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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17298

Ms MACKLIN (3:33 PM) —We all know that the Minister for Education, Science and Training is fond of all of his famous sayings, and in a recent interview he revealed that when he was 13 his father said to him:

The only way you will ever live in a better house than the one you're growing up in is if you study as hard as you can at school.

Fathers who are talking to their sons from here on are going to have to tell them that they will have to hold off getting any house because now, as a result of this minister's changes, they will have huge university debts to pay before they have any hope of getting a house. Unfortunately, this government's education policy has absolutely nothing to do with learning and an awful lot to do with money. If you can afford $15,000 school fees, you can get the best education going, in one of the government's greatly supported elite private schools. They are certainly getting more and more funding as a result of this government's massive handouts. This year, for the first time ever, this government is giving more funding to non-government schools, including elite private schools, than it is giving to the whole of the university system. That is what this minister's priorities are all about.

Sydney's Trinity Grammar School is a very long way from the minister's old school in Launceston. It is a long way from the schooling experience of most Australians, but now that sort of privilege—the sort of privilege that this minister wants to see supported at Sydney's Trinity Grammar—is going to be expanded into our universities. This minister wants to say that each and every course at our universities can be half filled with students who are full fee payers: students who are going to be asked to pay upwards of $100,000 for the privilege—we know this minister thinks it is a privilege—of going to university. The minister freely admits that his university education was a privilege. The minister has said:

I certainly was privileged to be the product of a tertiary education system where I did not have to pay anything for it ...

But the minister is now turning it into another sort of privilege: a privilege born of money—that is the privilege that this minister understands now—rather than ability or opportunity. It does not matter what your ability is anymore; if you have the money you will be able to buy a place at university. The minister here at the table, the minister for education, walked out of university with his university degree—a medical degree—owing not one cent. Not one cent did this minister owe in tuition fees. This is the way this minister sees it. These are the warped priorities of this minister. He wants to say that no student should be denied the opportunity of paying $150,000 for a medical degree. That is the sort of opportunity that this minister wants to deliver to the students that we have here in the gallery today. They too can pay $150,000 for a medical degree, presumably so that they can truly appreciate what a privilege going to university is.

We know that government supported or HECS places are going to be harder and harder to find under this government because it is only increasing the number of government supported places by just over 2,000 for the whole of Australia. The University of Sydney are in fact planning to increase their course fees across the board by 30 per cent. The reason they are doing that is that this government has given them the green light to do so. It is this government's policy which says that each and every university in this country can increase their course fees by up to 30 per cent. The University of Sydney, quick off the mark, have decided they are going to get in there, and they plan to increase their university fees by 30 per cent—even before the legislation has made it into the parliament.

People should understand how much that means: a science student at the University of Sydney will be facing an increase of $4,000 to the cost of their degree. That is how much this means in real money: an extra $4,000 on the debts that those students will carry into the start of their working lives. That is what the reality of this minister's changes will be for those students. We know it will not stop at the University of Sydney; we know that there will be many other universities around this country that will take the opportunity provided by this minister to raise fees for their courses.

This minister represents one of the wealthiest and most highly educated electorates in the country. But the minister likes to remind us from time to time that he was, once upon a time, one of us. He has reminisced about the long hours that he spent working in a bottle shop, as a brickie's labourer and as a salesman to help pay his way through university. Obviously it was a salutary experience for the minister because now we see, as a result of this government's policies, more and more students having to work harder and harder just to make their way through university. In fact, in some universities it is not clear whether they are students who work or workers who study, because they are having to do so much paid work just to make sure they pay the rent and keep food on the table. We hear time and again from teachers and lecturers at universities that there are many students who miss tutorials or lectures because of the jobs they are forced to undertake, and students who fall asleep in class because they have been working too hard. Is this what this minister calls a rich university experience?

The minister also says that these students should be grateful for the opportunity that they have had provided to them by the taxes of those who work so hard in factories, building sites and other labour-intensive work. We know the minister has a lot of favourite stories: I am sure all of you have heard the one about the woman that he met outside the Queensland University of Technology. Remember that one? Maybe he would like to repeat it to us today.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The member for Calwell is not in her seat and is therefore grossly disorderly.

Ms MACKLIN —She was, the minister said, an everyday kind of person. She had worked hard and her taxes had paid for what went on inside that university, but she would never get the chance to get inside herself. We certainly know she will not have any hope of getting inside any university now because of this minister's changes. She will never be able to afford the sorts of full fees that this minister is going to allow universities to charge. She would not be taking on a university degree and facing the sorts of debts that this minister wants to leave Australian students with.

