectare of land, like this warehouse takes up. Again, it exemplifies my point that the Prime Minister thinks Western Sydney is a community of high-vis-vest-wearing jobs. I have no argument or issue with people working in those fields whatsoever.

But back to his catch-cry of the 30-minute city and being within 30 minutes of educational opportunities: how is that going for the Prime Minister? They just cut $23 million from Lindsay's schools, and now they want to come after our university for $98 million. Apprenticeships have dropped 37 per cent in my area. If you gut Western Sydney uni and it has to continue cutting programs and services, where is our next university within 30 minutes, I ask you, Deputy Speaker? I know it sounds old-fashioned, but someone needs to hand this bloke a map. Across Western Sydney we have campuses located in the south, the north and the west. And I say to the Prime Minister: enough is enough. End the war on Western Sydney. Stop treating my community like we don't matter and start valuing the contributions that come from the educated workforce that Western Sydney can and will happily provide.

Fundamental to making Western Sydney strong is supporting its university and addressing the gaps our area suffers from. The measures announced in this bill will do nothing to support this. The cuts this government proposes for Western Sydney uni will hurt the students out there already doing it tough. The cuts mean that funding for the critical outreach programs which support coming into university from various pathways will go. The cuts put a handbrake on the school engagement program encouraging young students to get into higher education. And the cuts mean that industry-led partner programs will be gone. Obviously, this Turnbull government believes that educational equity gaps should remain.

Disturbingly, these cuts affect jobs, job creation and the critical support required for start-ups and for ideas. Western Sydney University supports 150 Sydney start-ups and small-to-medium enterprises, through its Launch Pad incubator. Some I have been lucky enough to meet—like Stephen Brinks, from 3DBrink, a very successful start-up. Stephen was designing and building 3D printers in his Werrington garage. He had the opportunity to move into the Launch Pad and has grown his business. Now he has the opportunity to give back, and he collaborates with students. Why would the Prime Minister want to see this facility cut, after he famously visited there and referred to it as 'essential'? Now it will be cut to the bone and will be unable to support the start-ups and small businesses in Western Sydney.

On top of these cuts, this Turnbull government will put an end to Western Sydney uni's ability to partner with industry and government in proven job-creation programs. Just one example of this co-investment that the university undertook with the former Labor federal government was the $30 million investment in the Werrington business park. This investment saw 400 high-value jobs come into Penrith. It forges vital links between industry, researchers and students. Great opportunities were delivered to people in my community. But now all we see is Mr Turnbull's 'opportunities'. Well, I have news for him: we don't need your opportunities. We have had to look after ourselves because you cannot be trusted. People in Western Sydney have created their own opportunities, and they know that Labor will support them. Labor will support their jobs, support their pay and conditions, and support investment in the services they need, like universities. But those opposite only see a life of privilege and not one of opportunities being shared.

Opportunities come from investment, not trickle-down tax breaks afforded to big businesses. All these tax breaks—to ensure big businesses and millionaires can enjoy the cosy spoils. The government has decided to destroy any opportunities for students and institutions, especially in Western Sydney. And, for the people in my community, it is absolute proof that we have a federal government devoid of any heart. It isn't a cliche. The Turnbull government is hell-bent on handing out degrees in hard knocks.

Imagine for a moment—close your eyes—that we were here discussing investing $65 billion into our education system, not giving $65 billion in tax breaks to big business. Just let that sink in. Let's have a discussion about that. Imagine how that would trickle down through our nation. Imagine that investment trickling down through every single student across Western Sydney. I would love to have and I would absolutely welcome having that discussion, but we are not having it.

The Turnbull government has decided we should not be the clever country anymore and has decided to dumb us down in the most horrible of ways. This government is creating chaos in my community. We need apprenticeships; we need jobs that keep our graduates in the area where they live; and we need to invest in our education system, not take money from it. The government has gutted funding at all levels of education. You name it; it's on the chopping block. The Turnbull government has already ripped off public education and cut $17 billion from schools, $23 million of which came from my electorate alone. Now the Prime Minister wants to deliver more cuts and raid the pockets of students, with nearly $4 billion of cuts to universities, higher fees for students and bigger debts for students that they will have to repay much sooner.

