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Transcript of press conference: Wednesday 14 May 2003: Canberra: higher education.



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Jenny MacklinMP Deputy Leader of the Opposition Shadow Minister for Employment, Education, Training & Science Federal Member for Jagajaga TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE - CANBERRA WEDNESDAY 14 MAY 2003 E & OE - PROOF ONLY Subjects: Higher education MACKLIN: As a result of last night’s Budget university fees will be able to go up by 30 per cent. So there will be a massive increase in the level of fees that Australian students and their families will have to pay. We also know that the Howard Government wants to see more and more students paying full fees for their university degrees. So that’s more students who will be paying $100,000 for their university degree. The government has also introduced a new loans scheme with a 6 per cent interest rate. So there’ll be a very significant hike in the level of debt that Australian students and their families will have to pay. Let’s just think for a minute about what Peter Costello had to pay for his university degree. He’s the one who introduced these changes last night in the Federal Budget. Peter Costello did a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Law at Monash University. He did not pay one cent for his university degree. Let’s have a look at what Peter Costello would be paying under his scheme. If he was starting out on a university degree now under Peter Costello’s plan for Australian university students, an Arts/Law degree at Monash University would cost Peter Costello $66,000. That’s what he would have to pay, and that’s what he’s got in mind for Australian students and their families. It’s Australian students and their families who are going to be facing fees of $66,000 if they want to get into university under the Howard Government. What we also know is that there are many Australian students and their families who just couldn’t dream of paying that sort of money for a university degree. Those families are not going to have their students go into debt of that sort of order. Families cannot afford to pay fees of $66,000 and families are not going to see their students go into debt for that amount of money. For those students, the only alternative for them is to miss out on a university place. Those students are going to fail to get into university because under the Howard Government it’s just too expensive. JOURNALIST: This figure of degrees costing $100,000-plus has been bandied around a lot. If law costs $66,000, what costs $100,000? 1

MACKLIN: In fact veterinary science degrees at some universities cost $130,000. So there’s a range of different costs at different universities. If you want to be a vet, you’re going to be facing university costs of $130,000, plus the cost of a loan.

JOURNALIST: Is Labor prepared to go to a double-dissolution election over this education package?

MACKLIN: We will certainly be opposing these huge hikes in student fees in the Senate. We do not believe that Australian students and their families should have to pay massive increases in fees to go to university. We do not agree that Australian students and their families should end up in massive debt to get a university degree.

JOURNALIST: Were there any good things in the package?

MACKLIN: A lot of the increased public funding in the package is really just fixing up the government’s mess. It’s the government that created university places and didn’t fund them properly, they are now reversing that trend. It’s the government that cut the HECS threshold way down to about $21,000 and finally put it up again. So all the things that you see in this Budget that include additional funding for universities are about fixing up the mess the Howard Government has made.

JOURNALIST: How else do we pay for it?

MACKLIN: Australian students are already paying very high fees for their university degrees. Over the period of the Howard Government, we have seen an increase of 85 per cent already, so students are paying very high fees compared to what they would have paid before the Howard Government was elected. Now we have seen, as a result of last night’s Budget, a massive increase in fees that students and their families are going to have to pay. Other countries in the world recognise that it’s to the benefit of the whole nation for us to invest in higher education, and that’s where the emphasis should have been.

JOURNALIST: Dr Nelson says that more low-income earners will now be able to go to university. Does that stand up?

MACKLIN: Obviously he’s just not in the real world. Dr Nelson mustn’t know anyone whose student desperately wants to get into university without a massive level of debt. That’s what families want. They don’t want their young people going to university and ending up with these huge levels of debt that they will have to carry through their lives. He needs to get real if he thinks that low-income people are going to be able to go to university facing these sorts of fees.

JOURNALIST: So what would you suggest to parents of small children. Start saving now?

MACKLIN: The only way parents are going to be able to afford these sorts of fees is if they start saving now. Parents are going to have to save from almost the time their children are born if they want their children to go to university. Otherwise they just won’t be able to afford it.

JOURNALIST: So are we going to an American-style system?

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MACKLIN: We are going to an American-style education system with very high fees, with loans to pay for those fees and with loans that have an interest rate of 6 per cent.

JOURNALIST: A Labor government introduced HECS. Was that a mistake?

MACKLIN: We do believe that students should make a contribution to the cost of their education, but it’s got to be reasonable. We don’t want to discourage lower and middle-income families from having the chance to send their children to university. The students here today all want the chance to go to university. They don’t want to face

massive fees and very high debt when they finish.

JOURNALIST: What discussions have you had with other opposition parties in regards to the higher education package?

MACKLIN: We have had preliminary discussions but, from their public comments, they too feel very strongly about these high fees.

JOURNALIST: Will the whole package be rejected by the Senate, do you think?

MACKLIN: We will have to wait to see how the government presents it but we have made it very clear that we will be opposing the increases in student fees that this government wants to impose on Australian students and their families.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t the fact that it has even been put up just an indication of the way things are going and eventually we are going to end up with this regardless of what you do in the Senate?

MACKLIN: We will be fighting tooth and nail against these changes that the government wants to make that will put more and more pressure on Australian students and their families. We don’t think they should end up with this level of debt.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) five-year learning entitlement?

MACKLIN: Yes, I certainly am. What that is going to do is really limit students’ access to university. What the government wants to do is to say they’ll only pay for students to get five years worth of education. If they want to go back a bit later in life and get a second degree, re-educate themselves, they will face full fees.

JOURNALIST: But that’s already the situation now.

MACKLIN: Not if they get a HECS place, it’s not. If they want to go back and they get a HECS place they can do that at the moment.

JOURNALIST: What about the implications for a student that changes his or her mind half-way through a degree and wants to start something else?

MACKLIN: For those sorts of students - Brendan Nelson was one of them, actually. He started an economics degree and decided to do medicine. If he was in that situation, he would have found himself paying full fees.

JOURNALIST: What elements of the package are you willing to support?

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MACKLIN: We obviously do want to see increased public funding going into our universities, but we do not agree with the imposition of these very high fees on Australian students. We do not agree with the introduction of a loans scheme with a rate of interest of 6 per cent, which will just leave so many students and their families with very high levels of debt.

JOURNALIST: And are the changes to governance of university bodies and industrial relations reforms necessary?

MACKLIN: We are very concerned about the changes the government has in mind for workplace relations. It’s yet more effort by the Howard Government to introduce individual contracts into universities. We’ll have to get the details.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect all universities to put their fees up by 30 per cent?

MACKLIN: I think some universities will find they just can’t put their fees up because students won’t be able to afford it. Of course, those universities just won’t get the revenue that will come from those student fees. We’ll have some universities with very high fees getting extra money and other universities that can’t put up fees going without. We are going to end up with very, very different standards of education in our different universities.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) cautiously optimistic about it, that there are elements that are quite good and they have welcomed it. Are you prepared to put Labor at odds with the AVCC on this?

MACKLIN: The universities, understandably, are desperate for money. They have had $5 billion ripped out of universities since the Howard Government was elected, so it’s not surprising that they want to take whatever is offered. But lets have a look at when it’s offered. Most of the money doesn’t come through to the universities for another two or three years, so its years away. The universities are not going to see the benefit of it and I would just say to universities `Let’s sit down and have another look at what needs to be done, and let’s do it without putting massive fee hikes onto students.’

ENDS

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