Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 29 March 2023
Page: 63

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (15:31): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Senator Watt) to a question without notice I asked today relating to the cost of living for students.

Every week I hear heartbreaking stories about students struggling to put food on the table, to pay for medication, to afford a train or bus ticket or to pay bills. Week after week, students who are already battling to pay their rent are being hit with rent increases from greedy landlords. Students are working multiple jobs, cutting back on necessities and still barely scraping by.

We heard about the severe financial stress and the mental and physical toll that these daily pressures are taking on students. One 19-year-old QUT student says she hasn't eaten fresh fruit and vegetables for at least a month and relies on instant noodles. She struggles to afford period products. At UNSW, hundreds of students are lining up in queues for free food. Students are trying their best, but they still can't make ends meet, and this government is effectively telling them, 'We can't afford to support you but you won't believe what we can afford for the wealthy: $254 billion in tax cuts.' This is a government that has turned its back on young people and students. I can't remember a time when the students were doing it this tough, and it should be clear to anyone with a conscience how difficult it is to be a student at this point in time. People are electing Labor governments because they desperately want change, but Labor is looking away.

Labor could choose to raise the rate of income support payments to $88 a day and lift students out of poverty. Labor plays a big game on housing, but Labor's housing bill does nothing for renters, and it will see the shortage of affordable and social housing actually grow. Labor could take immediate steps to relieve the burden of student debt by freezing indexation and raising the minimum repayment income. Student debt is already locking people out of the housing market, stopping them from getting married or starting a family, and crushing dreams of further study. Student debt is stopping young people from living the carefree, fun lives that all young people should live. It's stopping them from enjoying university, pursuing hobbies, socialising with friends and just having a good life. Student debt is having a disproportionate impact on women because they earn less and they have more debt. And it will get much worse in June, when student debts are set to be indexed by seven per cent. Millions of Australians will be hit with more debt. They can't keep up, because student debts are now going up faster than they can be paid off.

So many people have spoken about rising student debt, and I want to read out some of what they have said: 'I often wonder how long it will take me to pay off my debt. My husband and I are barely able to keep up with the rising cost of living. Abolishing indexation at the very least would help lessen the pressure of living expenses and help me catch up with paying off this burdensome debt.' Another one says: 'I doubt I will be able to keep up with the indexation. Mostly I just feel stupid for believing what I was told as a child—that I needed to go to uni for a good job—only to end up with a debt that goes up by $2,500 a year.' Another one says, 'Now we are seeing nothing but increase, increase, increase. With those increases, they don't understand that it not only affects physical health; it removes resources and access to so much, and it stigmatises low-socioeconomic students.'

Despite this, the government is sitting on its hands and saying it won't do anything because the university accords process is underway. Well, that's not good enough. This process and its implementation will take years. People are struggling now, and they need relief now. This government can abolish indexation and raise income support payments. We have a progressive parliament right here that can waive through these measures to support students. Labor is actively choosing not to provide support for those struggling the most but can give $254 billion to the wealthy in tax cuts and commit another $368 billion for nuclear attack submarines. These choices make it clear that, when it comes to substance, we still have a neoliberal government which chooses austerity for people and the planet and abundance for billionaires and the war machine. Be better, Labor.

Question agreed to.