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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12449


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (11:24): I support the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2011. I would hate to hear what the member for Sturt had to say about a bill he actually opposed, if that is his fulsome support for this legislation.

I will deal with a few aspects of this bill and then I will deal with what we are doing in terms of higher education and education generally, to address the nonsense that the member for Sturt has perpetrated upon this place today. I will also deal with the consequences of what we know is the coalition's policy with respect to education. The member for Sturt and the shadow minister were given such latitude to wax lyrical in terms of the rubbish he was spewing out today.

This legislation deals with amendments to implement the 2001-12 budget measures and also update maximum payments paid to provide for increases in enrolments in Commonwealth supported places and of course indexation. There are three aspects to the bill. The first is what the member for Sturt referred to—that is, the bill provides for a reduction in the HECS-HELP discount applied to upfront student contribution payments of $500 or more from 20 per cent to 10 per cent.

The second aspect deals with an increase in funding for the overenrolment of Commonwealth supported places that has occurred in 2011—an increase in funding is not a budget measure. The overenrolment in placements is allowed for under the cap on funding for places over agreed targets. The cap on overenrolment was raised from five to 10 per cent in funding terms for 2010-11 as part of the introduction of the recommendation of the Bradley review in respect of demand driven funding systems for higher education from 2012. From 2012 the cap on funding for undergraduate Commonwealth supported places will be removed for public universities and that will have some implications with respect to funding. Funding will be based on student demand and that will make what will probably be the most significant change to higher education in this country for a very long time. I think it will open up the system and allow more young people, mature people and older people the opportunity to go to university as well.

The final aspect of this bill deals with Commonwealth supported places at overseas campuses. It gets rid of the ambiguity in the current legislation about its application to Australian citizens at overseas campuses of Australian higher education providers. It clarifies that Australian citizens will only have access to HECS-HELP, FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP schemes when they are enrolled on Australian campuses of an Australian provider.

The coalition really have nothing to be proud of when it comes to their record on higher education when they were in office. With respect to their performance, their funding for higher education was $8 billion in 2007. Their enrolments were about 400,000 university places around the country in 2008—20 per cent fewer than will be the case in 2012. Our funding will increase from the measly $8 billion that the coalition put in the scheme to $13 billion by 2012. Enrolments next year will rise to over half a million places, and that is giving people opportunity to achieve their full potential, exercise their skills, talents and ability and go to university.

Many people in my electorate are going to university for the first time. Some people had parents who did not go to high school, and the idea of going to university was fanciful under a coalition government. It was the opening up of the higher education system by the Whitlam Labor government in the 1970s that gave so many people in this place and elsewhere the opportunity to go to university. This government is also massively expanding our funding in this regard.

When it comes to education, the coalition have nothing to be proud of. Their idea of supporting education was to support flagpoles and Simpson and the donkey—that was their idea. When it came to funding, we massively almost doubled the increase in funding education in this country. The member for Sturt spoke about what the coalition were going to do in their criticism of us. Paul Bongiorno on Meet the Press on 14 August 2011 asked the member for Sturt a question in relation to education:

To be clear, you'll look for savings in your portfolio of education?

The member for Sturt responded:

Well, we need to have savings across the budget—

making the claim, once again, that they would do that. At the last election we did not hear a whisper on this from the member for Sturt. The coalition went to the last election proposing to gut education in this country to the tune of $2.8 billion. But they were forced to reveal their true intentions. Their idea in the higher education sector was to put in protocols and arrangements that linked funding to the imposition of Work Choices. They said, 'We will fund you and, if you don't put in place AWAs in the higher education sector, we will effectively decrease your funding.' If you ask the University of Queensland or the University of Southern Queensland in South-East Queensland, they will tell you that is the case. It was in their legislation and we abolished it when we got into power because it was unfair. We want to have a university sector that is demand driven by people aspiring to achieve their potential and go to university. The coalition want to have a university system motivated by the imposition of Work Choices, which is not what this country needs, and a class based attack on the university sector—a sector they are never comfortable about—as shown through their speeches in this place on voluntary student unionism.