No doubt this woman outside QUT would also be horrified to know—no doubt the minister did not tell her this—how much this minister is putting into our elite private schools. Do you think for a minute that the minister might have told the woman outside QUT about that? I doubt it. The budget has revealed this government's scheme, this minister's scheme, concerning elite private schools such as Trinity Grammar in Sydney. There are many others in Sydney and Melbourne but just look at Trinity Grammar—it is getting an increase of 560 per cent.

Mr Price —How much?

Ms MACKLIN —Five hundred and sixty per cent since 2001, from this government. That is how much extra an elite private school is getting from this minister as a result of his government's policies. I bet he did not mention that to the woman outside QUT. She probably does not send her kids to Trinity Grammar or any school like Trinity Grammar. In fact, only 1.7 per cent of all school children actually go to schools like Trinity Grammar. I do not know what the minister's priorities are, but they certainly are not about making sure that students have access to an excellent standard of education in all schools, not just in elite private schools.

Dr Nelson —It was 5.4.

Ms MACKLIN —The minister makes the point that the increase to government schools was 5.4 per cent.

Dr Nelson —No, 5.5. It was 5.4 per cent—

Ms MACKLIN —Shall we let him go on? We might hear whether or not he did in fact tell the lady outside QUT that Trinity Grammar got an increase of 560 per cent. Do you think we will get an answer to that question? I doubt it. Maybe this provides an opportunity for the minister to ask one of his heroes. You know how the minister has lots of heroes—we have heard all about them. Ghandi, Socrates, Aristotle, Neville Bonner—who we know is on the back of his door—the Jesuits or JFK, they are all the minister's heroes. Do you reckon anyone in this crowded pantheon—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Jagajaga will address her comments through the chair.

Ms MACKLIN —Do you think, Mr Deputy Speaker, that any one of these very famous people in this crowded pantheon that we know the minister carries around in his head would say that this was fair? I do not think Ghandi would say it was fair to give an increase of 560 per cent to Trinity Grammar. I really do not think that Ghandi, Socrates, Aristotle, Neville Bonner or the Jesuits would say that that is fair. I do not think they would say that it is the right priority of any government to give that sort of money to Trinity Grammar when there are poorer schools that are missing out.

The minister, of course, is being pretty modest when it comes to actually admitting where the great inspiration for his changes to universities has come from. In fact, the great inspiration has not come from Ghandi, the Jesuits or any of those people—it came from Fightback. Remember way back then, when we had the plan set out by John Hewson all those years ago? We had deregulated fees, student loans, market interest rates and a divisive industrial relations agenda.

Does that ring any bells for anyone? Have we heard these plans before? We heard them from John Hewson in Fightback, we heard them from David Kemp when he was the minister for education and now we hear them from this minister. This is, in fact, the inspiration for this minister's changes. It was actually Fightback that was the road map that guided the minister in his whole year review into the higher education system. The end point of this review was always going to be fee deregulation, student loans, market interest rates and a radical industrial relations agenda. There is nothing original from this minister; it is all Fightback and the changes in that failed cabinet submission from the current Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Let us not be fooled at all about where this minister has got his ideas from. We know exactly where they come from and they certainly have not come from those very famous people that he likes to say give him all of that inspiration.

Another story that we have heard so regularly from this minister is about a woman in Ballarat whose daughter wanted to study to be a vet. This minister said:

I am absolutely determined to do something about that situation. I have said to the sector, `By the time I finish these reforms, I don't want that situation to exist.'

You know the way he goes about it. Of course, we know what the government is doing. The fees for a vet degree at the University of Melbourne are over $100,000. The government is going to provide a loan of $50,000 with market rates of interest and we know that this family is going to have to find another $50,000. I do not know where from.

Mr Zahra —Loose change!

Ms MACKLIN —Loose change—that's right. This minister thinks that families have just got that sort of money floating around, that they are going to be able to pay the $50,000 loan with a six per cent interest rate and find another $50,000 to pay for the fees for her to do veterinary science at the University of Melbourne. That is the sort of policy that we have now seen from this minister. This whole package of changes is about saying to Australian students and their families, `You can go to university—if you've got the money.' That is basically what it is about. If you have the money, you will be able to buy a place at an Australian university, because this minister is going to allow the universities to have half of their places as full-fee-paying places—that is the policy of this minister. Students will be forced to pay fees of up to and over $100,000.

We also know that it is the policy of this minister to allow universities to put their fees up by 30 per cent. For a science student at the University of Sydney that is an increase of $4,000 as a direct result of this minister's policies. Students at Australian universities and their families are going to have one result from this government's policy and one result alone—increased debt. That is what this minister has in mind for the Australian university system and that is why we will be opposing it right to the end. (Time expired)