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Monday, 26 February 2018
Page: 1990

Ms RYAN (LalorOpposition Whip) (18:16): Labor will continue to oppose the funding cuts to the higher-education sector in this country because we support the young people in this country and because we have a vision for a country where young people are given access to the transformative power of education. That's early education, primary education, secondary education, TAFE and vocational education, and higher education.

We know that it's O-Week around this week across the country, depending on which university. I spent some time last week in O-Week talking to some of my local people who are first-year students at the University of Melbourne this year. They have wisely determined that they've joined the Labor Club in their first week of school. For that I congratulate them. And it's not a surprise that they do, because they live in an electorate where people understand the value, where people understand that our brightest and best should be going to university. And it is a pleasure to represent and to meet those brightest and best on those campuses. It is an absolute pleasure.

But it is not a pleasure to be in opposition while we watch this government undermine education at every level, and today's private members' business, brought in by the member for Griffith, my good friend, specifically talks about the higher-education sector and the cuts that this government is determined to get through. We need to contextualise this in terms of the $100,000 degrees and the deregulation that this government was hell-bent on bringing in and, with only the work of Labor and support from good cross benchers like the member for Indi beside me—only the support of good people who understand the power of education, who understand the value of education while those opposite merely understand the cost. And I got a new one from the member for Hughes today: he understands a gift but he doesn't understand investment. We invest in people, and education is not a gift; it is an investment that this country makes in our young people.

We expect in return that they will make their contribution to our country both economically and socially, but we're holding them back with these cuts. Out universities are going to have to either cut places or raise costs. Those are the options this government gives them with a $2.2 billion cut from higher education across the next two years. The universities are left with very little choice. They can introduce their own caps—and we learn from our research that there are 9,000 potential places that are not being offered this year. I met with those young people. I know how many young people in my electorate will therefore be disappointed that they didn't get a university offer this year. I want to go to that. I want to go to the way young people are inspired, how we hold their hands in our schools and ask them to aspire to get to university.

I was in a school in Melbourne's western suburbs when HECS was first introduced. There were lots of debates in this place. There were lots of debates around the country about how it was affordable, about how it could be repaid later. We have adjusted to that system. But let me tell you about the impact it had on my year 12 class in that first year in the number of students who may have gone on to university, who I had worked with since they were in year 8, with them and their families, to get them to pitch themselves to go to university. It took the wind out of many of those families' sails because working-class people don't like debt; strangely enough, they aspire not to have any. So their children who now do go to university might have a $100,000 debt under this government. Let's remember, right now, those students in O-Week this week and those students who went to university last year have no certainty about the costs that they are undertaking. They have no certainty about what their eventual debt will be. In fact, they have no certainty about when they will have to start paying it back, because this government are bringing into this place this week legislation to say that they want to reduce the earning threshold for young people to start paying back their HECS debt at $42,000 a year.

These young people are being squeezed at both ends by this government that does not understand young people, does not understand the journey that they are on, does not understand that they need to be supported. They need to know that their government has faith in them. They need pathways created for them to reach their potential so they can make an absolute contribution to our community. We are faced with a government that understands the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The time allocated for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.