House debates

Monday, 20 August 2018


Higher Education

7:30 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | Hansard source

Last December, the Turnbull government wiped more than $2 billion of funding from Australia's universities. It was the Christmas present that nobody wanted and nobody asked for and it's forced universities to slash programs and turn potential students away. It's meant that an estimated 10,000 students will miss out on the chance to go to uni this year alone. Some of these Australians would have been the first in their family to go to university, but instead of supporting them the Liberals are locking them out of higher education. I cannot imagine how gutting it must be for students, some of whom have worked their entire lives to try to get a place at university, to get to that point and have the Turnbull government slam the door shut in the faces. For those who do make it to university, they are facing fewer resources, bigger class sizes and, frankly, a lower quality of education than they would have got had these institutions been properly funded. The thing that angers me so much about this cut is that we're slashing funding to our universities while giving big banks a $17 billion tax cut and giving the big businesses around this country an $80 billion tax cut.

I have thousands of students in my electorate of Hotham. Since the AEC has recently changed the electoral boundaries, I'm very excited that I'll be now representing Monash University in this chamber. I'm excited because this is a vibrant and incredible university, and one in which I was lucky to spend six long years studying my degrees. I loved studying at Monash. It was challenging and fun, and I was grateful to the dedicated teachers, tutors and other students who helped me get my education. It horrifies me to hear about how these drastic cuts to universities are going to affect the place at which I was lucky to get that standard of education.

What we know is, under the Turnbull government, Monash University will lose $108 million in funding, and that's part of more than $500 million—half a billion dollars!—that will be lost to universities around Victoria. I've spoken to students at Monash University so I can get a better understanding of how these cuts are affecting the quality of their education. What I've been told is that they're having their tutorials replaced with seminars of more than 40 people. We've had entire subjects that were once taught in person now being taught completely online. For those subjects that still have lectures in person, many are happening for just a few weeks of what is a 13-week-long semester. I want to take the opportunity tonight in the House to acknowledge some of the students who are fighting so hard for fairer funding for Monash University. They include Eleanor D'Ambrosio Scott, Briyda, Kiah and Connor.

These cuts are also hurting the staff, the incredible teachers, the tutors and the professionals who run and teach in these universities. Today's paper had a disturbing story about university workers who are being exploited and underpaid. I spoke with the NTEU secretary at Monash about how the Turnbull government's cuts will affect his members. Colin Long is his name. He told me that 70 per cent of the staff at the university are now on fixed-term or casual contracts. He described a crisis of workload pressure for teachers and teaching staff, coupled with a significant increase in insecure employment. I heard some distressing and disturbing things where teachers require time to do marking and to support their students but they're sometimes not being paid for that time, and that's because of the intense funding pressure that they have been put under by the government of the day.

I'm very worried about the funding cuts to universities because I'm concerned about the young people who are studying in those universities and because I know that our skilled population is our No. 1 asset as we face the challenges that confront us in the future. All the best research that we have tells us that, when we look down the path, something around nine in 10 of the jobs of the future will require young people to have a university or a TAFE qualification. We need to invest in education, not cut it further. If we want a strong and productive economy, we need to invest in education properly. Labor gets this. We have always understood this and we're going to fight for fair and accessible funding for our universities. When we were last in office, Labor nearly doubled university funding and we saw an additional 190 Australians get a place at university, many of whom were the first in their family to go to university. It's an extraordinary achievement and speaks to the intense and deeply-held commitment that the people on this side of the House have to making sure that our university sector trains our young people so they can embrace the jobs of the future and build a better nation.


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