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Monday, 26 February 2018
Page: 1983

Ms MADELEINE KING (Brand) (17:37): While I welcome any opportunity to speak on universities and university funding—and I certainly welcome the motion put forward by the member for Griffith—it is very disappointing that we are here today speaking on the continued attacks by this government on funding to universities. The commitment by this government to hack away university funding is, in turn, an attack on the aspirations of all Australians who might want to pursue and participate in higher education.

It makes no sense. It makes no sense that an Australian government is committed to slashing $2.2 billion from Australian funding. It makes no sense that an Australian government would this year deny up to 10,000 people a place in university by reducing the Commonwealth grant. It makes no sense that, instead of breaking down barriers to higher education, an Australian government would actively build up barriers and block access to universities. Research has told us—and it's widespread—that by 2020, in only two years, two-out-of-three jobs created in Australia will require a diploma or some kind of higher education qualification. You can see that we need more people to go into further education to gain the qualifications for the jobs of the future, not fewer. I think it's very small thinking by this government to prioritise giving big business a $65 billion tax cut now rather than providing the funding required to universities and vocational education to ensure that Australians are qualified to work, and work in jobs for the long term.

I want to consider for a moment what the government thinks of enabling programs in universities. Enabling courses are accessed by people who have been disadvantaged in their education in some way. They are designed to give people a taste of what study at a university might be like. They are an invaluable opportunity for people who may have had trouble in high school, who have doubts about their abilities and who, overall, have probably had fewer opportunities. It's a great opportunity for the stay-at-home parent who might want to get into the workforce again and an invaluable opportunity for those who have lost their jobs, finding themselves moving into a long-term unemployment situation and wanting to retrain or re-educate. Last year we saw this government put forward a suggestion, and stick with it for some time, that people should pay up to $3,200 in fees for these enabling courses, which do not provide students with a formal qualification. We know they're a fantastic example of breaking down barriers, encouraging participation and giving people the tools they need to go on and get an education and the qualifications they need.

Compared with many other parts of the country, not many people in my electorate of Brand attend university. For those who do, Murdoch University in the electorate of Tangney plays a very important role, and I was very pleased to be down there at their orientation week last week. It's the closest university to Brand and has offered a unique and valuable approach to tertiary education for many of my constituents.

Murdoch University offers enabling programs such as OnTrack, for students who do not achieve the ATAR ranking they had hoped or, in some cases, do not achieve an ATAR ranking at all. Among the OnTrack students enrolled at Murdoch University between 2008 and 2014, 55 per cent identified as being the first in their family to go to a university and 56 per cent lived in low-SES-dominated areas—many of those are in my electorate. Furthermore, and very importantly—and it shows the value of these enabling courses—69 per cent of all funded enrolments translated into undergraduate degree enrolments for Murdoch University. It's a good thing for the region and it's a good thing for my electorate. And it's a good thing for Western Australia and for the people of Australia that more students out of areas in Brand such as Rockingham, Kwinana, Parmelia, Port Kennedy and Secret Harbour are enabled to go to a first-class university, which Murdoch University is.

So, to my mind—and given my over-10-years experience in the university sector, having worked at the University of Western Australia—I think it's shocking to see this government working to actively exclude people from the university sector and from higher education. I really welcome the thorough look that Labor is intending to have, should we—well, in my view, when we—take government next: the national inquiry into post-secondary education. Universities are extraordinary, complex places. Universities, teamed with vocational education, are an amazingly complex ecosystem of education for our young people, and I think a very deep dive into what is required to fund post-secondary education adequately in this country has not come before time. I look forward to participating in it and I know my colleagues here on the Labor side of the parliament will be active participants in this national inquiry, for the good of all young people and all students across the nation. (Time expired)