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Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Page: 3009

Mrs MOYLAN (7:35 PM) —Now that the new university year has well and truly got underway, there are campuses all over Australia brimming with enthusiastic young students, full of hope for their new venture into higher education. They excitedly look forward to the day that they complete their university studies and venture into the real world, to get a real job and to contribute to society. No doubt there will be students of politics entering politics 101. They will certainly learn quickly that there is a huge difference between the policies of an opposition in election mode and the reality of actually governing. What all these students will learn is that the bill before us today, the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities, and Other Measures) Bill 2009, is fundamentally flawed and will ultimately be implemented at their cost.

What we have found since the introduction of voluntary student unionism is that the services that are in demand and cater most to the needs of the students are flourishing, while those services that are unrepresentative or inefficiently managed will struggle. Students will learn that providing funding for services not in demand does not create any incentive for improvement or innovation in these services.

Finance students will realise that what the government is doing is forcing them further into debt, debt that will need to be repaid. The government seems to have missed a few too many finance 101 lectures, for it seems to lack any understanding that money does not grow on trees and will need to be paid back at some point. Finance students will recognise that they will already have a significant student debt incurred in the process of making themselves more desirable in the workplace. They will also recognise that using the SA-HELP scheme will commit them to repaying further debt.

Business students will make the most frightening realisation of all. They will realise that, when they graduate, the Rudd government’s stimulus package will not have delivered any results or sustained the job market in Australia. They will remember that the Rudd government told them that $250 is not much to pay and assured them that it can be paid off one day in the future. They will know that for the rest of their working life they will be paying inordinately large taxes to fund recent government borrowing and they will know that the student services fee they were forced to pay was not money well spent and it is money that they would rather have in their pocket. Meanwhile, more and more of their pay will be used to offset interest payments on the national debt.

Law students will also look at the legislation before us today and wonder how it could be drafted in this manner unless the legislators were intentionally leaving it open for major loopholes.

Politics students will quickly become politics sceptics when learning about Australian politics in recent history. They will quickly learn that things are not ever what they seem with the Labor Party, especially in government, and they will learn that the action never matches the rhetoric. When looking back at the election campaign, they may even giggle that the Prime Minister, the political chameleon, claimed that he was an economic conservative and yet, a short time later, committed Australia to record debt.

Accounting students will reflect on the compulsory fee that they are made to pay to their university for student services and see that this is effectively a flat rate tax on students. Inevitably they will know of some students to whom $250 is more than they can pay, and perhaps others for whom it is a meaningful impost, and question how this system can be seen as fair.

For most of these students, regardless of their academic interests, the other major facet of their life will be the need to work. More often than not students are employed in the hospitality or retail industries or other jobs that can accommodate their university commitments. We know that these industries have been most directly affected by the current economic climate and the flawed economic decisions that are being made. In real terms, this means that Australian students will face the limited opportunity to work and will find themselves under increasing financial pressure.

Giving students the choice whether or not to spend their money on student services or to save for necessities such as books or rent is surely the only sensible option. The youth of Australia, whether they be in employment or in higher education, are the future of our country. They will carry our economy and advance the legacy that we leave them. This government is treating Australian students with the greatest of disdain in seeking to enforce this compulsory student services fee. The government must remember that Australian students know better than to accept this tax on their learning. They know the scheme purports to provide student services they neither want nor need and while the government is taxing student learning, students are learning that the Labor Party means taxing.