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

5:07 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Sydney has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Speaker Claydon, I will start by thanking you for relieving me in the chair so that I can make my speech in continuation from yesterday. As I said yesterday, we will not be opposing this bill, the Education Legislation Amendment (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020, and cognate legislation. We know that the shadow minister for education and training wrote to the Minister for Education asking him to consider exactly these changes. Even though we're supporting this bill, we do it in light of the bill that went through this place a couple of weeks ago that will be detrimental to higher education. For months we've been saying that, through this bill, the government has finally taken steps to do a range of things, but, at the same time, the implementation of the previous bill will be detrimental to higher education.

We know that the government will be making students pay more for their degrees and locking others out. There will be an Americanisation of our higher education system. The government refuses to provide enough extra places to meet an increase in demand. Even when the government is promising new places, they come without the funding to provide them, and there is no guarantee that the numbers will eventuate in practice. Some of the crossbenchers voted for the previous bill because they were promised extra places. But, to have those extra places, you need extra funding. It is impossible to get the extra university places without the funding for them. The effect of the legislation is to increase the student fee burden and to reduce Commonwealth funding of higher education. It just doesn't weigh up.

We know that the government has cut about $1 billion of Commonwealth funding from universities, and, with job prospects so weak right now, the choice for many people will be between waiting on the dole queue and getting an education. What a choice to have to face. Year 11 and year 12 students have persevered through incredible uncertainty this year. We've seen students all around the country in virtual classrooms, not knowing when they're going to go back to their schools, and the uncertainty that surrounds that, and what have we done? We've made it harder for them to get into university. They will have to weigh up the costs—what their parents can afford or what they can afford—to make that choice. What a terrible situation to be in if you have a thirst to learn, if you want to go to university to improve your education and to be able to participate and contribute to this nation. Those students are going to have to weigh up that choice at the age of 17 or 18. Their financial situation will determine whether they attend university. That's what the previous bill has done to the thousands and millions of students who are currently sitting their final-year exams at high school. They will be making that choice, and it's not a good choice. Education, including higher education, should be accessible for all, regardless of wealth, background or family situation. This is another burden on students. They've gone through so much this year, with COVID-19 and not knowing what their future will be, and now they're having to decide whether or not they can afford a higher education.

What's more, the government's university plan won't do what it promises. All sorts of experts have been scathing about how terrible the policy is. For example, the CEO of the Grattan Institute, Danielle Wood, has said: 'I honestly think it's one of the worst-designed policies that I've ever seen. Even if you accept its stated rationale, it doesn't go anywhere near achieving it.' When you look at the detail, you find that, in the academic areas the government wants to encourage, universities will receive less money to teach students. As I said earlier, it just does not add up. Under changes that have gone through this place, universities will receive 32 per cent less to teach medical scientists, 17 per cent less to teach maths students, 16 per cent less to teach engineers, 15 per cent less to teach clinical psychologists, 10 per cent less to teach agricultural students and eight per cent less to teach nurses. You don't have to be a rocket scientist or a genius to guess where this is headed. When you cut money that supports engineering and science courses, you're either going to get worse courses or you're going to get fewer scientists and engineers. Given the environment we're in today, we want to create cutting-edge jobs. We want to be at the cutting edge of technology. To do that, we have to build the foundations. And where are those foundations? They're in our education. They're in the teaching we provide in higher education. You can't talk about high-tech jobs, cutting-edge technology and being a leading nation in this sphere and then not put the money where it has to go so we can get students to study these courses.

I've got to say it's not just the science and engineering courses that will suffer. It's also the humanities, of course, and the arts. There are a whole range of areas where it will be costlier at university now to do those courses, those degrees. There is no evidence that a humanities degree won't get you employment when you finish. In fact, in some of the stats I was looking at, humanities is way up there with engineering and other courses. But, then again, it's not just about landing a job once you finish university. It's about the intellect of the nation. It's about who we are. We're a thinking nation. Every course at a university, whether it be philosophy, the arts, politics or humanities, makes the person studying it a thinker. That's what we need in this nation, thinkers who can do the best that they can for the future of this country.

Another area that's going to be badly damaged by these changes is languages. We already lag behind much of the world for students learning a second language or studying languages at university. We've got one of the lowest rates in the world for languages. I was talking to some academics who teach at Flinders University and Adelaide university, and they both said that languages will be decimated under the government's changes. The changes are going to have a catastrophic impact on language studies. They will also mean that only the well-off kids or other people who can afford it will do those courses and learn a second language. As we said, there'll be cuts to science and technology, but also the humanities. This will be catastrophic for languages. The proposed changes to university fees are going to cripple languages further in Australia. They've been raised by different community groups who consider community languages an important part of linkage to other countries, but it's also an important part for us, because we can utilise these languages and these cultures to be able to further our exports and imports and the business that we do overseas. Languages will be crippled. They've already been cut to the bone in most universities if not eliminated completely.

