House debates

Tuesday, 25 May 2021


Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Charges) Bill 2021, Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill 2021; Second Reading

12:20 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education) Share this | Hansard source

Maybe instead of trolling, he could actually fix the problems. Just to make clear that it wasn't an accident, the rules were changed three times to exclude our public universities from JobKeeper. The Prime Minister sat by and watched as thousands of Australians lost their jobs without raising a finger to help. He sat by and watched while hundreds of jobs were lost in cities like Armidale, Rockhampton and Geelong—jobs that those regional towns depend on—and he did nothing. We are talking about our fourth-largest export industry. It doesn't make any sense.

Why would you stand by while academics and tutors and admin staff and librarians and groundskeepers and maintenance crews lose their jobs in our cities and in our regional towns? It doesn't make any sense until you realise that this government has an ideological crusade against universities. They actually want a weaker university system. It's part of their crusade against universities, and collateral damage, those jobs lost in regional towns, apparently doesn't matter. Higher education is obviously important for those people who are working in our universities. It's obviously important for the students who are depending on a strong university system to get them the skills and qualifications they need to do the jobs that will provide them an income for the rest of their working lives. But it's also important for all of us, for our national prosperity, to have a strong university system. All of the evidence tells us the same thing, that the more skilled and educated our workforce is, the more prosperous we will be as a nation.

We've seen just how vital our universities are, particularly over the last year: epidemiologists, public health officials, nurses and doctors, not to mention the scientists and the vaccine researchers, who've made our return to normal possible. We've relied on trained Australians to get us through COVID-19, and we will rely on them to drive our economic recovery, and not just our recovery—not a snapback to how things were before—but a push to build back better.

Before the pandemic, we know that productivity was stagnant. We know that wages growth was stagnant. We know that as a nation we were struggling with business investment and economic growth. Worse still, labour productivity was going backwards for the first time in 25 years. We didn't have a thriving economy before COVID-19. It wasn't a country putting our best resources to use.

We know that one of the most effective ways of improving productivity is investing in education, and that's from early childhood education through to schools and TAFE and university. Investing in education is critically linked with improving our productivity as a nation. In 2015, research by the Deloitte Access Economics group placed the value of universities to Australia's productive capacity at $140 billion. At that time, Deloitte also estimated that we would need an extra 3.8 million university graduates by 2025.

We need those graduates across academic disciplines: science, education, engineering, medicine, the humanities and law, just like we need more highly skilled TAFE graduates. This government tries to pretend that we've got to make a choice between a strong, great, well-funded university system and a strong, great, well-funded TAFE system. We don't. This country needs both. If we're building a bridge, we need the engineer to design it and we need the concrete form worker and all of the other trades to build it. Our education system needs to see both technical and vocational education and university education working hand in hand for our national prosperity.

But that is not the government's agenda. In fact, the government decided in the middle of a recession to make it harder and more expensive for Australians to go to university. That's what their so-called job-ready graduates bill did. It's another typical 'name it and they will come' approach to legislation from this government—a typical exercise in marketing and spin. In this job-ready graduates bill that the government's trying to sell as somehow encouraging people to go into particular disciplines, what you find is, in fact, 40 per cent of students will have their fees increased to $14,500 a year—40 per cent of students. I particularly feel for those kids who were in lockdown trying to finish their school education by remote learning, with their hearts set on studying something at university. They'd been talking to their careers adviser since year 9 about what they wanted to study at university to help them get their dream jobs. Can you imagine what a kick in the guts it was for these young people—and their parents and everybody who loves them and supported them through that difficult year of COVID-19 when they were doing their final exams—to be told that the cost of the degree that they had their heart set on has more than doubled? That is what this government—


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