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Monday, 26 February 2018
Page: 1979

Mr PERRETT (MoretonOpposition Whip) (17:21): I'm pleased to speak on the member for Griffith's motion regarding university funding. Labor believes in fairness. Labor believes in everybody having a fair go. Labor believes in everybody reaching their full potential. It's in our DNA. That is why Labor opened the door to university for hundreds of thousands more Australians. Sadly, Prime Minister Turnbull has slammed that door in the faces of young Australians dreaming of a university education.

The Turnbull government is ripping $436 million from Queensland universities. Griffith University, in my electorate, will have $92 million in funding ripped from it. The Turnbull government's cuts to university funding have effectively reintroduced a cap on the number of university places, taking us backwards to the Howard era—that rear-mirror view of the world. We should be supporting our young people to strive hard to get ahead, not discouraging them from pursuing an education. There will be smart young people in my electorate who will now be prevented from enrolling in university. There will be young people who worked hard throughout their schooling in the hope of going to university, just to have their hopes dashed by a cold, uncaring, antediluvian-minded government. The Turnbull government's priorities are all wrong.

Last Friday I wandered down to Griffith University for their O-Week events on the Nathan campus. I met with many students, some of them there for the first time and excited to be embarking on their next educational adventure. Others were excited to be edging closer to their graduation night. I met Ravi and Naresh, both commencing their first year at Griffith, studying environmental science and pollution control. Ravi and Naresh are very concerned about the $92 million in cuts to their university and were particularly worried about the effect this would have on class sizes and their ability to get one-on-one time with their lecturers and tutors. Ravi and Naresh care about their university education and that of their friends.

I care about all of the young people in Moreton being able to reach their full potential, be that at university or in a trade. This means providing opportunities to continue their education beyond year 12. This means properly funding universities and getting the settings right so everyone can fulfil their educational potential. Labor's reforms have seen significant growth in enrolments in universities, but, sadly, not across the board. Some groups in our community have not seen this growth in enrolments of students from their communities. Indigenous Australians, people from non-English speaking backgrounds and people from remote and regional areas are still much less likely to go to university. So the settings aren't right yet. This nation needs our best and brightest to have every opportunity.

Labor has recently announced that a Labor government will undertake a once-in-a-generation inquiry into Australia's post-secondary school education system. We want all Australian kids to receive the education and skills they need to thrive. We want to make sure all Australians can participate in lifelong learning. We want to make sure Australians are not left behind when other countries in our region are investing heavily in education and skills. This inquiry will look at university education and vocational education as a whole for the first time ever.

It is clear that the current settings are not working for all Australians—and they are certainly not working for Australian industry either—but we need to look forward. We need to think about the future for the children just starting school in 2018. We need to imagine as best we can what their working life is going to look like, what kind of post-secondary education is best going to prepare them for that. Labor wants this inquiry, the first ever to look at voc-ed and unis as a whole, to be ready to go in the first 100 days of a Shorten Labor government.

In the meantime, university students like Ravi and Naresh will be feeling the pinch of the Turnbull government's cuts. A $92 million cut from Griffith University will affect the amount of time lecturers can spend with their students. It will affect the size of classes on the Nathan campus and beyond. As a former teacher, I know the importance of smaller class sizes. I know that teachers with larger classes cannot spend the same amount of time with students, particularly those that are doing it tough. I know what a difference this can make to the quality of education and to the students who get to graduate.

I support the member for Griffith wholeheartedly in calling on the government to reverse its short-sighted, unfair cuts to universities. I call on Prime Minister Turnbull and Deputy Prime Minister McCormack to rethink this policy. If we are going to have a strong voice for the Nationals who can represent the bush, this is where they need to speak up. But too often they have been the lickspittles of the Liberal Party, not speaking up for the bush. These cuts, which are closing the door of opportunity to thousands of Australians, should be overturned by the National and Liberal parties.