We need a government that values education, that values learning, that produces Australians that are thinking, whether it be in humanities, engineering, sciences and the cutting edge technologies. We need to improve in this area.

5:17 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also would like to make a contribution to this cognate debate on the upfront payments tuition protection levy bills. I should be clear that, ultimately, we will be supporting the passage of these bills, but we need to consider the amendment that has been moved by the member for Sydney. Essentially, the measures contained in the bills are sensible measures. They are sensible measures that go to safeguarding the integrity and reputation of the Australian education system, particularly to protecting vulnerable students. In essence, these bills extend the tuition protection scheme, which, by the way, was an initiative of the Gillard government, to ensure that domestic upfront-fee-paying students are protected in the event that a provider, course or campus is closed.

The member for Sydney, our shadow minister for education, wrote to the minister seeking to do just what's provided for in the bills before us. It is a matter that needs to be developed, but that was some 10 months ago. So it took this government 10 months, travelling at slightly less than warp speed, to bring forward this legislation on something they knew was going to be agreed to and was going to be positive and well received. Labor had voiced its concern with regard to the exclusion of domestic upfront-fee-paying students from the TPS, noting that it would create a complex situation where different students had different rights and were subject to different protections. It may have taken the government 10 months, but we're pleased the government has come around to addressing these deficiencies in the scheme, and we support them in respect of dealing with that.

We welcome this tweaking of the TPS. However, this legislation must be considered in the context of the Liberal government's broader inaction when it comes to education. That actually brings me to the member for Sydney's amendment and to consider, in a broader context, what this government has done, particularly in slicing billions of dollars from university education, which is bad for the economy, bad for our labour market and imposes massive debts on people seeking a higher education. It is retrospective of what this government should be doing with the state of our economy as it is at the moment. We're not about to let the government get away with a relentless attack on the university sector and higher education without making some comments in respect of that.

For months now, we've grappled with the significant impacts of the coronavirus. I think it's fair to say that there's been bipartisan support in that respect. We support the government's effort in doing everything that they can in protecting our communities. However, remember from the time of the initiatives to address the pandemic what's occurred when it comes to issues about the universities sector. We were the ones that requested the government step in and help to support universities in their efforts to save jobs. Since then the simple fact is that more than 12,000 jobs have been lost across the sector, with the prediction that thousands are to go by the end of this year. The Prime Minister's done really nothing to stop these job losses in what is our fourth-biggest export sector. The Prime Minister's shown little interest in protecting the livelihoods of the thousands of university staff losing their jobs or the communities that depend on their work. Rather, the federal government's gone out of its way to ensure that the public university sector was excluded from JobKeeper.

Oddly enough, having said that, that doesn't apply to the private tertiary higher education sector and certainly not to some of the foreign universities operating in this country who were successful in getting JobKeeper to maintain their staff. It was our public institutions—the ones that, by and large, service our community—that lost out. With the jobs that went, we're talking about not just academics, tutors, administrative staff, library staff, caterers, cleaners and security but all the families that depend upon that work. They are trying to make ends meet, clearly, and most of them are also facing pretty trying times. What we see is many of these institutions having to cut the very staff which underpin their academic excellence.

We as a nation are relying on our brilliant universities and their researchers now to help find a vaccine for COVID-19. But while we rely on them to do that we're not actually giving them assistance by guaranteeing their jobs. We are doing the exact opposite. This is hypocrisy in the extreme. Only recently—as a matter of fact, it was only this week; things have progressed, it seems—the government introduced the job-ready graduates bill. Put simply, it was going to make it harder and more expensive for Australians to go to university. Not only did the government introduce the bill; they gagged debate and they rammed it through. It would put a university education beyond the reach of many in this country and certainly beyond the reach of many in my community that I represent in Fowler.

I'm not sure, but I think most here have probably heard me describe in the past how colourful and vibrant my community is. As you're aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, I do have many new arrivals to this country and I do receive probably the majority of refugees coming into this country. Interestingly, a lot of the new Australians and particularly the refugees see education as the ticket to success in a society like Australia. They see it as a pathway from dependency to success. They see it as a pathway for moving away from what they see as disadvantage requiring support to being able to make a success of their lives; hence why many of our migrants and particularly young children from refugee families do very well in our community, particularly using the resources of tertiary education.

What the government has done earlier this week is going to make it very hard for people in my community, for those families. Students will on average pay seven per cent more for their studies. Around 40 per cent will have their fees increased by $14½ thousand a year, almost doubling the costs for many. Students studying law, accounting, administration, economics, commerce and humanities will all pay more for their degrees. We're talking about up to $58,000 degrees. It understandably will be a disincentive for young people, for the predominantly working-class families that I represent in my community. It will make it very hard for younger people to make decisions about getting a university education. And think about this: given the amount of job losses we have—and we know there are more than a million people out of work, and this mob opposite keeps saying they're here to help reskill and retrain people—how is it going to be easier for older people to reskill, to increase their knowledge base and to become job ready? This puts it beyond their capacity to do that, to make a decision, particularly where they're supporting a family. It's indicative of what this government has been doing for some time.

