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Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Page: 1456


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (17:55): I rise to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment (Savings and Other Measures) Bill. Along with my Labor colleagues, I will be voting against this legislation. The coalition announced that it would introduce this legislation and it did so on 21 November this year. For the sake of the record, it forms part of a package with other legislation—the Social Services Amendment and Other Legislation Amendment Bill—which contains a proposal to convert student start-up scholarships to income contingent loans. Aspects of the current legislation before the chamber include a two per cent efficiency dividend on the higher education sector in 2014, a 1.25 per cent efficiency dividend on the sector in 2015 and a removal of the 10 per cent discount for paying university fees up-front, as well as a five per cent discount received for voluntary repayment of HELP debts.

Members opposite who went to university must have had a pretty sad experience when they were there. Every time they speak on this type of legislation they reveal their ideological bent. After the Howard coalition government came to power they set about attacking the university sector and gutting funding for it. When they had the opportunity to bring in Work Choices, they linked university funding to protocols in relation to the imposition of agreements—not collective agreements but individual contracts for university staff. There was the most pernicious and punishing impact on universities that we have ever seen in this country.

They came to power saying that they were on a unity ticket with us in relation to the Gonski reforms, with assistance given to people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, to schools with high rates of Indigenous students, to schools with students with disability, and to remote and regional schools. But within a short period of time they backflipped not only on primary and secondary education but also on tertiary education. Within a very short period of time, the Minister for Education, the member for Sturt, Christopher Pyne, was talking about quality and whether they would revert to a capped system rather than a demand driven one for university placements. That was ostensibly on the back of the idea of the need for quality education.

To raise concern even further, they decided to announce a review of the current uncapped system of university places. Then they decided to get that great champion of the university sector, former Liberal education minister David Kemp, to be one of the reviewing officers. It is interesting that coalition governments like to do this. I am from the state of Queensland, where there is great opportunity for employment for former members of the coalition who served in the cabinet and the ministry, because those opposite keep recycling them into positions to examine reviews. Former Treasurer Peter Costello's commission of audit in Queensland resulted in tens of thousands of jobs being lost in my home state.

Here we have another recycled minister from the former coalition government being given the opportunity to look at the current uncapped system of university places which has seen such an increase in people from low-socioeconomic backgrounds at university. We put a massive amount of funding into this region, increasing our funding from about $8.1 billion to $14 billion over the cycle of our government. We saw a massive increase in the number of students attending university.

It is very important to note that Australian university graduates contribute $170 billion a year in wages to the economy. Graduates comprise about one-quarter of the population of Australia and generate about a third of the wages of Australia. So we are talking about a very important sector in the economy. Universities contribute about $22 billion to our GDP every year.

But those opposite think that the first thing you should do when you get to power, like the Howard coalition government did, is attack the university sector. So we saw them raise the idea that they might abolish the assistance we provided through student amenities charges. They raised that until the National Party put their hands up and said, 'We don't want to agree to that,' and then they dropped that like a suck of spuds. On this particular occasion we have a backflip from them in relation to other higher education assistance.

In relation to this particular savings measure, we said we would do this in the context of full implementation of the Better Schools plan—a six-year agreement with the states and territories, contributing about $9.4 billion to make a huge difference to the primary and secondary sector of education in this country, making sure that there is teacher training, and literacy and numeracy training for students, and effectively extending the national partnership type of assistance to schools, which I have seen make such a huge difference in my electorate. Those opposite have said, 'No, we don't support that,' having said they were a unity ticket.

I have to say that I debated not just the candidate who was running against me but another candidate during the last election. It seemed to me quite clear that there was a certain line that they were being fed—that is, that they were going to support Labor's Gonski plan. In the many debates I had with those candidates, whether it was at chambers of commerce or other types of venues, or on family radio in Brisbane the Sunday night before the election, the Liberal candidates said, 'We are going to support Labor's plan in full. There is no difference. You can vote for us; you'll get the same plan whether it is primary education, secondary education or even tertiary education.' But in a very short period of time we have seen changes initiated by those opposite.

