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Tuesday, 2 September 2014
Page: 9476


Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (19:54): To put some context on that charade, the member for Throsby clearly asked the member for Bass to explain himself, and the member for Bass has eloquently explained himself. There is no need to interrupt him, member for Throsby. You called for it, you asked for it, and you got it. You got the facts straight up from the member for Bass.

It is a privilege to rise tonight on this very important set of education reforms from a competent reforming education minister, Christopher Pyne. It is pertinent to note that at the time of his recent birthday we saw some student protests around the country. I think it is emblematic of the case against these generation-breaking reforms—these leading reforms that are going to be once-in-a-generation according to the Go8—that the protesters protesting against his birthday could not even burn an effigy of the Minister for Education effectively. It is emblematic of the case against these measures because the Labor Party know in their hearts that these reforms are absolutely correct. While the member for Throsby says 'Go and read the social justice paper', we are too busy reading Dr Andrew Leigh's Imagining Australia book. It is a book I would recommend to you—it is a good read. I have a signed copy in my office, signed Dr Andrew Leigh himself, and he said:

A deregulated or market-based HECS will make the student contribution system fairer because the fees students pay will more closely approximate the value they receive through future earnings.

I have to say to the Labor Party that I could not have expressed that better myself than the shadow Assistant Treasurer, Dr Andrew Leigh, who says that a deregulated or market-based HECS will make the student contribution system fairer. That is the whole point of the government's reforms. It is important to note at the start of this debate that the government is increasing access to higher education opportunities. We are increasing those opportunities to tens of thousands more Australians. These education reforms are needed. They are necessary. They are necessary because the Labor Party started the process of deregulation. To anybody who is listening, to understand this debate we are having today we have to understand that Labor deregulated student numbers at universities. Once you have deregulated student numbers at universities, you have to deregulate the fees—you cannot simply deregulate student numbers without having a mechanism to fund those numbers of students. This is the exact position of the Group of Eight chairman and ANU Vice-Chancellor, Ian Young, who said:

We have created a perverse incentive that rewards universities for enrolling as many students as possible and teaching them as cheaply as possible.

Deregulation is a game-changer, as he describes it. It is a game-changer because you cannot deregulate the numbers attending university without having a finance mechanism for governing those numbers at university, which of course is the competition between universities. The competition will bring great benefits. There will not be $100,000 degrees in Australia until that is appropriate in the market. There will be fees set by universities according to the demand, and, to address the concerns of the member for Throsby, regional universities will be right in the competitive space. As many of the vice-chancellors have acknowledged and publicly said, regional universities can now compete on cost to maintain numbers as a competitive advantage. So this is going to not be bad for regional universities, as you would think from listening to some of those opposite—it is going to be good for regional universities. It is going to be a winner because they can compete on things that the big universities cannot compete on. I know that is the case from speaking to the UWS—the University of Western Sydney—one of the most competitive, innovative, modern universities in the country. It competes on cost, it competes on facilities and services and it competes on degrees. I think this reform will allow UWS to compete with the bigger universities—the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales in Sydney—in a way they are unable to currently.

There is nothing to fear here, because the government is preserving equality of access. Anybody who is considering this package of reforms has to understand that unless equality of access is preserved—that is, no-one will pay anything for a degree up-front if they do not want to; nobody pays a cent up-front for a degree if they do not choose to—then you have no equity access issues because, as per the current system, you are making a contribution to your own education. I have to say, without speaking out of class, that every single member in this chamber agrees with that. Every single member in this chamber agrees that a student ought to contribute to his or her own education. There is no such thing as a free education. The taxpayer has to foot the bill and at the moment we know, as the minister has put very eloquently, that 40 per cent of contributions is made by the student and 60 per cent is made by the taxpayer. We are changing those arrangements under these proposals to a fifty-fifty arrangement. Given we know that university educated people who successfully graduated on average earn more over a lifetime—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Goodenough ): Order! The time being 8 pm, I interrupt proceedings. Earlier today the honourable member for Throsby drew the attention of the Speaker to the state of the House. In accordance with standing order 55(c), I will count the House if the member so desires. The member for Throsby not being present the matter lapses.

Mr Husic: Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the House. (Quorum formed)

Mr HAWKE: I thank the member for Chifley for bringing into the House the Minister for Education, the sponsor of these important reforms, because Paul Kelly, one of the most respected and trusted journalists in the country, describes these reforms as 'a game changer'. He knows that higher education reform is absolutely necessary in this country and this government and this minister are delivering those reforms for the benefit of students around Australia. Thank you member for Chifley because these members here know that higher education reform is absolutely vital—that is, your government deregulated student numbers; we now need to deregulate the fees. That of course will ensure greater opportunities for access and also greater opportunities to have a world-class education sector.