I just find it strange. Not now but when I look around this place at question time, this room is full, and I would think there are probably less than a handful of people in this room that haven't had the benefit of going to university. And yet this is the very place that is now moving to put it beyond the reach of so many other families. Isn't that hypocrisy? We should be making it easier for people to get a university education, because it's not just what it does for them and for their communities; it's what it does for our nation. For every dollar you invest in education, it's an absolute investment in the future prosperity of our country.

You would think that, in the middle of this Morrison recession, you would start thinking about the pathways out of the recession and that one of those would be to actually encourage the use of our academic institutions to plan that way forward. And yet we are doing, as this government has committed to doing, the absolute opposite.

I don't know why we should be all that surprised about it. When you think about it, you see that they have for some time now made it harder not only for students but for the academic institutions themselves. This government has a track record when it comes to university funding. They are the ones that cut $16 billion, effectively, as a result of our international students. We know that there was a $2.2 billion funding cut by the government. Our universities are actually doing it very tough at the moment, and yet the expectations that they will produce the expertise that we want for the future still ride high in the minds of our communities. That's why we've got to hold this government to account and why we can't let the government fill everyday Australians' thinking with the idea that the government really cares about a higher education. Those of us who are here saw what happened under Tony Abbott, under Malcolm Turnbull and now under Prime Minister Morrison. They were relentless in their attacks on universities. They're the ones that did take $2.2 billion from the funding. By the way, they are the same ones who attacked the funding of our TAFE colleges and vocational education. Since the election of a Liberal government in 2013, university students have been under constant attack with cuts. We've seen fee deregulation, or attempts at it, and the uncertainty the government has instilled not only for students but for the university administrators themselves. In a 2017 MYEFO decision, the government cut billions of dollars from universities and recapped undergraduate places. There were also the changes to the Higher Education Loan Program. This was reckless and it was unfair.

Of course, we don't expect those opposite to really understand the impact of these excessive cuts to education. They are the ones that took $3 billion from TAFE. They underpaid the schools system by $17 billion, even though they went to an election saying there would not be $1 of difference between Liberal and Labor. When it comes to making cuts, it seems that the government sees education as a political plaything that they can use and abuse to prop up a budget bottom line. In the middle of a pandemic, we need to be planning our way forward, not looking back. And the way forward is to invest in education and give young people the break they need to do what they can to increase their skills and knowledge so they can play a significant role in the future of this country. I would ask those opposite to consider this, and not simply on the basis of this bill. As I said, ultimately we will support the passage of this bill, but we support protecting education. (Time expired)

5:32 pm

Photo of Madeleine KingMadeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Education Legislation Amendment (Up-Front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020 and the Higher Education (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection Levy) Bill 2020. As my colleagues have said, Labor will not be opposing the bills before the House. It took a while, a good 10 months, but the government has finally got there. Last year my colleague the member for Sydney and shadow minister for education and training wrote to the education minister asking him to consider the changes that have subsequently appeared in the current legislation. Labor originally 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. So it is good to see that the government has come around to this fact and tightened up the loose ends. It's quite remarkable how tidy the government can be with practical legislation like this that actually addresses a problem but how hasty they can be when it comes to ideological legislation designed to destroy the higher education sector in this country.

Labor welcomes this practical legislation that allows similar arrangements for students and processes for decision-making, student placement and loan recrediting. While reform like this, on the fringes of a sector, is not to be sneezed at, we have to look at this reform in the greater context of the government's failure to address the needs of the higher education system and its persistent cuts and attacks against students, researchers and all workers across the higher education sector. I had hoped to speak last month on the government's Job-ready Graduates Package and associated legislation, but the government gagged debate in the House of Representatives to shuffle these retrograde reforms through. Again, they can be very quick with ideologically based legislation, but they have waited nearly a year to deal with practical matters such as we are dealing with today.

Labor opposed that appalling package. We sought for it to go to a Senate inquiry so the sector that provides our largest services export industry might actually be consulted. Instead, this $37 billion-a-year industry got a six-day farce masking as a consultation. The higher education industry knows that this government ignores the terrible truth: this government does not understand the immense ramifications of its awful legislation.

We've heard recently of the hastily stitched-up deal between the government, the member for Mayo and Centre Alliance to ram those reforms through the parliament. The decision by these members has been widely condemned on all sides and represents another backwards step for the higher education sector. Frankly, such blinkered deals that single out particular unis and particular places to the detriment of others are a detriment to the whole national higher education system and are clearly not in the national interest. In reality it's just the latest in a long line of attacks from the government against universities, their communities, their workers and their students.

Once again Labor is in a position where we have to defend the university sector. We should haven't to defend the higher education sector. Every single student attending campuses in person or online across the country, every researcher and research assistant, every cleaner and every maintenance worker at a uni has now been put in a place where they have to be defended, because it's clear that after more than seven years this government refuses to support the higher education sector and does not care for anyone who works there.

