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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12277


Mr CHRISTENSEN (DawsonThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (16:08): We see from the attitude of the member for Charlton in his speech why they call him 'the nasty Conroy'! The member for Barker was unfairly compared to a wet lettuce; I have to say a head of lettuce is normally fresh and crisp, but the previous speaker was certainly nothing of the two. It showed that he did not even have a head there with what he said about university fee deregulation in the United Kingdom. As the facts show, lower socioeconomic students have actually taken up more university education in that country since fee deregulation.

I speak from personal experience here because I come from a low-socioeconomic background. I was the first in my family to attend university. I did not come from a background with a silver spoon; both parents were on welfare at the time. I went to university through a bank loan to fund the accommodation and set-up costs that I needed. I did not worry about the fees, because I knew we had a system—a system we are still going to have in place—where I could put that on the future. I could put those university fees into a debt system that would be the best ever because I did not have to repay that until I started earning over $50,000, and then it was quite affordable.

That is the experience for many other regional students, I have to say. The biggest challenges for them and their families are the accommodation and set-up costs, not the fees which do not have to be up front and can be paid at a later time when you can afford to pay them. The accommodation, food and electricity—the establishment costs—are the biggest detractors for regional students in particular in going off to university.

We in the regions wonder where the Leader of the Opposition is coming from on this. The member for Barker put it quite rightly that these reforms actually ensure that sub-bachelor degrees are not just going to be the up-front fee degrees. They will be able to be put on the HELP system. These reforms will make it better for those students who are impacted by the tyranny of distance and have to pay all those up-front fees. A university could decide now—and this is something that CQ University, my alma mater, might be deciding upon—to package up a degree which incorporates the costs of accommodation and set-up in their residential college, so you could have students who can move from afar and put the whole cost of the degree, including the living costs, onto the FEE-HELP, which they can pay later on in life when they can afford to do it. That is a better outcome for lower socioeconomic students and a better outcome for regional students.

We have heard about $100,000 degrees, and isn't that ridiculous? The University of Western Australia, one of the world's top 100 universities, has announced that they will charge $16,000 a year for an undergraduate degree under the fee deregulation. A three-year degree will cost less than $50,000; and, if it did cost as much as $50,000, they will not pay a cent until they earn $50,000 or over. When they earn $50,000 or over, they will repay about $20 a week, less than $3 a day, to earn more than 75 per cent of non-university graduates. That is a great investment.

So regional students are supported by these measures, and so they should be. The abolition of the unfair 20 per cent loan fee on VET FEE-HELP loans will benefit another 80,000 students. The abolition of the unfair 25 per cent loan fee on FEE-HELP will benefit more than 50,000 students. The Commonwealth scholarship scheme will be the largest in Australia's history, helping students who, like me, are from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, helping them with their living costs and other supports. That is where the disincentive is, as I said.

I want to talk very briefly about CQ University very briefly. The vice-chancellor there is very keen for these reforms. He said:

There are two types of universities: those that see change, wring their hands and say 'Oh woe is me'. And then there are others that lick their lips. We are a lip-licking university.

These reforms will allow unis like CQU to offer those packages I talked about. That is what regional students need. They do not need the Labor Party blocking this. They should be working with us to develop a sustainable funding model for university education instead of harping on. This opposition leader's MPI is like his name: short in substance, short in truth!