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Monday, 13 August 2018
Page: 29


Senator MARTIN (Tasmania) (13:11): I have informed my colleagues in the coalition government that I remain opposed to the Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (Student Loan Sustainability) Bill 2018. Some would say I'd be crossing the floor against my party; however, I see it as staying true to my word. I would like to thank my National Party colleagues for understanding my stance. From day one, they have known my view on this bill and they have supported—while, admittedly, at times, with some understandable trepidation—my independence on this topic that is close to my heart. That is what makes the Nationals a great party. They respect a vast array of attitudes and opinions held by an equally diverse and switched-on regional Australia. I would also like to thank the hundreds of people, including students and academics, who have contacted my office to support my strong stance on the Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (Student Loan Sustainability) Bill 2018.

In my first speech I said:

… our most fundamental challenge as Tasmanians is education.

I went on to say:

According to Saul Eslake, each additional year of school attained, on average, leads to between six and 19 per cent economic growth over the long run. People with a degree earn an average of 50 per cent more over their lives than those whose education ends at year 12. In turn, people whose education finishes at year 12 earn 40 per cent more than those who finish at or before year 10. The pattern is clear enough.

But it's not just financial. In addition to being more prosperous, people who are better educated tend to be less prone to gambling, drug abuse, alcoholism, obesity, crime and chronic illness. In short, a better education means a better life.

Furthermore, my opposition to the bill was also outlined in a statement released in April, where I outlined my concern that any reduction in the HECS-HELP repayment threshold would, in fact, be a disincentive to students, especially those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, from undertaking study to improving their prospects in life. Students are one of Australia's most precious resources, and we should invest in them.

My first speech had all the facts and figures in there as to why I strongly support maximising the opportunity for students, especially for those from my home state of Tasmania, but it is a decision I made with my head and my heart. I have seen, through my charity work with Enormity Inc., Books for Babies and Toast for Kids, that education sets a pathway to more opportunities.

It is with my heart-and-head approach that I also recall, from my first speech, mentions of the young Tasmanians inspired to grab their opportunities and run with them to achieve bigger dreams. That is what an education can do. It can open doors and lead to opportunities we could only ever have dreamt of. It is in line with the same aspirational spirit that has been mentioned in other contexts within the Senate over the past few weeks.

So apologies to those who thought that they may have gotten some political mileage out of me changing my tune and supporting the Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (Student Loan Sustainability) Bill 2018, even though I recognise the government's intent to make a sustainable system. However, I'm not changing my position on this bill, which I am opposing for all Tasmanians and all Australians with my heart and my head. I am proud to be in a party that leads the way in supporting rural and regional students to get an education. The Nationals have systematically removed barriers for rural and regional students. The Nationals have been an instrumental part of a government that commissioned the independent Halsey review into rural, regional and remote education. We have delivered record funding, through Gonski 2, that will prioritise regional, rural and remote education. We have removed farms from the asset test for country kids, changed youth allowance to better support rural students to make sure the gap year is only 12 months and improved access to educational opportunities for regional students, especially those from low-income families. Thank you.