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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1400

Mr FEENEY (Batman) (10:50): Next week, tens of thousands of students will be heading off to university for the very first time as O-week kicks off. They will be starting a journey that will change their lives and, we hope and trust, will help them reach their potential. In my electorate of Batman, that means the Agora at La Trobe University will once again be teeming with life. This is, of course, a joyous occasion. La Trobe University is a magnificent institution and a great ornament in my electorate—a generator of jobs as well as life.

But for many students, and certainly for Labor, it marks a continuing fight against the Turnbull government's attack on accessible higher education in Australia, an issue of growing concern to the students, academics and university staff who live in my electorate, as well as broader society. Despite the fact that everybody in this House has benefited from affordable, if not free, education, those opposite remain committed to fee deregulation and burdening our youth with $100,000 degrees. This means that, for many, university is out of reach, and Labor will never stand for it.

At the same time, young Australians are facing a multitude of other government attacks on their welfare, their wellbeing and their future. The Centrelink robo-debt crisis hit students and young people particularly hard. After spending weeks telling everyone there was nothing to see here, Minister Tudge has finally budged, saying they will not force paybacks while a debt is reviewed. This is not enough. The system needs to be suspended until it can be fixed so that innocent, vulnerable people are not treated like criminals. I also share the fear of the CPSU that we will see student benefit processing delays again this year—delays of up to four months that pushed many students into hardship and even put their education in jeopardy.

Finally, we have seen the Turnbull government launch their most recent attack on young Australians through its proposed omnibus bill. While they continue their plan to give big business a $55 billion handout, they are proposing to make young people wait five weeks for Newstart. What are they supposed to live off for this time? We opposed this zombie measure before, and Labor will oppose it now. The government will push young jobseekers onto the lower youth allowance, a cut of $48 a week, and they seek to freeze income-free areas for all working age and student payments even as the costs of living continue to rise.

As universities across the country begin O-week, I call on the government to finally fix their Centrelink debacle, to abandon their plans for $100,000 degrees, and to scrap their harsh cuts to student welfare. This attack on our nation's youth is not acceptable, and I will be earnestly making this point in the Agora at La Trobe University over the coming week.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Vamvakinou ): I am certain you will, Member for Batman.