Tuesday, 26 August 2014
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Treasurer. Has the government decided whether it will legislate changes to age pension indexation before the next election, or is it actually the case that this legislation has already passed the House of Representatives?
It is funny that, isn't it? It is really quite interesting: the Labor Party feigns this sort of outrage. I do not think there is a single event that better summarises the Labor Party than the fact that they stood up here and promised surpluses that were never delivered. They even claimed that they had delivered surpluses. Of course, the member for Lilley was the one who was incredibly proud of a budget that delivered ongoing deficits as far as the eye could see.
My question is to the Minister for Education. Will the minister please outline how the government's higher education reforms will impact on university students? Minister, why are these reforms important to help repair the economy and create a strong Australia in uncertain times?
I thank the member for Ryan for her question. She will be pleased to know that the government 's higher education reform s are necessary to enable our universities to reach their full potential and compete with our Asian competitors. The recent Shanghai Jiao Tong index, which was released in the last two weeks, shows eight Australian universities in the top 200—the G8 universities. But it also shows six Chinese universities in the top 200, when five years ago there were no Chinese universities in the top 200. It exposes the fact that reform is vitally necessary if our universities are going to be able to compete with their Asian competitors.
The second aspect of the reforms are to spread opportunity by having the largest Commonwealth scholarships fund in Australian history; by allowing the demand-driven system to be expanded to students doing diplomas—typically, low-SES students and first generation university goers; and by expanding the Commonwealth Grant Scheme to non-university higher education providers—all expanding opportunity, all things that I would have thought the Labor Party would support.
We are asking students to lift their contribution to the cost of their education from the current 40 per cent to 50 per cent. That is all we are asking: to lift their current contribution from 40 per cent of the cost of their education to 50 per cent of the cost of their education, so that taxpayers are not paying the current 60 per cent, knowing that university students will go on to earn 75 per cent more on average than people without a university degree. The HECS-HELP scheme is available to every one of those students, which means that none of them will pay it up-front. That is not an insufferable debt burden; that is the best loan an Australian will ever get.
To respond to the second part of the member for Ryan's question, the reforms will also build a strong economy by helping to salvage our third-largest export industry. After iron ore and coal, education is our third-largest export. It recently surpassed gold. If we do not protect the international student market we will lose that $15-billion-a-year industry—already reduced from $19 billion to $15 billion by Labor. We need to repair it, salvage it and grow it. We need to match the skills of the graduates to the skills needed in the workforce, and we need to promote research that can be commercialised by giving more revenue to universities. The G8 universities and Warren Bebbington get this. They are putting out statements, they are visiting the parliament, urging the passage of the reform bill. I would ask the crossbenchers, Labor and the Greens to listen to them.
The reason we are putting in place and we want to put in place a policy that asks Australians to contribute one cent more for petrol is because we need to build the roads that make life easier for Australians. We need to build the infrastructure that helps to make the economy stronger. We are asking Australians to pay 40c a week in order to help us build the roads that are going to make the economy stronger—40c a week. I do not think that is—
Forty cents a week. The reason why we want to build this infrastructure is because there has been a very significant shift in the Australian economy. Mining and resources have helped to drive the strength of the Australian economy over the last decade. There is no doubt about that. That mining and resources activity, primarily in construction, is coming off in intensity and now we need to build up the other 90 per cent of the Australian economy that is not directly in mining and resources. That includes health and education and financial services, agricultural services, industry more generally, telecommunications and IT. We need to fill the infrastructure that is going to help to drive the remainder of the Australian economy, the great bulk of employment. Because, if we do not spend this money now on the infrastructure of the 21st century, unemployment will rise and our quality of life will deteriorate. The Labor Party does not get that, otherwise they would be dealing in reality rather than in the fantasy that somehow 'she'll be right'. 'She'll be right' is not a policy prescription for Australia's future. 'She'll be right' is not a policy for a political party. We have to earn our growth. We have to earn the jobs of the future. The only way to be able to do that is to pay along the way, to contribute along the way. That is the only way we are able to deal with the challenges—
Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have waited patiently. I just want to know one thing, Treasurer: do poor people have cars and do they drive them, and do you know what you are talking about?