Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Labor 2013-14 Budget Savings (Measures No. 2) Bill 2015; Second Reading
My Labor colleagues and I support two of the measures in the Labor 2013-14 Budget Savings (Measures No. 2) Bill 2015—the conversion of student start-up scholarships into income contingent loans, which will produce savings in the budget of $920 million, and the removal of the HECS-HELP up-front payment discount and the voluntary HELP repayment bonus, which will save the budget $200 million, a total of close to $1.1 billion worth of savings for the federal budget. However, my Labor colleagues and I are opposed to the efficiency dividend for higher education funding and the imposition of an interest charge on certain debts such as Abstudy and Austudy.
We are opposed to these savings measures because when Labor originally proposed them it was on the basis of fully funding the Gonski reforms—the Gonski better schools program. We all know that our education system is in need of more funding, particularly for students in need. The person who prepared this report and did this thorough study into our nation's education system was certainly no slouch. It was David Gonski, a well-respected businessmen, the Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, in my electorate, with a board of experts in the education field that included the likes of Kathryn Greiner. This was not a partisan committee, it was not a biased committee—it was a committee that was specifically looking at how we could improve educational outcomes, particularly relating to literacy and numeracy. They specifically recommended the introduction of a needs-based funding model. Instead of the old funding model with the battle between the state government systems, the private systems and the Catholic system that has plagued our education system in the past, all schools would get additional funding, particularly in respect of the needs of students who have a disability, are from a non-English speaking background, are from small schools, are from regional schools or have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background. Finally we were going to fund our education system based on the needs of the students. Over time funding on this basis would produce better literacy and numeracy results for students throughout the country. To fund the program Labor needed to divert funding in the federal budget, and we proposed this series of budget savings measures when we were in government in 2012 as a means of implementing that important and necessary reform to our education system.
We opposed the budget measures in this bill when they came before the parliament last year. The reason we opposed those measures was that, as I mentioned earlier, they were proposed by Labor on the basis of funding Gonski. We all know that the Abbott-Turnbull government has withdrawn funding for Gonski. They have ripped $28 billion out of the Commonwealth schools budget over the forward estimates—in particular the important funding for years five and six of Gonski. The original Gonski funding has gone into the budget, and in my electorate it is making a difference. I have seen at schools the additional funding for support for students with disabilities. Yet this government wants to cut back—it has cut back—that funding, importantly for years five and six of Gonski, in the federal budget. As I said, it is a $28 billion cut to schools in this country.
This says everything about the government's values when it comes to education in this country. That is why we oppose what is proposed with a couple of the measures in this bill—because they do not relate to funding the Gonski education years five and six proposal. Those measures purely relate to an ideological attack on education in this country, and I will not be supporting them. We do not support the introduction of an efficiency dividend into our higher education system. This is the proposal from this government to introduce $100,000 university degrees—effectively locking out kids from low socioeconomic and middle-income families. That is something that I do not support, and I have campaigned vigorously on behalf of my community to oppose that. I have to say that I am extremely proud that the new vice-chancellor of the University of New South Wales, Professor Ian Jacobs, has come out and opposed the introduction of $100,000 university degrees—the first leader of the Go8 universities throughout the country to do so. So full credit to Ian Jacobs for the leadership stance that he has taken. He is standing up for higher education in our community and in this country.
What this bill seeks to do in schedule 2 is to impose an efficiency dividend on universities in 2014-15. These are retrospective measures. Universities have already received these moneys. These savings were originally proposed for the purpose of funding Gonski, but, as I said, because this government is not investing in Gonski, we are opposed to them. The government walked away from that Better Schools plan and instead decided to cut $28 billion from the education budget. The coalition has a record of cutting higher education. They have sought to cut 20 per cent from universities as part of their delayed $100,000-degree plan. They have cut equity funding, research funding and science funding. I and my Labor colleagues will not be party to these education cuts. That is why I am opposed to that particular measure in this bill.
The other measure that we are opposed to is interest charges on certain debts. This would introduce certain charges on debts relating to Austudy payments, Fares Allowances, Youth Allowance payments to full-time students and apprentices, and ABSTUDY living allowances. Today we have a government that is intent on piling on debt for students who are seeking to get an education and, ultimately, make themselves more employable and get ahead in our society. This includes the $100,000 degrees that they are attempting to have students shoulder. This would only add to that burden. Again, on this basis, this particular measure is also opposed.
In conclusion: Labor has demonstrated by supporting two of the measures in this bill that we are keen to look at responsible savings measures and we are willing to support responsible savings measures in the federal budget, but those measures need to be fair and they need to be targeted to ensure that they do not affect the poor and middle-income families and people in our society. I mentioned earlier that there are means of raising additional revenue in the budget, particularly cracking down on multinational profit-shifting—the likes of big companies such as Google, Microsoft and others that make whopping big profits here in Australia and offer internal loans to other subsidiary companies, or cousin companies in other countries, as a means of avoiding tax in this country. If this government was serious about cracking down on that sort of thing then we would be able to raise additional revenue for the budget to fund some of these important programs, particularly the important education programs.
Labor is keen to see responsible savings made to the budget. Our support for two of the measures in this bill is proof of that and it adds to the already close to $30 billion worth of savings that Labor has agreed to in the budget. But not only will we agree to savings measures; we will also seek to raise additional revenue, particularly from large multinational companies and particularly by removing the massive tax concessions that were introduced by the former Treasurer, Peter Costello, that were unfunded in the budget. When you talk about a reckless approach to the budget and fiscal irresponsibility, look no further than what Peter Costello did in 2007 by introducing those massive high-end superannuation tax concessions that were unfunded in the budget. There was no means of funding them into the future—that is the record of the previous coalition government when it came to our budget. And that is one of the reasons why the budget is in such a parlous state at the moment and, unfortunately, under this government, is getting worse—and I note that Access Economics predict that the budget deficit is going to blow out to $38 billion. So not only have they doubled the deficit but they have added to it.
In conclusion, Labor will support responsible savings measures. We will support two of these measures in this bill. But we will not support the ideological attack on education which is contained in the other two measures that we are opposing.