The people of Australia should know exactly what this Liberal-National government thinks of the university sector in this country. They have made $2.2 billion worth of cuts in the last seven years. They deliberately excluded the entire university sector from the JobKeeper scheme, designed to help working people through the economic crisis—the Morrison recession—that we are now living through. We will continue to live through the Morrison recession for some time to come—deliberately. The Liberals and Nationals went out of their way to ensure the 130,000 people employed by universities and the 14,000 people unis employ in the regions are left behind. It was a deliberate move. They did it on purpose. It is cruel.

What exactly is the result of this mean and cruel decision by the Liberal and National government? The Liberals have thing about universities. They think it is only academics and researchers that work there who may not agree with them and students that attend, and so because of this they devalue these very important jobs. But who else works at universities? There are library workers, cleaners, security guards, parking officers—arguably the hardest workers on campus. They put up with a lot. There are catering staff, cooks, food servers, coffee makers, bookshop and other retail workers, bookkeepers, administrative assistants, student support workers, medical workers—nurses, doctors—maintenance workers, carpenters, air conditioner maintenance workers, electricians, tradies. All these workers are rejected, left behind by this Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, education minister, Dan Tehan, and this Liberal-National government during the COVID crisis. Why are these tradies and workers left behind by this government? Simply put it's because they got a job at a university. Tradies work at universities. Having worked at a university for over a decade myself, I would say that tradies are the backbone of the extraordinary workforce that keeps these remarkable institutions going, but this nasty and mean government does not care about them.

In fact, my brother-in-law Matthew King works at the Australian National University, or he used to. With his permission, I will tell you his story today. Matthew worked for 26 years as an electrician and a heating ventilation and air conditioning worker in the university sector. He worked for 17 years at ANU in the research school of biology designing and maintaining electrical and refrigeration equipment for use in research in plant science. Plant science is the very science behind Australia's agriculture industry. That's the kind of work tradies at universities do: valuable trades work supporting Australia's premier research university.

That contribution is now at an end, as Matthew was made redundant by ANU as part of the staff downsizing in response to the COVID-triggered financial crisis, and because, as a tradie at a university this Liberal-National government decided that he and his job as a tradie was not worthy of JobKeeper. Matthew King is nearly 62. Undoubtedly he is unlikely to ever work in his trade again. That is shameful. He's not the only tradie who has lost his job because of this government—3,000 jobs in universities have been lost. Universities Australia predict a further 21,000 job losses over the coming years. These are the workers this Liberal-National government have left behind. They're real people with lives. They're real people with families and mortgages, just like everyone else. But somehow they are worth less because they work at a university. How does it come to this? How does this happen? It happens because of a Liberal-National ideological, pathological, unreasonable objection to the whole university sector.

It's people like Matthew King and his family who pay the price. So I pay tribute to Matthew—a true gentleman and family member, as I mentioned. He's represented workers, like himself at ANU, on the council of the university, and he's part of the National Tertiary Education Union. He has been forced to retire by this government and, of course, I wish him and Julie the very best and thank them for all their support, but it shouldn't have been that way. He should have been able to choose when he retired, rather than being forced to retire as part of the ANU package that was forced upon them by a government that devalues the work of all those in the university sector, including the tradies. They're the very tradies that they trump to be their very people and who they say they protect. They're the tradies they say they relied on to win the election. They're the tradies they quite clearly betray because they work in a certain sector.

It's been clear since this government came to power that they are unable and clearly unwilling to understand the sector's real needs. They refuse to listen. The sector has called for funding reform, but mostly the sector just needs to be properly funded. There are significant flow-on effects from continually defunding the university sector, and that issue speaks to the wider Australian economy and the value of our education sector as both an import and export market for Australia's key trading partners. I recently read a piece in The Australianexplaining the critical need to further diversify our economy out of raw mineral extraction, which is extraordinarily important to the economy. We need to look at other areas of diversification.

We cannot snap our fingers and find replacements for the huge markets we have, but we must make an effort. Instead, we have a government that appears blind to the challenge of diversifying Australia's trading economy. Take, for example, our languishing economic partnership and relationship with India. India's share of Australia's merchandise exports has fallen below two per cent. That's the lowest level in 17 years. How would we improve this? Imagine there was a road map. Well, it turns out there is. In 2018 the former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Varghese completed an impressive 500-page report that found no single market across the next 20 years offered Australia more opportunities than India. That report offered many opportunities in areas such as agriculture, energy, resources, tourism, health care, financial services, infrastructure, science, sport and, critically, education. The Prime Minister announced in principle support for Varghese's recommendations. Two years later the government has delivered remarkably little and has failed the industry Varghese identified as the cornerstone of the future Indian-Australian economic relationship—higher education. Hawke and Howard, as prime ministers of this country, fought for the development of export industries, such as iron ore and LNG, this government has gone out of its way to cut down the higher education industry that could underpin a game-changing relationship with India. Blocking Australian workers at universities from accessing JobKeeper and failing to help international students trapped in Australia during the pandemic will reverberate for years to come. If we don't fix this now, it's not clear if this government will ever be serious about building stronger economic relationships with India and the nations of South-East Asia, particularly Indonesia and Vietnam.

