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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12266


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (15:22): For two days now, the Prime Minister has travelled around from federation lectures to the parliament pontificating about how we should all think for the long term. This Prime Minister, the most narrow, negative politician in Australian history, is now trying to lecture Australians about planning for the future. Who does this person think he is—that a leopard cannot change his spots after 20 years of relentless negativity? When their unfair budget is failing desperately, the Prime Minister seeks to run up an emergency beacon saying, 'Hang on, we want to have a sensible, mature discussion about the generations ahead.' Well, Tony Abbott, here is our advice about your sensible discussion: demonstrate your bona fides in higher education. Nothing can be more important to the future of this country than higher education and the opportunities that our young have to better themselves and to contribute to this nation.

This Prime Minister has the temerity and the cheek, and he almost convinced me that he is so out of touch except that I just do not believe him. He knows that his plan for Australia is to radically recast it and to create two Australia's. He has a chance to demonstrate—don't shake head over there, Sunshine! You know I'm right.

The SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition is always keen to have people referred to by their proper titles and will in fact observe that.

Mr SHORTEN: Okay, thanks. The Prime Minister needs to come out of his hiding place. We know he never goes out to mix with real people any more. He does safe picture opportunities at medical research facilities or he talks to Liberal Party faithfuls at fundraisers—oh, that is right, he did go to the Peter McCallum after the fundraiser. The real test here today is that education is one challenge the parliament should not fail. No parliament, no government and no Tasmanian backbenchers should ever look back and say, 'We failed the test of making the education system better. I do not know how a single Tasmanian Liberal can be backing these higher education changes. Opportunity in education is a pact between generations.

Mr Nikolic interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: The member for Bass is interjecting but he is not in his seat, Madam Speaker.

The SPEAKER: The member for Bass will not interject if he is not in his seat.

Mr SHORTEN: The Tasmanian Liberals need to stand up along with the Labor Party and understand that the solemn responsibility of every government is to pass on an education system better than the one they inherited. Now the government has abrogated this responsibility and has failed this test. Labor believes if you work hard, you get good marks, that if you can do well, you deserve to go to university. Destiny should not be predetermined by your parents' wealth or the postcode for where you live. We should be opening doors to children from the bush, to children from poor families, to first generation migrants. We should be helping mature age Australians, dislocated by economic change, to get new skills and retrain for the jobs of the future. We should be supporting the opportunity of women to get access to higher education.

Labor believes that a university system that gives every Australian the chance to fulfil their potential, to strive, to seek and to reach for higher ground, is a fair system. That is the system we built from the great Gough Whitlam onwards. It is the system that is under attack from the backward looking government, from this Prime Minister of negativity and narrowness, to the partition pretender, the education minister. Look at the schemes they want to introduce, at the changes they are creating.

A nursing degree in Victoria—that is state, by the way, members of the government. We do not expect to see the Prime Minister visit before the state election, although we hope he does. Mind you, we do not expect to see him and Premier Denis Napthine does not want to see him. A nursing degree in Victoria under the government's rules is now $23,000 over eight years. Under the Abbott empire, the Minister for Education and Prime Minister model, it will cost $63,000 over 17 years. What a marvellous contribution to education this education minister is making—$40,000 more and nine years longer to pay off!

Talk about a teaching degree in Victoria: $31,000 over nine years, under the so-called Minister for Education and the Prime Minister it will cost $81,000 over 14 years—that is, courtesy of the government, $50,000 more and five years longer to pay off.

Mr Nikolic: Did you model that, Bill? Who did your modelling?

Mr SHORTEN: Calm down, Member for Bass. I know you are upset about how I pinged you before. The other problem we have about education is the unfairness for women who take time off to start and to raise a family. They know these costs are impossible for mature age students. The students of Australia and their families, they know this government is fundamentally changing access to universities. They understand Australians. They understand exactly what this government is doing. For months and months, this education minister has been asking the divisive dog-whistling question: why should the 60 per cent of taxpayers who do not attend university contribute to the 40 per cent who do? Why should those who have not been to university contribute to the fees of those who do? The answer is simple, Minister for Education. Not all Australians are like you. They do not believe that education is just a private privilege; they believe it is a public benefit.

Australian university graduates also pay for their education not just through HECS but through their economic and social contribution. They pay to their countries and they pay to their communities. Now we see that the changes the government are making are indeed creating anxiety. The numbers at open days and the numbers of potential enrolments are down. Why should the future doctors and nurses who will keep us healthy, the teachers who will educate our children, the architects, engineers and city planners who will shape our infrastructure, the scientists who will make discoveries that will determine our future health and opportunity all be slugged with doubling and tripling of their university fees?

Australians are smart enough and generous enough to reject Liberal ideology. They understand that greater access to higher education is in fact an advantage to all of us. I have never met a parent or a grandparent who had not gone to university who begrudged the chance for their child or their grandchild to go to university. I have never met a parent or a grandparent who complains about the taxes they pay because their loved ones are getting a better start in life than they had. Anyway, we are in this debate now and higher education is absolutely one of the issues for the next election. The next election will be a referendum on the best ideas and the real vision for a prosperous and fair Australia—absolutely.

Nothing is more important to the future prosperity of our nation than education. We believe in affordable education which is accessible to all Australians. That is why we will fight to stop Tony Abbott's plan for $100,000 degrees and more. We will never support a two-tier, Americanised higher education system which divides between different levels in our society and entrenches disadvantage. This Minister for Education loves to talk about 80,000 scholarships. But he never talks about the 700,000 domestic students currently enrolled. He is proposing to provide 80,000 scholarships, but students in the remaining difference between 700,000 and 80,000 are going to pay more fees. This is not a bargain. This is a tricky, slippery Minister for Education who loves to talk about one aspect of his package but never tells the full picture.

Let's look at what the government want to do in higher education. We have seen the Minister the Education propose doubling the rate of HECS repayments. Imagine if what we did in Australia on home interest rates before an election was say, 'No problem,' and after an election, upon forming a government, we said, 'We want to double the rate of payment.' That is what this government, this education minister and Tony Abbott have done. They are changing the interest rate for HECS payments for nearly one million Australians.

This government love to talk about debt and deficit. They never talk about the debt and deficit they are putting onto ordinary Australians and their families. Labor will never consign Australians to generations of debt on higher education. Labor will never tell Australians that the quality of their education depends upon their capacity to pay. I love hearing the government members crow in disagreement and feigned outrage. Because what they know and we know and the Australian people know is that this government cannot be trusted on higher education. However loudly they complain about what we say, it does not change the truth of what we are saying.

Make no mistake: for higher education, the game is on. We will talk to every student. We will talk to every family member of every student. We will talk to the parents of secondary students. We will talk to everyone who is interested in higher education. There will be a choice at the next election. There will be a choice between this government issuing students a debt sentence by deregulating universities to the point where students simply cannot afford to go to university—shame, government, shame— (Time expired)