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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12470


WYATT ROY (Longman) (12:50): I rise today to speak to the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2011. It is the hope and promise of a better future which motivates many Australians in their daily lives. As policy makers of this country we need to be ensuring that there is a better, brighter future for all Australians. Australia has enjoyed the benefits of a profitable mining boom, which has contributed both to employment and to Australia's economy, particularly in my home state of Queensland. Yet, we know there are some truths facing this nation. Currently there are two economies: the mining boom and everyone else. We also know that this boom cannot last forever, and that it is imperative that we now begin to turn our thoughts to life post the current mining boom.

As a nation we will face significant challenges over the next several decades. The nation will face the challenge—and I make the point that this is a challenge not a problem—of an ageing nation along with the challenges associated with the economic restructuring post the mining boom. Higher education will form an important plank in restructuring our economy and our nation. Research and education will be vital in achieving higher productivity, better efficiency and new industry, ensuring that this country will have a high productivity economy, rich with opportunity, where individuals are employed in innovative industries, earning higher real wages.

The Bradley Review of Australian higher education recommended an ambitious goal of 40 per cent of young Australians holding bachelor degrees by 2020. Yes, this is ambitious, but in preparing for a better future this is a goal that we need to be actively working toward. This bill updates the maximum public funds allocated to fund Commonwealth supported places as a result of projected increases in enrolments of Commonwealth supported students in Australian universities. It also provides for an increase in funding in line with indexation, adds an additional year of funding, and implements changes to the discounts applicable when students pay their HECS upfront or repay their fees early. Let me outline some of the challenges that my local community is facing and that we as a nation are facing with regard to higher education. Unfortunately, at the moment, the promise of a better future is not easily achieved for some Australians, including for many in my electorate. My electorate is one where most young people have not traditionally been enabled to gain training or higher education in order to prepare for their future. Recently I met with Robert Craig, the head of the Caboolture campus at Queensland University of Technology in my electorate. In my discussions with Mr Craig, it was made evident to me that one of the biggest hurdles to locals achieving a pathway to tertiary study is simply convincing them that they could and should. A mere 13 per cent of individuals in my electorate go on to tertiary study; in fact, the participation rate is so low that my region is ranked a low 144th out of 150 electorates across this country for university attendance. I can empathise with this notion. I am the first person in my family ever to finish high school and go on to tertiary study. Sadly, my electorate has a six per cent unemployment rate, with Caboolture experiencing a 10 per cent unemployment rate. In some cases there is an intergenerational pattern of unemployment which presents a severe impediment to young people participating in the workforce. It is for these individuals that the opportunities of higher education are so vitally important.

We are here today to discuss the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2011 and changes to funds allocated for Commonwealth supported students in Australian universities. In my own electorate, I have seen the positive impact that universities can have on a community. I believe that it is vitally important that students continue to have opportunities to undertake higher education, particularly those for whom it is not financially viable to pay university fees upfront. That is why the coalition supports this bill in principle.

As Liberals, we believe that we should have a society that is based on opportunity, on empowering people, and on giving individuals a hand up. The potential for universities to contribute to our country's future is also important at a local level, and we want to see universities enabled to continue to invest in communities such as my own, where a university education can make an enormous difference in a person's life. Let me share with the House the evidence that I have seen in my community. Over the last few years, the Caboolture campus of the Queensland University of Technology has significantly invested in the local community, opening doors for young people—particularly young people who, due to significant obstacles in their lives, would never have had the chance to set foot on a university campus let alone to gain tertiary qualifications.

It has been my pleasure to support and to be involved with a community program run by QUT to create pathways for students to enter university. The Applied Skills for Year 11s program teaches high school students study skills, writing skills and speaking skills to overcome the barriers of entry to university. Speaking to last year's graduates from this program, I was impressed to hear that many of them who would not have previously considered university, or even realised that it was possible to attend, had aspirations for further study and many bright hopes for their futures. This program and the skills that it offers give young people the chance to actually believe that university is a possibility in the future for them. But this program and others like it are only possible if universities are adequately funded and enabled—which this bill seeks to address.

I welcome the move toward a demand driven system for funding for Commonwealth supported places based on the recommendations of the Bradley review of Australian higher education and the projected increase in university enrolments. But it would be remiss of me to fail to raise my concerns about the cost of this project and its management. This government's unsuccessful track record in implementing projects speaks for itself. Between pink batts, solar rebates and overpriced school halls, there cannot be much hope for this project to stay within its estimated cost of $1.13 billion. Given the scenes we are seeing around the world, the chaos and confusion that is brewing as a result of poor fiscal management and a global financial crisis, we in Australia cannot afford for this project to be another mismanaged Labor initiative. Now is the time for fiscally responsible management. We on this side of the House have a strong record of both effective fiscal management and investment in tertiary education. It was of course the coalition that introduced the Higher Education Endowment Fund, a significant fund designed to fund universities into the future from the interest earned on that fund.

As policymakers in this place, it is up to us to ensure that we prepare this nation for the significant challenges it will face over the coming decades, so that we can meet from a position of strength the challenges associated with a national economy restructuring itself in the face of an ageing population and a move away from the current mining boom. As policymakers in this place it is up to us to ensure that we have a society based on opportunity, on fair reward for hard work, where individuals are empowered and offered a hand up rather than a hand out, and where we as a nation can have hope that tomorrow will be better than today. A vibrant and inclusive higher education sector will be a key plank in achieving this.