In every recent discussion about higher education it's clear that students are always the most vulnerable and most impacted by this government. No matter what the issue, they are the last to be consulted and considered. The sector is due to face an overall cut in funding of over almost $1 billion a year, dropping funding per student by nearly six per cent. We're $1 trillion in debt—that's a million million dollars—and you also cut funding to the university sector of $1 billion a year.

Under the reforms of this government, while some students may pay less many will pay more. Crucially, every single student will receive less government funding to aid in their education that will be of benefit to the nation. So this cut to the place of every single student could be added to the legacy of this Liberal government's $2.2 billion cuts already made to university funding on top of the $16 billion of projected revenue drop due to the loss of international students because of COVID restrictions. This is an unacceptable situation. It doesn't bode well for the future of higher education in this country. It doesn't bode well for the future of students that wish to study at universities. It certainly doesn't bode well for the future of research and science in this country. Universities are under significant pressure already from a range of factors and the government now adds to this with their retrograde steps.

The recent packages put forward by the government have some of the largest structural changes in core funding for university research in 20 years, but there is no plan by the government to cover base research costs. It's a difficult situation for unis where, if they're successful in attaining external research grant funding, which the government wants and which we all want, they must cover the financial gap in delivering that research. This gap is widely known and understood as part of the funding system and has been acknowledged for many years as a significant problem, but under measures by this government it is still the case that, the more successful a university is in gaining these, the greater the financial burden is in completing the associated research. One might think there might be less research done if universities are unable to pay for the maintenance that people like Matthew King used to do, in plant science at ANU, to repair all the scientific based fridges and air conditioning systems that keep experiments going, to help an agriculture industry that, quite frankly, couldn't have got going in this country without science, and couldn't have kept going. If we think about the work that was done in Western Australia to keep sheep alive, combatted against the Denmark wasting disease of the thirties, without the work of the University of Western Australia, agriculture in Western Australia might not exist. It's very real. It's a very well problem.

5:47 pm

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

The Education Legislation Amendment (Up-Front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020 is all well and good, but the substantive matter remains that the tertiary sector is genuinely in dire straits, and the government's latest changes are going to make things a whole lot worse. To be fair to the government, the budget did include a billion dollars for research funding. But, to be honest, this is going to be a one-off sugar hit, and it will do little to offset the $7.2 billion in research funding that will be lost as a direct as a result of the much reduced international student income.

The budget failed to address the dramatic effect of the pandemic on universities, which, according to the NTEU's estimates, is causing the loss of 12,000 jobs in the sector and $3 billion in revenue. In that context, it beggars belief that JobSeeker was not extended to the tertiary sector—just as it beggars belief that it wasn't extended to other sectors such as local government. Now the tertiary sector has got to deal with the government's dreadful changes in the Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill 2020, which will decrease funding in real terms to the tertiary sector by another billion dollars a year. I would associate myself with the comment by the member of Brand. One of the reasons I need to address some of these matters this evening is because of the dreadful decision by the federal government in the previous sitting to gag debate on that bill—a bill that was of nation-changing significance. Many of us were queued up to contribute to the debate. It was very, very disappointing that the government that week gagged debate and disallowed so many of us to make a contribution. It is lamentable that Centre Alliance backed those changes, in particular in the Senate, and I commend my Tasmanian colleague Senator Lambie for fighting the good fight as much as she could in the Senate to block those dreadful changes.

Let's not forget that the government's Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-Ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill, now act, effectively reduced the overall government contribution to degrees from 58 per cent to 52 per cent, and raised student contributions from 42 per cent to 48 per cent. And who is it going to impact most? We talk about humanities students and so on, but let's drill down a bit. It's going to affect women the most. The fee restructuring will impact women more greatly than men because the fees that will be increased are for courses that are more commonly studied by women. Indeed, on average, women will have their fees increased by nine per cent in comparison to men. Who else will it impact the most? It's going to affect Indigenous Australians. Because of the disciplines that Indigenous Australians currently study and work in, it's estimated that they will, on average, be paying 19 per cent more than non-Indigenous students.

And of course it's going to impact younger people. Perhaps no-one is more negatively affected by the government's so-called reforms than young people. Let's not forget that youth unemployment at the moment is at a 23-year high of 16 per cent. Many young people will be finishing school in a matter of weeks, after they finish their exams. I notice New South Wales students just started their HSC examinations. When the tertiary landscape is so difficult, what hope is there for those who want to study humanities and hone their critical thinking skills and competencies, at a time when this country needs them the most? These so-called reforms will also have a dreadful effect on regional universities and students, and it will be a significant impact. Characteristically, regional universities offer a greater proportion of courses that will have their funding effectively cut under this bill than their metropolitan counterparts.

