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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12276

Mr CONROY (Charlton) (16:03): It is a great pleasure to follow the member for Barker, who was a great loss to Mt Gambier City Council, I must say! I was glad to hear him quoting Keating, because being lectured by the member for Barker is 'like being flogged by a wet lettuce'.

Let's go back to taws on MPIs, because when we go back and talk about the Liberals' higher education policy, we like to go to their source material. We cannot trust what they say; we have to see what they put in writing. Plenty of speakers in these debates have gone to Real solutions, their election policy shield. But I am not going to touch on this today. I am going to go back to the two thought pieces that guided the brains trust of the coalition, and that is Battlelines and Hockey: Not Your Average Joe.

When I turned Battlelines, which is the Prime Minister's manifesto—his bible—can people guess how many mentions of higher education there are in the book.

Mr Laurie Ferguson: Two.

Mr CONROY: Sadly, the member for Werriwa is very optimistic. There are zero mentions of universities. But that actually stands in good stead compared to Hockey: Not Your Average Joe, which, for the Treasurer has been the publication that his damaged his career the second most. Unfortunately, the budget has been the publication that has damaged his career the most. But when you go to Hockey: Not Your Average Joe and I look at his first mention of university and I read from it—this is in chapter 3:

The first of his siblings to make it to university, Joe walked into his class on day one drunk. 'I walked into my first lecture and fell asleep.'

Opposition members interjecting

Mr CONROY: Exactly! Sadly, the Liberals' policy on higher education shows all the seriousness and commitment that the member for North Sydney demonstrated on his first day at university. That is a great tragedy, because this is an incredibly serious debate. Education is vital for our economy and vital for our society. What those on the other side are doing is closing the door on a generation of working class students. In the seat of Charlton four out of five graduates are in nursing and education. What these changes do, according to Universities Australian—a group those on the other side are very keen to quote all the time—is that a female nursing graduate could have a debt at the end of the course of $100,000. She would generated a debt of $100,000 for a nursing degree and she will pay it off over the course of 27 years. How is that fair—to have a 100,000 grand debt over the course of 27 years; or engineering—we need more engineers in this country and we need more female engineers? But according to Universities Australia, they could face a total debt to be paid off of $200,000. What a disgrace.

Let us look at the equity aspects, because those on the other side like to talk about the sub-bachelor degree level. One of the great avenues for education in higher education is for mature age students participating in part-time studies. I am proud that the university in my area, the University of Newcastle, has got a great tradition in this. I often hear the member for Newcastle talking about this all the time, because it is a great contribution. Fifty per cent of University of Newcastle are not school leavers and they will face the greatest disadvantage because they are turned off the most by high debt, high interest rates that mean in their limited time left in the workforce they will be paying off this debt.

I was asked earlier for evidence. You do not have to go further than the United Kingdom, where before their changes to university fees they had part-time undergraduate enrolments of 230,000 people. Within two years it fell to 139,000, an almost 100,000 drop in part-time undergraduate students. That is what we face in this country. This is what we face with their Americanisation of the system—a system where you will see registered nurses paying 100 grand and taking 27 years to pay off a degree, where you will see female engineers facing a $200,000 debt. This is the great vision they have for this country—a myopic, short-term vision that will penalise working-class people who want to be the first in their family to get to university. They will stand condemned by history for their focus on petty penny-pinching rather than investing in this nation's greatest asset: our next generation.