We are not going to support this bill, because we want to make sure that we guarantee all students go to schools, universities and TAFEs, which are cathedrals of learning and research and development. Those institutions help contribute to our productivity, give good economic outcomes and give good opportunities for young people to achieve their potential. We are not going to adopt the coalition's policy.

In relation to these types of things, I have to say that the coalition really has baulked at doing the right thing. We have seen many positions from them on education. They have been flip-flopping. In fact, today in question time we saw a lack of commitment from those opposite to the Gonski plan. They are saying that they will only put in just over $2 billion. Then, when the shadow minister, Jenny Macklin, the member for Jagajaga, asked a question of the Prime Minister he said he would give loadings in relation to disability. When I asked him a question in relation to guaranteeing funding for every Indigenous student, he said he would do that. But we have heard the Minister for Education in this place saying that the states are sovereign governments—that is interesting because they were all colonies before Federation—and adult governments and so will make their own decisions. How can they guarantee funding for our high schools and primary schools if they put no conditions on it? This mob opposite remind me of someone who says, 'I want to buy a house and I'll give you some money. Here's the money. I won't sign the contract and I won't take the house, but I will give you the money.' It was a stupid thing for the minister to do. He should have followed through completely on Gonski, as he said he would do.

We made a massive difference to university education. I want to talk about my electorate. We made a massive difference there.

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

Mr NEUMANN: I will give an illustration for the member opposite me. Since 2007, an additional 364 people from Ipswich and Somerset in my electorate have been given the opportunity to pursue a university education—an increase of over 14 per cent. Between 2007 and 2011, we gave more than 300 students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds in my electorate the opportunity to get a university education—an increase of 15 per cent. That is what we did. This year we have over 1,280 students in my electorate receiving the youth allowance. There was a 73 per cent increase in university funding. What is the first piece of legislation in relation to university funding initiated by this government? They are talking about a $2.3 billion cut to the sector. That is their attitude in relation to the university sector.

I will give a further illustration so the member for Kooyong will know more. A great example is the University of Southern Queensland in Springfield in my electorate. Between 2007 and 2011 the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students grew by 29.1 per cent, with more than 173 Indigenous students commencing in 2011. We also invested $48.9 million into their Education Gateways Building, which supports:

… digitally connected learning environments, including simulated learning and laboratory spaces, enabling new offerings in Allied Health and Nursing, Engineering and Construction and Education.

In contrast, just like their colleagues and comrades in Queensland and Victoria, the government is gutting funding to the tertiary sector. We have seen it in Queensland and Victoria in relation to the TAFE sector. We have seen TAFE teachers lose their jobs, campuses closed and the future of local young people left in doubt. That will happen if this legislation passes.

The tertiary sector is a very important part of closing the gap for the Indigenous community. There is a growing Indigenous population in this country. Much of that population, according to the ANU's most recent demographic report, which was released in the last couple of weeks, lives around the capital cities and around regional towns and cities such as Ipswich, Logan, Rockhampton, the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast in Queensland; up and down the Central Coast, around Newcastle and around the Illawarra in New South Wales; and in the southern part of Western Australia. It is a growing population. Indeed, in South-East Queensland the population of Indigenous people will double in the next 20 years, way more than the increase in the Northern Territory. Indigenous people are attending university in increasing numbers, but there are not enough. Only about one per cent of the university student population identify themselves as Indigenous, but about 3.5 per cent of our population is Indigenous. So we have a problem. We have to close the gap. Universities offer that opportunity. That opportunity is necessary because many Indigenous students are the first people in their family to go to university.

Earlier, I gave the example of the University of Southern Queensland. I have met the CEO of Springfield campus, Doug Fraser, many times. He has talked about what that university campus means. Under this legislation students in my electorate will suffer. We will see a reduction in the number of students of Indigenous background and from poorer areas—suburbs such as Leichhardt, One Mile, Redbank Plains, Riverview, Collingwood Park and, indeed, Springfield in my electorate—attending university. That is the tragedy and shame of those opposite. The first piece of legislation they have introduced is not a piece of legislation that will enhance university development opportunity but—like the legislation of the Howard coalition government—legislation that will implement cuts. Like their colleagues in Queensland, it is cuts, cuts and further cuts.