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Monday, 26 February 2018
Page: 1988


Mr HILL (Bruce) (18:11): I think we need to mark that moment we've just heard. That is the first speech I've heard from the member for Hughes which didn't come back to why we should burn more coal, so I congratulate you on your creativity and innovation! And, yes, it's a little tip for next time: you slipped up on your game there.

It should be self-evident, you'd think, that cutting $2.2 billion over two years from our higher education sector is a dumb idea. You'd think that would be pretty obvious, even to this government. Education is the key to opportunity. It's still a fact, despite debates about graduate employment levels, that you will do better in life with higher education. That's a fact. And it's also the key to Australia's future economic prosperity. That's a pretty well-established thing as well, by every reputable international agency that says to us that the best two investments we can make in our future prosperity are education and infrastructure, not enormous tax cuts to big businesses—but that's for another debate.

But I'd like to reflect on the context in which this debate is being held. In the last couple of weeks, we've seen O-Week celebrations around Australia. It makes me feel very old, in fact, that it's 27 years since I attended my first O-Week, but still I'm back there on campus, fighting the good fight with the great Monash Labor Club. Indeed, my daughter's just celebrated her third O-Week on campus. I called her to see how it was going, and she said, 'Dad, I'm on a pub crawl; I'll call you tomorrow,' so it's going well, obviously!

I reflect on the years that I spent with the Monash Labor Club. I was part of that club when I was at uni. I found my politics there, and it's great to see so many passionate, committed young people thinking about the future and trying to make a difference. It's a contrast, actually, with the Monash University Liberal Club, where they had this hilarious banner of Menzies up last time I walked past and were looking a bit dejected about why no-one wanted to come and talk to them—very future focused, the Monash Liberals!

But it's clear from just a few minutes with most young people that they feel as though they're on the raw end of a bad deal, and rightly so. To our shame collectively, we're at risk of being the first generation in modern Australian history to leave a lower standard of living to the next generation. The reality of young people's lives, alongside which these cuts come—let's go through a few of these points—is that young people are working casual jobs today just to get through university, and they've never in their lives received a wage increase higher than CPI. There have been no real wage increases for people in this generation working at all. Under this government, their jobs are becoming casualised. They're subject to underemployment. They live in a society where it's easier, because of this government's policy settings, for an investor to buy their 13th property than for a young person to buy their first house, because of the tax regime which those opposite perpetuate. They're being charged more for higher education and are now being forced by this government's policies to repay their enormous debts earlier.

In truth, while the government have shelved their plans for deregulation for now, they still want, in their heart of hearts, to deregulate and charge young people $100,000 or more for university degrees. But, with their policy of making young people repay their degrees earlier—the original idea of HECS was that, until you reached average weekly earnings or thereabouts, you didn't have to repay it—the government want graduates to repay their debts when their income is $42,000 a year.

We often hear that retirees need about $50,000 to have a dignified retirement if they own their own house. Fair enough. Good on them. But apparently this government's policies think that young people who may be raising kids, looking to start a family, saving for a house or paying one off—if they can even get a loan with casual employment these days—should also start repaying their university debts on $42,000 a year. That's a disgrace. It's no wonder that, when you go onto campuses and talk to young people, they're downright angry. The government really should listen to these concerns, and their latest cuts to university funding really are proof that they do not give a rat's about young people.

$2.2 billion is a big number, but let's break it down. Monash University in the south-east of Melbourne, right on the border of my electorate, will receive a cut of $108 million, the largest cut of any university in this country. Countless young people attend Monash and rely on the university to secure their future.

In the final couple of minutes I'll just make a point rebutting some of the earlier speakers. It's especially foolish for this minister to make these cuts and say to universities, 'Oh, we'll just make it up through international education. Go out and make your own money,' and then at the same time say, 'Oh, and we're going to cut your funding because you've spent too much on marketing.' What do you think they're spending the marketing money on? That'd be recruiting $28 billion worth of economic value of students every year. So you're supposed to rely on a market which is subject to policy changes by foreign governments, as we're seeing, to fund your universities, and then you get criticised for spending money marketing to get more students. What a nonsense.