House debates

Wednesday, 21 October 2020


Education Legislation Amendment (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020, Higher Education (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection Levy) Bill 2020; Second Reading

6:43 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to support the Education Legislation Amendment (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020 and the Higher Education (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection Levy) Bill 2020. In doing so, I stand up and support people in my electorate who want to go to their local satellite university campuses: in Nowra, the Shoalhaven campus; and also at Bateman's Bay. These are vital satellite campuses on our New South Wales South Coast. Of course we are talking about students, but we also need to acknowledge the entire university community that is so important to our local regional country communities. I am talking, obviously, about our students, our academics, our tutors, our administrative staff, our library staff, our hospitality staff, our ground staff and our security staff. You can see that there are so many people involved that are so important to our wider community.

In November last year the shadow minister for education and training wrote to the minister asking him to consider exactly these changes. Of course, Labor had voiced our concerns that the exclusion of domestic up-front fee paying students from the Tuition Protection Scheme would create a complex situation where different students have different rights and protections. It may have taken nearly 10 months, but I'm certainly pleased that the government has come around to legislating to tie up these loose ends. I certainly welcome the practical effect of the legislation to create simpler arrangements for students and processes for decision-making, student placement and loan recrediting.

While I welcome this tweak to the Tuition Protection Scheme we must consider this in the light of the Morrison government's attacks on Australia's higher education system. Many of these attacks will really hurt people in my electorate. It will also hurt the satellite campuses and the communities that the satellite campuses are part of. In my electorate, we will see the fees for arts courses more than double. Arts courses are very popular in my country satellite campuses. For our popular commerce courses, fees will go up by nearly one-third. And psychology degrees will cost $3,000 to $4,000 more for a three- to four-year degree. I'll talk more about that in a moment in the context of the bushfires and the many natural disasters that have hit my electorate.

If we look at the seat of Gilmore on the New South Wales South Coast, we have been severely impacted by, drought and then by the summer bushfires that went for many months. Amongst that, we also had three disaster-declared floods. That is massive. We went from drought to bushfires to disaster-declared floods, and then of course we had coronavirus on top of that. All of these events have had a massive impact on people in my electorate. While people are talking about coronavirus—and we absolutely have to—we've got thousands of people still going through bushfire recovery. These are the people that go to our local satellite university campuses. They are families that are impacted. It is a really big thing in my electorate.

As I said before, we've got the Shoalhaven campus and the Batemans Bay campus. The bushfires had a massive impact on those campuses. I probably don't need to explain that to everyone; we saw it on the national and international news. Bushfires completely surrounded Batemans Bay. It was an immensely scary time for people there, and I know that the staff at the Batemans Bay campus of the University of Wollongong did an absolutely amazing job of helping their students. Many of the staff there were themselves impacted by the bushfires, but what they did to help students and to help people get through was simply amazing. They took in and fed community members. They ensured that people had a place to rest and sleep. They coordinated logistics with staff and students. We've also got to remember that these were fires that went back to November of last year, where students were impacted. Staff were working around the clock trying to help students through that terrible time.

I want to thank the campus manager at Batemans Bay, Jamie, and Nicola, the learning development lecturer and admin. They were both recently recognised in the annual Vice-Chancellor's Awards at the University of Wollongong—and quite rightly so, given the support they gave to students, staff and people in the community. I also want to thank Professor Alison Jones, the University of Wollongong's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Health and Communities). Professor Alison Jones organised for groceries to be delivered to the Batemans Bay campus in the days after the fires, when staff were struggling to feed all the people they had taken in. They gave things like toiletries, groceries and batteries to students and to people in the community who either couldn't get home or had lost absolutely everything. I think it brings home how important our satellite campuses are in country areas not only for our students—to help them get ahead, to get a higher education—but also for our local community.

People in my area have gone through so many tough times. I can't emphasise that enough. It's been absolutely horrific. We need a higher education system that makes it easier for students to go to university, not more difficult, which this government is doing. We've had the cruellest year, particularly for our year 12 students that are sitting their HSC exams this week. It has just been absolutely horrific for them. I really want to wish them well. I particularly want to thank our teachers and school staff, who also interact with our university and TAFE system and are a solid part of our community.

