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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 947

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (12:11): I thank Senator Siewert for moving this amendment to the motion before us. It really is giving leadership on the important issue of an inquiry into such a comprehensive piece of legislation. I have certainly been following it closely because it covers an area that I put considerable work into with regard to higher education. There is an area here with regard to the huge impact this legislation, if it went through in its current form, would have on tens of thousands of students because this covers what is called the start-up scholarships and at the moment it runs to about $1.2 billion. If this was changed in the form proposed, that would bring considerable disadvantage, changing scholarships into loans. So clearly that is another area that needs to be given close attention. What we have here with Senator Siewert's amendment is a possibility for that inquiry to go ahead and be able to provide that valuable information.

We know that there is already considerable community concern about this. The policy was originally one of Labor's, announced in April this year. At that time many people who work in this sector, particularly students, the National Union of Students and other organisations, raised the issue of the impact and if it would prove to be a disincentive. There is particular concern that it was targeting people who are already disadvantaged, many of them coming from families where nobody had ever gone to university before and the start-up scholarship was a real incentive to take their education forward in a way that would really open up so many opportunities for the rest of their lives and in turn help create a much more productive, innovative Australia. Opening up the chances of higher education to a much wider section of our community is something that would be lost if the legislation went through in its current form. We felt this really needed to be looked at closely.

But there is a wider principle of the need for inquiries into legislation, and that is why I was very pleased when I spoke to Senator Siewert earlier to hear that this was being brought forward so that we could have this inquiry into the legislation, one of the most wonderful aspects of the Senate, and that we are able to continue to do this.