It is fantastic to see so many enthusiastic supporters here of these reforms. There are almost as many people here tonight as those who attended the student protest against Christopher Pyne at Sydney university when I was there—almost as many and they are almost as fervent. Watching the student protest against the minister and the government is almost like watching a throw-back to the 1970s—railing against the machine, raging against the machine, protesting against protesting. What are they protesting about? They do not even know because many of these students are professional left-wing students on campus at small gatherings inspired by former compulsory unionism, sent out by the Labor Party against these reforms, which are absolutely necessary and vital. I know most young people in this country will go forth and ask, 'What are the benefits to me of these reforms?' They will understand that they can make a rational choice about what is best for them in their higher education field—that is, they will consider, 'What is the cost of my degree and how much can I afford to pay?' When earning $50,000 you are only paying two per cent of your income in repayments. That is a very small amount for the taxpayer to ask back from $50,000. It is a reasonable amount. It is a practical amount. It exists in arrangements almost similarly at the moment. It is not a question of changing the system. The Labor Party agrees that there should be a contribution to students' education made by students. We are saying it should be 50-50, not 60-40.

It is not the outrageous attack on education that the Labor Party wants to make this. They know that, as most of the vice-chancellors know, as most of all of the education experts in this country, including David Gonski, understand. I think the member for Chifley in particular well remembers David Gonski. I remember his orange 'I give a Gonski' T-shirts, which the member for Chifley proudly supported all through the last election. Well give a Gonski, member for Chifley! Give a Gonski and understand that these higher education reforms are absolutely necessary! If I could borrow your T-shirt, I would be happy to wear it for you and to make sure that you understand these reforms are supported by David Gonski. He understands they are necessary. He understands that they are the next evolution of education reform in this country, that reform is not something we should always instantly fear and run away from but something we can and should embrace.

We have seen the Labor Party unwilling to even have a discussion about higher education reform, even though they deregulated student numbers. So they have created an incentive. They introduced HECS. They introduced co-payments. We have the shadow assistant Treasurer talking about how the deregulation of HECS fees will be of great benefit and will be—let us use the magic work—'fairer'. The student contribution system will be fairer on deregulated market based fees. Remember 'Forward with fairness'? Remember the fairness line you have been running against this government? The shadow assistant Treasurer says a deregulated system will be fairer for students. It is fairer for students. It enables them to make rational choices. It enables them to think about what the best degree is for them, and what the cost is that they are going to have to repay over their lifetime, and make an appropriate choice. It allows universities to compete with each other and offer lower fees. It enables our university system to have the benefit of competition and, because equality of access is preserved, no student in the country, no-one from a disadvantaged background, ought to fear anything this government is doing, because equality of access is preserved for all Australians. In fact, we are massively expanding access, and that is being absolutely overlooked by the members opposite in some of the commentary.

There are many other important parts of these reforms that are essential. No student will be paying a dollar up-front, and with the HELP system they will not be paying until they are earning over $50,000.

In summary, there are many things to say about these education reforms. The scare campaign is just that—it is a purely fear-driven campaign. It is a fear-driven campaign that is not catching on.

When you look at the facts of how the system will operate under this reform package, no student will be unable to access the system. Students will be able to make rational choices about their future. They will put more thought into what degree they are going to do because there will be a cost imperative. So degrees that take longer, that are going to provide more income, will cost more—that is a logical outcome of this. All of the senior medical degrees will cost more; there is no doubt about that. But that, of course, will mean that you will have a rational decision to make about how much you are going to earn over your lifetime, and you will invest in the choice, the right choice, for your education up-front. There is nothing to fear from these reforms except fear itself.

But when you have David Gonski, and the shadow Assistant Treasurer, and the university vice-chancellors, and the Group of Eight—the peak body representing universities in Australia—saying that these are not just necessary but absolutely game-changing reforms that will produce huge improvements to the education system in this country and will not disadvantage regional campuses or regional students, then really the Labor Party is out of arguments. Their only argument is: they are in opposition and need to make some political capital to try and return to office. This will not be it.

I will make this prediction: there will be negotiations with reasonable people in the Senate; these reforms will happen. If the Labor Party manages to block them, these reforms will happen one way or the other. But I believe that the Australian parliament ought to take advantage of this minister's and this government's opportune putting forward of these very important reforms, enabling our education sector to become world-class and compete on the world stage.