In recent months I met with a number of students in my electorate and, with the Minister for Education, visited a fire impacted school. They were lucky that the whole school didn't burn down, but they were very, very impacted. Many of those senior students told me how the bushfires impacted them and how it impacted their families. Some of them lost their family homes. But what stuck in my mind was when students told me that they were really worried about their parents. They were worried about their parents because they'd lost their businesses during the bushfires. So this is really had an impact on our students. I guess my point is: Why would we want to make it harder for our students in country areas to go to university? Why would we want to do that? It just does not make sense. We should be making it easier for our young people and mature age people to go to university. Our young people and mature age workers will feel the brunt of the government's changes, and it's just not right.

I am very sad to say that, tragically in my electorate recently, we have lost many young lives to suicide. It's absolutely tragic and harrowing. But my community is banding together, determined to do absolutely everything possible to address this. It's not isolated to one particular area, but it does emphasise the quite complex mental health issues surrounding natural disasters. It highlights the issue of natural disasters in our country areas, but it also emphasises that we need to support our young people and our mature age people so they do have avenues to go to university. My concern with the changes that the government has implemented is that it will make it harder for people. It is not right to be making it harder for people to go to university.

If you look at my area, we have traditionally high youth unemployment and we have one of the lowest workforce participation rates in Australia. My electorate has quite a low income levels, of around $500 a week. That's quite low. So, just like the member for Lingiari was saying, young kids and mature age workers wanting to retrain need a local university campus so that they can retrain. It is absolutely vital for them. They can't hop on a bus. They can't hop on a train. There is no public transport for them. If they don't have a car and if they are on $40 a day, how do they do that? How do they travel an hour or two hours to get to the next campus, in Wollongong? We should be encouraging and helping more people, not fewer, to go to TAFE and university. If we want to help our young people and our mature age people, it is absolutely critical that we give them every opportunity we can to go to TAFE or to go to university.

In my electorate, we have a high Indigenous population. And I am really proud to say that our university campuses have wonderful programs and we have quite a high take-up of arts courses by Indigenous students. I think that is absolutely wonderful. My fear here is that these changes will hurt our Indigenous student population in particular, as well as women who are retraining. They are really going to hurt people. From our local university and TAFE campuses we've heard wonderful success stories of mature age students who have done arts courses and gone on to do other things as well, and who have got jobs. How can we say that we don't value that? We shouldn't be putting fees up like this; we should be encouraging more people to do arts courses to gain employment, create businesses and create employment. The reality is that higher fees for our arts and humanities subjects will unfairly disadvantage people, particularly women and our First Nations people.

Deputy Speaker, we're meant to be closing the gap, but this government's approach is just making it that much harder for people. It's really sad. It is absolutely not right. In Gilmore our young people are just scraping through to get to university. They've gone through the bushfires and they're going through coronavirus. Many have lost their part-time jobs. Many have lost their homes. Many are still living in still temporary accommodation while doing their HSC. This government is making it harder for them to go to university. That's not right; that's wrong. Arts course fees will more than double and commerce course fees will be hiked by a third. Psychology courses will be $3,000 to $4,000 dearer at a time when we need more people working in health. With what our whole country has gone through with coronavirus and the bushfires, we need more workers in psychology to help people through the recovery.

Both Shoalhaven and Batemans Bay campuses have been heavily impacted by the bushfires, but they are pivotal for local spending and local jobs. I see the staff who work in those satellite campuses everywhere in my community. They're volunteers with the local RFS; they have kids at the local school. We have to support our arts students, our humanities students. We have to support our local satellite campuses. The changes that the government has implemented will mean less funding for our satellite campuses. That is not what we need. We need more funding and more support for our satellite campuses. We've already seen the government exclude universities from JobKeeper. We've already heard the government say, 'We've got a hiring credit incentive but we're going to exclude people over the age of 35.' In my community the number of age pensioners is one of the highest in Australia. We have a high take-up of courses by mature age students. We should not be hurting those people.

Deputy Speaker, I was a TAFE teacher and a university tutor for a long time before I came to this place. I'm proud of that. But what I've seen happen to TAFE and university is very, very sad. We need to make sure that our TAFE and university sectors are funded properly. We need to make sure that there are pathways for our young people and our older people go through from school to TAFE and university at any stage of life, for whatever reason. We need to make sure that if people need to retrain they can do that. We need to make sure that our unis are funded properly—and that fees aren't hiked, as the government is doing—so we can encourage more people to go to university so that they can get ahead in life.


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