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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12271

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (15:42): I am very pleased to speak on this matter of public importance. While the Minister for Education tells us about the reports he has been getting I am assuming from his staff who are talking to university students, it has been the Labor members and senators listening to the Australian people. You can imagine members and senators hearing a lot of anger and dismay from the community, because, of course, they were never told about this plan before the election. They were never told that fees would be unlimited under this government; that university fees could go as high as the universities wanted with the Americanisation of our university system. The debt sentence that students will be lumped with, if this legislation goes ahead, is not just a debt that is big at the beginning but one that grows and grows and it does not stop growing—because this legislation has real interest rates attached to student debt.

We hear that there has been absolutely no modelling of this legislation. This is an ideological frolic from those of opposite because no modelling was done and there was no mention before the election. We can only look to overseas where we have seen in the UK only two universities out of 123 go to the top threshold of university fees. Of course we hear about America—America where students are facing $1.2 trillion worth of student debt. Student debt there, now, is greater than credit card debt. This is the type of system that is being put up by those opposite.

We always hear from the Minister for Education that his reforms are universally accepted by the university sector. We know they are not supported by students, or parents, or grandparents; but they are also not universally supported by the university sector. In the Senate estimates evidence that was given, the Chief Executive of Universities Australia, Belinda Robinson, stated:

We are not backing the package as it is currently presented, far from it. Of course we do not support a reduction of 20 per cent to the revenue of Australian universities. That translates to an almost $2 billion cut to the revenue of universities. Of course we don't support that.

That was very recent. There is no support from Universities Australia for the package, despite what the Minister for Education would have you believe. We have the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canberra, Professor Stephen Parker, who said:

I … think it is unethical for a generation of leaders who by and large benefited from free higher education to burden the generations behind them in this way.

Then we have the Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Dawkins who said:

… unless there are some changes to the plan as outlined in the budget, these risks to look too high.

As we can see, we have a plan in front of the parliament that will really affect the livelihoods of many. It is, quite frankly, appalling of this government to come in here and say this will help students get access. We all know that is not true. No how much huffing and puffing there is from the Minister for Education, it will not mean greater access.

He likes to hang his hat on the Commonwealth scholarship scheme. He invoked Menzies in his speech. Indeed, Menzies did have Commonwealth scholarships; they were paid for by the government. But this government is not paying for—not putting one cent into—Commonwealth scholarships. What they are doing is increasing fees for students and then providing scholarships from that money. What we know is that for every $5 increase in fees above the cost of delivering that degree, $1 will be hived off to go to these scholarships. What that means is the higher the number of scholarships, the higher the fees of everyone else at that university; that means less access for the majority.

The Minister for Education likes to think of himself as Robin Hood. What he is actually doing is making the sector less accessible for the hundreds of thousands of young people who aspire to go to university. They will not make the choice to go to university because of the price point. This is an appalling set of circumstances and I condemn it. I call on the Senate to reject this bill. (Time expired)