The government's position is deeply misguided. Education should be celebrated and reinforced and funded properly. We need to understand that knowledge and education have an inherent value both to the people who enjoy it and to the country as a whole. Let's not forget that, the more educated the people in our community are, the more employable they are, the healthier they are and the happier they are. This country cannot rely indefinitely on our fabulous rural sector and our amazing mineral and other resources. We've ridden on the sheep's back, and on the mining sector—the fact that we are the world's No. 1 coal and iron ore exporter, and I think we're No. 1 or No. 2 for LNG. But we can't rely on that forever. We have to realise that our future lies in being a smarter country, so we should be doing everything we can to make this country smarter.

I have long advocated that the first degree for Australian citizens should be free. We should return to what Gough Whitlam's government introduced in the early 1970s. That was a fabulous reform, and the fact that it was wound back was very disappointing. We should be investing in all areas of education. We should properly fund early childhood education. It's not child care. It's early childhood education, and countries that treat it as such and invest in it as such are rewarded. We should fund our primary schools better, we should fund our high schools better, we should fund our colleges better, we should fund our vocational education and training and TAFEs better and we should fund our universities better.

Can we afford it? Of course we can. And it's not a case of 'you're an independent, you're up there on the crossbench, you don't have to worry about the Treasury'. The fact is that we are a fabulously wealthy country. I think we have the 11th biggest economy, measured by GDP. We're the second wealthiest, second only to the Swiss, when it comes to our median wealth per adult. I'll say that again, because I don't know that a lot of people, including in this place, understand that. As measured by median wealth per adult, we are the second-richest people on the planet. How is it that at a time when the government is growing our federal government debt to a trillion-plus dollars, taking debt to that level to get through the pandemic—with my full support, I would add; we need to be spending that sort of money—it is not addressing fundamental issues like properly funding education in this country? I think it is lamentable.

We had a budget the other week. Sure, it was a business budget and, sure, it was fabulous for middle-earners who've got a job to get a tax cut. But what a missed opportunity it was to fix so many of the enduring problems in this country. What a missed opportunity to solve our housing crisis, what a missed opportunity to lift government pensions and payments up to a level that people can live on with dignity, what a missed opportunity for the Treasurer to say, 'Okay, we can't give you an exact figure for unemployment benefits after Christmas, because we don't know what the economy will look like, but we make an in-principle, ironclad promise that unemployment benefits won't fall below the poverty line and certainly won't be reduced from the current JobSeeker rate.' What a missed opportunity it was to fund our public health system to provide universal free health care for every Australian; to restore our public health system to what it once was: the genuine envy of the world. What a missed opportunity it was to properly fund education at every level. In that budget so many opportunities to make this a fairer country were missed. We cannot build our future on jobs and growth and tax cuts for big business. Sure, we need to do those things, but we also need to fund everything else that this country needs, and there is no better time than right now when there is a justifiable preparedness to grow our debt to such high levels.

The bill we are discussing here tonight is all well and good, but really it's just a bit of theatre when you think of the context, the real issue here, and that is the desperate need to properly fund the tertiary sector. It's vitally important to this country. It's vitally important that we understand that education, knowledge and training have an inherent value. Education does make the community more employable; it does make the community healthier and happier. It will make this country more prosperous. Maybe we can go from being the second-wealthiest people on the planet to being the wealthiest people on the planet. We certainly won't ever be the wealthiest people on the planet if we continue to rely on our agricultural production and our mines. It's not a case of chopping it down and digging it up; it's a case of getting everyone into the classroom and making them smarter, and realising the potential that this country genuinely has.

The bill before us tonight does have my support, but I condemn the government's position on tertiary education overall. I've condemned it for a long time and I'll continue to condemn it until the government changes policy and turns this country around.

5:58 pm

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

I speak in support of the amendment moved by the member for Sydney in relation to this legislation. This legislation is quite fine in itself. The operations of the Tuition Protection Service are, of course, funded by education providers through a levy. It's interesting to note that from 2012-13 to 2018-19 the Tuition Protection Service responded to 62 closures—62 providers of tertiary assistance that closed in that period. Obviously, the Tuition Protection Service then impacted to the benefit of 9,215 students. So a levy is necessary.

The bill before the chamber, the Education Legislation Amendment (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020, comes as a result of advocacy by the member for Sydney and with the support of a number of key stakeholders, including the Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia, Independent Higher Education Australia and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, who've supported the concept of universal coverage. So the legislation has some key backers as well.

We're pleased the government has listened to our entreaties. It's taken them a long time to do it, but this particular legislation expands Australia's Tuition Protection Service to make sure that domestic higher education students are covered. It makes sure that those people who pay their study costs upfront are covered by the Tuition Protection Service. It makes sure that, if something happens to their provider, new arrangements are set in place and they can complete their study at a similar educational provider. So this legislation has worthy benefits. It is in the best interests of all domestic fee-paying students that we have universal coverage here.

