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Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Page: 1465


Mr PYNE (Sturt—Leader of the House, Minister for Education) (18:39): I appreciate the opportunity to thank members who spoke on the Higher Education Support Amendment (Savings and Other Measures) Bill 2013. I was particularly pleased to be in the chamber when the member for Kennedy was speaking. While he ranged widely from the subject, his speech was elucidating for all of us in the House and will read well in the Hansard.

The bill before the House amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to implement savings measures announced by the previous government on 13 April and confirmed in the 2013-14 budget. The bill abolishes the 10 per cent HECS-HELP up-front discount and the five per cent HELP voluntary repayment bonus. Currently students receive a discount of 10 per cent on their student contribution by paying the amount up front. Students also currently receive a bonus of five per cent when they make a voluntary repayment of $500 or more towards their HELP debt.

The bill applies an efficiency dividend of two per cent in 2014 and 1.25 per cent in 2015 to Commonwealth contribution amounts under the Commonwealth Grant Scheme. The efficiency dividend will not affect student contribution amounts, but it will have an effect on university revenue in 2014-15 and in the years following. These changes and their impact on universities and students are Labor's legacy; they are Labor's cuts. They would be unnecessary but for Labor's rampant financial mismanagement and wastefulness throughout their years in office. This mismanagement has severely damaged the health of our economy.

The government has been left to deal with a budget in a state of massive deficit, which means that the government has no responsible choice but to proceed with these cuts, which are Labor's legacy. The measures in the bill do not diminish our commitment to a strong, high-quality university sector. We are committed to doing a better job of developing Australia's higher education than the now opposition did during their six years of government. We looked at what we could do. We have, fortunately, been able to reverse the annual cap of $2,000 on tax deductibility for self-education expenses. This will be of great assistance to universities and to the thousands of people who are considering upgrading their skills and qualifications. It was bad policy developed by the previous government; it was ill thought through. I believe it was offered up to treasurers for many years and, finally, the former Treasurer accepted it. I am happy to say, having led a campaign to scrap the cap, that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister agreed and we have been able to do that in this new government.

This is one of the many measures the government have already taken to assist our universities and our other higher education providers since we took office. We are promoting international education, reducing regulation, funding research, recognising teacher excellence and commissioning a sensible stocktake of the demand-driven system by Andrew Norton and David Kemp—with whom you would be well familiar, Mr Deputy Speaker Broadbent, as they are Victorians—and we have done more than that as well. We are working to fix the budget for the long term, to ensure that Australia's higher education system focuses more on quality and less on red tape and to properly resource universities so that they can provide quality outcomes in the future. This government will make sure that we have fiscal stability so that we can continue to properly resource high-quality teaching and learning, can produce world-class research and can be a leader in international education.

We are in the remarkable position tonight where Labor have announced today that they are going to vote against this bill in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. So not content with opposing the new government's program—whether it is the carbon tax, the minerals resource rent tax or the debt ceiling limit bill—not content with opposing policies this government took to the election and on which we were elected, the opposition are now in the ludicrous position of opposing their own government's policies from when they were in power. They announced these cuts and now in opposition they are opposing them. It is rank hypocrisy. It does not surprise me because the opposition is rudderless and leaderless, unfortunately for the parliament.

Mr Frydenberg: They are short on courage.

Mr PYNE: They are very short on courage and they will vote against this bill. In so doing, they will send a message to the Australian public that not only are they trying to oppose the government's measures but also they are the government change deniers of the parliament. They have now put themselves in the position where they are opposing their own program from when they were in government.

I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): The question is that the bill be now read a second time. There being more than one voice calling for a division, in accordance with standing order 133(b) the division is deferred until after 8 pm.

Debate adjourned.