The member for Sturt spoke about what the government had done wrong, but he failed to outline the cuts that he would make, whether it was in trade training centres, the Digital Education Revolution where he was so critical of us, the BER or national partnerships for low socioeconomic school communities et cetera. None of that was referred to. There was criticism of us, but there was nothing about what the coalition would do. I think they would go back to the education aspirations of the previous Howard coalition government, which is to impose Work Choices and link that to funding, once again.

The legislation we are debating here today is to implement a demand driven funding system for undergraduate university places. It is extremely important in fast-growing areas across South-East Queensland and places like Brisbane and Ipswich where we have so many young people aspiring to go to university. The Director of the University of Southern Queensland, Doug Fraser, has told me that they are well and truly hitting their Bradley targets. Pro-Vice-Chancellor Alan Rix of the University of Queensland's Ipswich campus has also talked about the need for a demand based funding system. I am confident there is local support from universities in my electorate for what we are doing with respect to higher education funding.

The demand driven system for undergraduate university places was passed by the parliament on 14 September 2011. We are providing additional funds, $3.97 billion over six years from 2010, for the demand driven funding system that the Bradley review recommends. There is an additional $1.2 billion in the 2011-12 budget. That was not mentioned by the member for Sturt. I would like to see just how much the coalition would put in if they were on the Treasury benches. We know they will impose funding cuts, because he belled the cat in his discussion with Paul Bongiorno on 14 August 2011 and said that they would be looking for savings in the sector. The government have taken the view that we need to increase funding in the sector. The 2011-12 budget increased the regional loading for universities by $109.9 million over four years.

We heard ridiculous campaigns in relation to youth allowance by those opposite, who have not faced reality and have not faced the fact that many more young people now get access to youth allowance as a result of the changes. We abolished the inner regional university against remote university student situations, which was a silly distinction. There is a lot of money for higher education in this budget and this legislation deals with aspects of the budget and budget funding.

The student learning entitlement, which restricted students to seven years of Commonwealth support for university study, will be abolished from 1 January 2012. That change is to get rid of university red tape and make it easier for students to navigate the system. It will also make it clear that, if students want to go to university, they will be able to get there. Students at Australian universities will have better access to quality services when they go back to campuses next year as a result of our student services amendment bill, which we hope will be through the Senate this week. Of course, this is all part of our package with respect to improving higher education across the country. Those opposite oppose what we have done in this regard. In fact, they posed and preened and uttered platitudes about their terrible days at university in relation to our attempts to make sure that students at university could get access to sporting and recreational activities, employment advice, legal aid, child care, financial advice and food services. As I said, these arrangements will take place from 1 January next year.

For the first time we are enshrining the promotion and protection of free intellectual inquiry in learning, research and teaching through amendments to the Higher Education Support Act. Those opposite, in their complete and utter denial of reality with respect to good public policy, oppose these types of arrangements as well. They thought that the promotion and protection of free intellectual inquiry in learning was not a worthy and noble thing to aspire to and protect. They thought that we were engaged in a left-wing Marxist protection of university type arrangements across the sector. Universities and other eligible higher education providers in receipt of funding will now have a policy that actually upholds free intellectual inquiry. It is important that we also have established the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, which I spoke on just a very short time ago. That will basically amalgamate the work done by nine agencies into one central agency and provide national consistency and efficiency in registration and quality assurance.

I have talked to rebut what the member for Sturt has said in this place today; I have talked in relation to the bill; and I have also talked in relation to what we are doing. This bill is important because it provides funding and it gets rid of an ambiguity. It also makes it plain that our demand driven system is something that we are very keen on. We are very keen to implement the Bradley reforms, because we believe that every child, regardless of whether they are born in the Torres Strait or in Tasmania, or in Palm Beach or in Perth, should be able to aspire to university and should have the opportunity to advance to provide financial security for themselves and their families. We believe that that distinguishes us from those opposite. If there is one pillar in the Labor Party that we strongly believe in it is the belief in equality of opportunity. University placement, a demand driven system and legislation such as the bill we are debating today, give us that opportunity. I commend the legislation to the House. I think it is important reform and it is part of a whole matrix of reform that this government is committed to, making sure that young people across the length and breadth of this country can get the chance to participate in our economy and community to the fullest extent they aspire.