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Monday, 9 November 2020
Page: 9111

Mrs ELLIOT (Richmond) (18:31): I too rise to speak on the Higher Education (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection Levy) Bill 2020 and the Education Legislation Amendment (Up-Front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020. As we know, these bills provide new tuition arrangements for domestic up-front fee-paying students. Whilst we welcome the practical changes of this legislation and the simpler arrangements in place—we've stated we do support that—we must consider this bill in light of this government's constant attacks on our higher education system and, indeed, their attacks on our education system more broadly, whether it be in our universities or in TAFE. We've see massive cuts from this government when it comes to TAFE funding, or indeed their lack of funding right across the board when it comes to our schools. It's making it extremely difficult for young people, especially from the regions, to be able to access effective support and training. It's harder for younger people from the regions to access university. With the increase in fees, it makes it increasingly difficult for our young people to gain the education they all deserve.

We've consistently seen Liberal-Nationals governments cut right across the board, making it very difficult for those younger people. I support the amendments moved by the shadow minister that the House notes that our education system is failing our kids, our workers and our businesses due to the coalition government policies that slashed billions from university funding. It is extremely bad for the economy and the labour market and, really importantly, it imposes massive debts on people seeking a higher education. The fact is you can't trust the Liberal and National Parties with universities. They cut funding and push prices up, making it so much harder for young people to get an education.

We've seen constant neglect from this government when it comes to the higher education sector. It's extremely clear when you look at the university sector during the pandemic and the lack of support from the government. Their lack of support has meant massive job losses in the industry. Labor has been calling upon the government to step in and help our universities to save those jobs. In my area it's specifically with Southern Cross University. We've consistently called on the government to take action to support the university. We've seen so many job losses in that region and we will continue to ask the government, and call upon them, to step in and assist particularly our regional universities, who have had a very difficult time during the pandemic.

Higher education—our fourth-largest export industry—is such an important industry for our nation, and this government is doing nothing to protect the industry from the massive job losses. As I said, we've seen so many cuts from the government when it comes to the education sector, and we see these cuts at both federal and state levels. Indeed, just last week we saw the New South Wales Liberal-National government's very harsh decision to close four schools in the town of Murwillumbah in my electorate of Richmond and force them into one location and then sell off the remaining sites to developers. This decision has quite rightly angered locals in my community. This sudden decision was made with absolutely no consultation whatsoever. Under the New South Wales government's plan, Murwillumbah Public School, Murwillumbah East Public School and Wollumbin High School will all be forced to close and move into a single campus at the Murwillumbah High School. That's four schools closing, forced into one location and then those sites being sold off to developers. This is a bad decision by a bad government. Our community will rightly fight this really, really bad decision.

Murwillumbah, as a community, a very strong community, has united to save these schools. All four P&Cs have voted for a halt to the plans and have called for consultation with the community. The Teachers Federation members at all four schools have also united to call for a halt and to demand consultation over this action. The community have also launched an online petition to the New South Wales parliament calling on the government to abandon their plans to close the four schools and to genuinely consult with the families directly affected by this decision. These closures are disgraceful, shameful and wrong. The New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, and her rotten-to-the-core Liberal-National government have cut so many services in Murwillumbah, and now they're closing all four local schools. These closures will result in severe job losses and worse educational outcomes for our children! It shows yet again in regional and rural areas that the Liberals and Nationals just cannot be trusted.

The New South Wales Labor leader, Jodi McKay, visited Murwillumbah together with state Lismore MP Janelle Saffin, Tweed Labor deputy mayor Reece Byrnes and me. We met with parents and students who explained to us how they weren't even consulted about this decision. Students also have spoken about the lack of consultation and the shock of receiving the news that their beloved schools would close. I spoke with local students from Murwillumbah East primary school, Zac and Zoe, who spoke so passionately about their school community. Zoe was concerned because there had been no warning for the students at all, and she said: 'They haven't considered anything about how the students would feel. I know I was crying when I found out. This is my home away from home. This is my family.' And Zac told me how important the school is to him, saying: 'It's not really so much of a school—it's more of a community.' It's a disgraceful decision to not let our community have a say.

There's no evidence that megaschools produce better educational outcomes for students. These closures are all about the Liberals and Nationals selling off prime real estate to their developer mates rather than educating our children. They're trying to make a profit at the cost of our children's education. These secret school closures are indeed a shameful act by this government. They're selling out our children and they're selling out our community. We also now know that the New South Wales government has been planning this since February—secretly planning this. Well, they now need to come clean with all of the documentation around these secret plans. The fact is that North Coast Nationals MPs Geoff Provest and Ben Franklin have been secretly plotting for months to forcibly close four of our local schools, cram those students into one location and then sell off the other school sites. Disgraceful.

Well, our community stands together and demands the Nationals come clean and tell us the full story about these dodgy deals. Labor is demanding and will continue to call for the New South Wales government to abandon its plan to close the four local schools at Murwillumbah, forcing them into that one location. This is a decision that's rightly angered our entire community. And who will be next? Which community on the North Coast will be the next to be told overnight that all their schools are closing?

This really is a shameful act. In fact, it's disgraceful. And this is being done by a rotten government with no integrity. So we'll continue to call upon the New South Wales government to abandon these harsh plans.

As I say, we see, right across the board, whether it's the federal or the state Liberal-National government, harsh cuts that are hurting our community. In my electorate of Richmond, as I've said, Southern Cross University is a major employer, and this government have done nothing, while the university is in really difficult circumstances due to the pandemic. We're talking about many job losses there. Many staff have lost their livelihoods as a result of this government's failure to take any action at all. In fact, this government's gone out of its way to exclude universities like Southern Cross from JobKeeper, and indeed it has been impacting severely upon the university. Recently, Southern Cross announced a $33 million funding shortfall that will lead to catastrophic losses of more than 130 local jobs. Seventy-one staff have taken voluntary redundancies, and there are a further 63 full-time job losses. Southern Cross University, like all universities, and particularly regional universities, is a strong economic driver in our region, and it produces great quality graduates. And now, more than ever, we need to keep them there and have them in place. So I will continue to call on the Morrison government to take action.

We've also seen this government increase university fees for our students. Thousands of students will have to pay so much more. So, whilst they're cutting a lot from the education sector, they're also forcing up those fees, and many parents have told me that their children will not be able to go to university. It's outrageous! An ordinary four-year degree will now cost about $58,000 for many disciplines, making it so difficult for students to be able to go to uni.

And make no mistake: every student who ends up paying more, every student who misses out on a place and every job lost in the university sector is the fault of the Liberals and Nationals—that is a fact. This government is doubling the cost of a university degree for thousands and thousands of Australians, and here we are, in the depths of the Morrison recession. We need to be focusing on training and educating our young people. We are seeing rising youth unemployment and we're also seeing the demand for university places increasing. It's been such a difficult year for our year 12s, and this government should be providing support and pathways for them, for greater training, whether it be through universities or TAFEs. But we consistently see, from this government, more cuts in place.

In conclusion, we've consistently seen, since this government was elected, cuts to funding for TAFEs and universities, and, generally, for schools as well. We've seen the Liberals and Nationals, at all levels of government, making it more and more difficult for our young people to access universities and the educational outcomes they rightly deserve—particularly in our regions, and we blame the National Party for that.