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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21626


Mr RIPOLL (9:23 AM) —What the Minister for Education, Science and Training and this government are asking us to do in the Higher Education Support Bill 2003 is to implicitly trust them—to trust the minister that he will always do the right thing. Some might say that we can trust this minister, but can we trust future ministers? We know that this minister will not always be the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Therefore when you put together legislation you have to make sure that it is robust enough, that it is rigorous enough, to withstand whoever might be in that position in the future and will have to administer these bills.

The legislation that the government is putting forward is completely unfair and completely at odds with what ordinary Australians and young people in this country need. It is completely at odds with what they want and with what they need. I do not know where the minister and the government have sought their advice—where they have consulted or where they have been able to divine that this is the sort of legislation that will bring forward an education system for the future and an education system that will actually provide for young people. How can providing zero per cent HECS places—none at all in any course—be good for young people or be good for the future of Australia? How can we trust the minister when he says that he wants us to give him the discretion to the decide which courses have no HECS places and which courses do have HECS places? I am not confident that we can trust the minister on this; I am not confident that we can trust the government on this; and I know that the universities are not confident that they can trust the minister or the government on this either.

There is no way known that making courses cost around $150,000 is a good thing. There is no way that anybody—not even this government—can say that making courses cost $150,000 is a good thing for anybody. What it does is place an unbelievable burden on young people and their families. If they want to go forward in life, if they want to improve themselves, if they want to give themselves opportunities for the future then they will have to get themselves into great debt to do it or they will have to have the means to pay for these courses up-front. This is the sort of money that ordinary people do not have—$150,000 is a huge amount of money. In my electorate of Oxley $150,000 represents a home, an entire mortgage. It represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I can understand the minister when he says that maybe that opportunity should go towards education—that somebody should educate themselves. I agree; they should. But they should not have to pay $150,000 to do it.

People in this country have paid taxes, and their families have paid taxes, all their lives—and they will continue to pay taxes in the future. The courses that we provide now are an investment in this country, an investment in young people and an investment in the future. Excluding a certain class of person from having access to courses by making them out of reach excludes a whole range of young, smart, intelligent people who want the same opportunities as others. That is all I seek out of this.

The reason I am speaking on this bill today—and the reason I spoke yesterday and will continue to speak on these issues—is that I really believe that young people, no matter where they live, no matter what their background, no matter who they are, deserve the same opportunities. They deserve to have the same hope. Not everybody wants to go to university; it is not everybody's dream—people have different dreams, different aspirations, and different wants and needs—but they all deserve the same hope that if they want to do that then they can. This bill does not offer that. It does not give them that hope. This bill actually says to them, `We are going to make it more difficult for you.' The minister is shaking his head. He does not agree with what I am saying. But how can increasing HECS by 30 per cent—thus increasing a student's debt—make it easier for them? It does not. How can deregulating the cost of university courses and giving universities the capacity—or the minister the capacity—to charge $150,000 for courses make it easier for young people to get a start in life? It does not.

This bill goes nowhere near making it easier for young people to attend university. It does not offer anything for the future of Australia. Instead of this being a bill about investing in education and investing in our young people, it is a bill that destroys their hopes. For me, that is something that we should all oppose and something that we should amend. Labor have moved these amendments because we believe in young people and we believe in giving them the same opportunities and the same hopes.