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Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Page: 9387

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (13:56): I rise to make a contribution in the short time allocated to me before question time today on this outrageous claim by the government that they are about to fix the problem. We have seen the fixer in action in the House of Representatives and the fixer in action is well and truly alive in the legislation that this government is seeking to inflict on this sector. Madam Acting Deputy President Lines, as a fellow participant in the Education and Employment Committee in the Senate, you and I have had the unhappy experience of listening to commentary after commentary, testimony after testimony of how this government has failed to listen to the sector, has ignored every single warning sign of danger in this area. For two years they have been in government and they have not been watching carefully what has been going on. And now here they are in the last week of the year bringing in legislation and a series of amendments which have just landed on the table in the Senate in the last hour. That is how good the fixer is fixing things for education in this country.

What is going on today is a mad rush by an incompetent government who do not have any heart for education. They have taken $30 billion out of education in their first budget.

Senator Polley: How much?

Senator O'NEILL: $30 billion, impacting the future education of every young people in Australia, and now they are talking about putting a GST of 15 per cent on all things to do with education. This government hates education. This government gets in the way at every step in terms of fair and equitable access to a decent education and this hastily cobbled together piece of legislation—a poor piece of legislation, which is now having last minute amendments made to it in some sort of tokenistic concession—is exactly what Senator Xenophon described it to be. I think he critiqued it as a cobbled together piece of legislation that is failing to respond to the reality that confronts us. And what is the reality?

The reality is that in 2012 and shortly after, when this government came into being, there were 55,000 students engaged in vocational education and training. This is a powerful part of enabling young people and people who seek to retrain the opportunity to change careers and to build careers, and to learn in ways that make a whole lot more sense than when they went to school. So the VET sector has great appeal. $235 million were being spent in 2012 on 55,000 young people predominantly but on mature wage earners as well. The average debt they had at that time was between $5,800 to $6,000. While the government has been pulling the nation apart with divisive policies and a devastatingly bad budget in 2014, we saw that they did not keep an eye on this at all. They did not have an eye to education.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator O'Neill. It being 2 pm, we now proceed to questions without notice.