But it is the amendments that I really want to talk about. I sometimes think that, in Australia—unlike in other countries, where the division between the political parties is often on the basis of, say, race, religion or culture—the division between political parties has often been of an industrial nature. Labor has been often seen as the party of the worker, because our background is as the party of the trade union movement, and that's where we come from. Those opposite have had their various iterations, whether as the United Australia Party, back in the days before World War II, or the Nationals party, or the Liberal Party, or the Protectionist Party, or whatever they used to call themselves in the prelude before the Liberals, or even the Liberal National Party of Queensland—they've called themselves many things. We've called ourselves the same thing since about 1892. That division has been on industrial relations.

But when I see the government's attitude to higher education, I start to think that the real division in Australia is not just about industrial relations; it's on attitudes to higher education. It's as if kids from working-class backgrounds—like me, for example, and others on this side of the chamber—are to be denied the avenue for their aspiration to go to university.

I come from a pretty working-class background. My dad was a cleaner in the meatworks and my mum was a shop assistant. Neither of my parents went to high school, nor did their parents go to high school, nor did their parents go to high school. So it was a pretty big thing, going to high school. And the idea of me going to university and doing a law degree and an arts degree at the University of Queensland was a pretty remarkable thing in my family's life. My two younger brothers went on to university. One's a successful physiotherapist with a very big practice west of Brisbane, and the other got a doctorate of education and has been the school principal for many of the biggest high schools in South-East Queensland and is now in head office. But, without a Labor government and the opportunities a Labor government provided, those higher education opportunities wouldn't have been there.

Now, when I read legislation like the previous legislation, the policy of the current government on higher education, with the cuts that they've inflicted, with the idea that somehow higher education is not for people who come from my background, I'm in despair, because that's not the Australia that I believe we should have. The Australia that I believe in is an Australia for all Australians, where there is social justice, equality of opportunity and a fair go for every Australian kid, whether they live in Boonah, Kingaroy, Ipswich, Townsville, Cairns or wherever—it doesn't matter. That's why I reckon that every young person should have the aspiration and, if they've got the skill and talent and ability and they're prepared to work hard, they should have the opportunity to go to a TAFE or a university.

When I look at the current government's policies in this space, I see that what they're doing seems to be motivated by ideology. There's a class aspect in their attitude to higher education, which I simply reject and think is just wrong. I remember the last government, led by John Howard, where Work Choices was their industrial relations obsession, and I referred to industrial relations earlier. What this government did under John Howard was to try to inflict on the higher education sector the idea that, if a university didn't sign up to their workplace agreements—which, in fact, brought in Work Choices—that particular university would have its funding cut. It took the election of a Labor government to overturn that. And I see in the policy of this government the same sort of thinking, the same mentality. Law, the arts, humanities and certain degrees are not valued.

Ministers in this government, including the Prime Minister, are very happy to go to a university research centre—and I commend the fact that in the budget they put a bit more money into funding for research; that's a good thing, but they don't back it up in what they do. They forget that the university sector is one of the biggest sectors and the biggest export industries in the country. It's the fourth-biggest, after gas, coal and iron ore. But in some states it's even more important. For example, I read a report by Deloitte—I think it's Aaron Hill who runs Deloitte in South Australia; I had a meeting with him a couple of years ago—which showed that, in South Australia, the biggest industry after the mining sector was in fact the higher education sector. But that's the case even in my home state and your home state, Deputy Speaker Wallace, of Queensland, where we've got lots of iron ore and gas and coal. We export all of it; the resources sector underpins the Queensland economy. When I look at the Liberals' attitude on this issue, it's almost as if they forget that, in a country of 25.5 million, there are 1.6 million people who attend our universities. Over a million Australians attend higher education at university, and they study all manner of things, from science to physiotherapy to the arts. All forms of education, I think, are beneficial for the individual. You never know what you could do with that degree, and what you learn can be useful for your life skills, your vocational future and your financial security.

But I look at what the government is doing, making students pay much more for their degrees, and I think about how poor we will become as a country and how sad it will be for working-class boys and girls who aspire to better things. Jacking up the prices means locking out students. If my two younger brothers and I had gone to our parents and said we were going to go to university and study the courses we did, at these sorts of costs, I'm not sure how my mum and my dad would have reacted. We were from a working-class background and, with the substance abuse and the gambling and alcohol issues that my father suffered from, we were pretty poor, even by Australian standards. The idea that we could go to university was just amazing.

These things that the government is doing are blocking kids from even thinking about going to university. They're putting barriers in place. We had a review by Bradley some time ago, the Review of Australian higher education, which said that we wanted our universities to achieve the Bradley target of getting kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds into university. I love it when I go to universities, like the University of Southern Queensland in my electorate, in Ipswich and Springfield—it also has a campus up in Toowoomba—and I see students from poor backgrounds, from tough backgrounds, getting an opportunity to go to university. When I speak to people like the vice-chancellor Geraldine Mackenzie and I see kids from the country areas of my electorate, and yours, Member for Wright, getting an opportunity to go to university, I think: this is a great country. Don't put the barriers in place. Don't jack up the fees. Don't cut the funding. Make it easier to go to university. Don't to what this government is doing. This government is making so many students pay more for their degrees, locking people out altogether and putting financial barriers in place.