What does all of this add up to? It adds up to a compromise on teaching, learning and research. But, more importantly, it adds up to dumbing down and the taking away of opportunities. The Turnbull government wants the students of Australia to fix its own broken budget promises. And how are students going to fix them? They're going to start paying back their student loans not at $54,000 but at $42,000. And, for good measure, the government is going to ensure your student fees are higher and universities are restricted in investing in infrastructure, as the Turnbull government steals surpluses that were for future building.

What great opportunities and lessons this government is providing to students! Members opposite are providing some genuine life lessons right up-front. Well, I'm voting to keep Australia clever, even though we have a ridiculously stupid government—and the experts out there know, and they agree with me too. Again we see a bunch of ill-informed MPs coming in here, trampling over decades and decades of research and ignoring it in favour of cuts instead. Take the Innovative Research Universities, which said:

The Australian Government investment in Universities is low by international standards while our students are already paying some of the highest fees in the world for public university education …

Universities Australia said:

Students and graduates will be carrying higher levels of debt into an increasingly uncertain future …

And the Group of Eight said:

We have … reached a tipping point. It remains the fact that we receive less than half of our university funding from Government and this has forced us to be heavily reliant on alternative sources of income to fund the nation building research we must undertake.

At a time when we need investment in the jobs of the future and to be competitive in a global jobs market, we find the Turnbull government throwing lead into the saddles of students, who quite frankly were finding it tough to survive already.

Meanwhile, across the road, across the seas, in Asia, right on our doorstep, they're investing in universities. That's right. I know it seems a bit of an anomaly compared to what this parliament wants to do. Their governments are investing in universities. This was highlighted last week by Universities Australia, which said:

Smart nations understand that public funding in universities is an investment—

an investment, Deputy Speaker—

in long-term national prosperity.

It continued:

It's clear that China is becoming a increasingly strong competitor - which the rankings analysts attribute to its 'high and sustained levels of state funding'. Indeed, China is building the equivalent of almost a new university every week.

And that should be a reflection to those opposite about what we're doing to universities in this country right now.

What a morally bankrupt government we have when it comes to education. I'm waiting to hear them all fall over themselves and come in here and support these cuts. The government are pretty lousy because all they could muster up was less than half-a-dozen government members willing to come in here and spruik their cuts to higher education. I don't blame them, because it is a drastically, diabolically terrible decision.

Western Sydney University is a success story. Why is the Turnbull government stripping it back to its bare bones, leaving Western Sydney with the crumbs yet again? The Prime Minister keeps coming up with three-word slogans like 'an ideas boom'. Well, Prime Minister, it is hard to have an ideas boom when you keep having brain explosions like this one. Can you imagine Mr Turnbull sitting on his balcony at Point Piper penning his little quips, the glare of the sun in his eyes and the rays beaming up from the harbour and all of those yachts? Perhaps Mr Turnbull might like to sit in Western Sydney's peak-hour traffic on the M4 and see if he can get from Erskine Park to Penrith in 30 minutes. I can guarantee he can't.

Western Sydney University is important because educational inequity is a real issue happening right now. A $65 billion tax break to big business with no evidence of payback to the community isn't innovation. Tax handouts to wealthy businesses on the backs of every single student cohort across this country are nothing more than trickle-down idiocy. No jobs, no investment; just dividends to the big end of town. And, if you are in Western Sydney and want to get ahead, this government is happy to stand on you, put you down, confine you to a hi-vis vest and tell you that you do not deserve the same access and same equity of access to anything. We have no equity of access to education, transport or jobs. I am happy to come in here day after day and remind this government of how poorly they are treating Western Sydney. When the next election campaign comes along and Mr Abbott or Mr Turnbull—or whoever is the Prime Minister potentially—come into my electorate, sit in my football stadium, say no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to pensions and no cuts to the ABC and tell this country they have a unity ticket on education, it is the people that I represent who will be the most dudded by this awful, awful government.