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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6236

Ms HALL (7:42 PM) —I will commence my contribution to this debate on the Higher Education Support Amendment (Indexation) Bill 2010 by highlighting and concentrating on some of the issues raised by the previous speaker, as opposed to talking about the legislation. I feel it is only right that I should be given the opportunity to pick up on a few of those little points made by the member for Forrest. The member for Forrest spoke at great length about youth allowance—

Mr Haase —You are such a bore.

Ms HALL —I am sorry to keep you awake. I have only just started, but your yawning is louder than my contribution to this debate, Member for Kalgoorlie. Your manners do not do you any credit. As I was saying, the changes to the youth allowance have had a very positive impact on people that I represent in this parliament. I also come from a regional area and I come from an area where most of the families are low- to middle-income families. The children of people on very low incomes were being prevented from accessing youth allowance under the previous scheme. Many more students are now able to access the youth allowance.

In one case, I was contacted by a student whose parents earn around $105,000 per year. This particular student had moved to Sydney to undertake her university education. Under the previous scheme, she had been unable to access the youth allowance. With the changes that have been passed through this parliament, because she was one of a few children in that family attending university, she is now able to access youth allowance. That is a real benefit to this family. Even though they are a two-income family, their total income is not a considerable amount when you consider that both parents are on middle incomes. Their income is in that middle-income range.

The previous speaker raised the issue of school buildings. I would have to say that principals and school communities within Shortland electorate have embraced the fact that the government has given them money for much-needed capital expenditure on their schools. There was one school in particular that I visited early in 2008. In that school, the president of the P&C and the principal took me to the rooms and said, ‘Look at this paint peeling off the walls and this mildewed carpet—an absolute disgrace,’ and they told me that children were supposed to learn in those buildings. In fact, the principal undertook some painting and spruced those buildings up a little on his own. The week before last I visited that school. New school classrooms are being built. There is such excitement and vibrancy within the school. The school community and the P&C were there. They were excited, they were delighted and they were thrilled that the government had actually invested money in their school by providing the buildings that they had needed for a very, very long time.

I must add that on that school building site there was also an apprentice who was employed under the Rudd government’s Apprentice Kickstart program. So not only do you have buildings being built in that school, creating employment and giving new classrooms to the students of that area, but you also have apprentices training. To some extent, the legislation we have before us today is about training and the development of skills for the future.

The previous speaker also mentioned asylum seekers. I just refer her to the cost of the Pacific solution. I think that when she looks at that she might be very quiet about the cost.

On computers in schools: as I have already mentioned, students in Shortland electorate tend to come from low- to middle-income families. Without those computers in schools and access to computers, they were disadvantaged—but the member for Forrest does not like to acknowledge that. She talks about poor economic management. Just for the record, Australia’s performance in the global financial crisis was second to none. Australia came through that better than any other country.

Talking about equity and access to education, nothing could be more important than trade-training centres. The opposition say that if they are elected they are going to get rid of trade-training centres. In Shortland electorate, those trade-training centres have been placed in a variety of schools so that students, no matter where they live, can access that training.

The actions that have been taken by the Rudd government in relation to education, youth allowance and all matters that relate to students have really been driven by the needs of those students, the needs of the school communities and the needs of the community as a whole when it comes to Building the Education Revolution. And it is delivering for the students within the schools, within the vocational education sector and also within the higher education sector.

I refer to the legislation that we have before us—and I note that the parliamentary secretary has arrived—because, unlike the previous speaker, I actually want to touch on some of the issues in it. It is important to note that the Higher Education Support Amendment (Indexation) Bill 2010 comes from the recommendations of a review of the Australian higher education system, the Bradley review, and the indexation arrangements that will replace the Safety Net Adjustment wage price index with the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services wage price index published by the Australian Statistician. This index better reflects wage price increases in the higher education sector. For many years, the higher education sector were saying that they were being severely disadvantaged by the funding mechanism used by the previous government. There was a review of the pricing mechanism under the Howard government—I think that was in 2005—and the Howard government chose to do nothing and the index remained unchanged.

It is really important that we ask ourselves: why is it important that we properly fund our universities? First and foremost, it means that students can attend a university and get the education and develop the skills that they need to obtain jobs in the 21st century. It also means that students qualifying at Australian universities are competitive with students qualifying at universities throughout the world, and it puts Australia at the cutting edge of education. It is vitally important that we be a nation that is highly skilled, has a high level of knowledge and is at the cutting edge of the latest technology and research. This brings me to the second reason why we need to fund our universities properly—that is, so that we can undertake the research that is needed within universities. Universities are places of research. They are at the cutting edge of technologies and procedures that are needed going into the 21st century, and if our universities are not funded properly then Australia will fall behind other countries in relation to research.

This legislation is the government’s response, and it does support the majority of the Bradley review’s recommendations. I might add that it has been widely welcomed by universities and the sector is pleased to see a commitment by government to improve the rate. The university sector had for so long been used to a government that ignored their needs, one that did not listen to them, that constantly pegged the level of financial assistance they got and did not use the proper indexation mechanism but an outdated one that they had introduced in 1997. It is no surprise that the sector would welcome the mechanism being put in place in the legislation that we have before us tonight. I commend the bill to the House and welcome the changes that it will put in place.