About one in three young people are unemployed. We've just had Anti-Poverty Week. I can hardly say we celebrated it, but we talked about it. We talked about it locally, amongst the social welfare groups and organisations in my area. One in three young people are unemployed and locked out, and there are others who are underemployed. I don't want to see the figures that show in my area about 6½ thousand people on what we used to call unemployment benefits left behind. We've got 160,000 Australians expected to lose their jobs between now and Christmas, and areas like mine are pretty hard hit. I've said that, whether it's the Food Barn at Ipswich, Cityhope Church, Tivoli Miracle Centre or the Vedanta Centre at Springfield, they're all explaining to me big increases in activity and people going to their organisations, seeking more food and more assistance with household supplies. I don't want to see that in my community. I don't want to see those young people locked out of their dream to get a good job. And the university sector and tertiary education are really important to getting that good job.

When 40 per cent of the students in university are going to have their fees increased to $14½ thousand a year—double the cost for thousands; that's what the government's doing—it means that people studying humanities, commerce, law and communications will all pay so much more. Cutting $1 billion from the university sector is simply a retrograde step. How can that increase productivity? How can it increase and improve people's financial security? It can't. This is also about 14,000 jobs in the university sector. There are 260,000 people who work in the university sector, and they are not just academics. They are from all different backgrounds: maintenance crew, financial controllers, accountants, clerical workers, cleaners—a whole bunch of different professions and vocations. Fourteen thousand of those 260,000 live in regional communities, and the impact of those cuts—the impact of the loss of jobs in that sector—is immense.

The fact that this government has picked out certain sectors and decided to exclude them from JobKeeper, whether it's the childcare sector, whether it's, in effect, the arts community, whether it's the university sector or whether it's the local government sector, is really quite astounding and astonishing, and it shows what this government really thinks about the value of those sectors. I don't know what happened at university for so many of those people opposite. I really don't know. But somehow they didn't have a very good experience. Maybe they're reliving their glory days. It's like they want freedom at university but not freedom to get to university. It's like they want to put a bar there. When you're there you can have a good time and you can say whatever you feel like—and over there they think that's the case regardless of the impact on people's feelings or whether it's in the best interests of our community. But we're going to put blockages and barriers in the way of getting there. That's what their attitude seems to be. And that is not in the best interests of our country. It's not in the best interests of our economic development and our GDP. It's not pro jobs and it's not pro justice either.

So this government needs to have a good look at itself. If they want to improve the equality of opportunity in this country, if they want to improve also the educational opportunities for our young people, if they want to make sure that we can recover from this global pandemic, they've got to be pro the higher education sector, remove the barriers and get people into university, because we're never going to compete with the world by lowering our wages. We're going to compete with the world by improving our skills, our talents and our productivity, and that's why you should invest in higher education.

6:13 pm

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I agree with him. What he said! That was good. On the Education Legislation Amendment (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020 and the Higher Education (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection Levy) Bill 2020, Labor will not oppose the bills. In November last year the shadow minister actually wrote to the minister, asking him to consider exactly these changes. We voiced our concerns 10 months ago regarding the exclusion of domestic upfront fee-paying students from the Tuition Protection Service. We said it'd create a complex situation where different students had different rights and protections. Now, it may have taken the minister nearly 10 months—that's actually pretty quick for this mob—but we're pleased that the government has finally legislated to tie up these loose ends and we welcome the bill's practical effect of creating simpler arrangements for students and processes for decision-making, student placement and loan recrediting. When you look at the budget, this is about as visionary as reform gets for this government: cleaning up some processes and simplifying arrangements.

But, more broadly, while we welcome the tweak to the tuition protection scheme, we do have to consider this bill, as the second reading amendment says, in light of the government's attacks on Australia's higher education system. With regard to the government's broader approach to universities, honestly, they deserve a gold medal for policy stupidity when it comes to the mishandling of universities. As the Morrison recession takes hold, the first recession in this country for 30 years, now is the very worst time to do what the government are doing, sitting by and watching the loss of thousands and thousands of jobs. These are existing jobs in the university sector that the government are sitting by and failing to act to save. They're actively making it harder. Neglect, if they just did nothing in that sense, would be a better option. They're also actively making it harder for Australians to improve their skills and boost their education. Could anyone in this House seriously think of a stupider thing?

Youth unemployment has gone through the roof, rising by more than 90,000 people in the last few months alone. It's no surprise, though, that demand for university courses has nearly doubled. If you can't get a job because there are no jobs in a recession, it makes sense to improve your education. That's a sensible, rational, logical, personal choice, and it's the choice that the country should want people—particularly young people and other people who can't find work—to make. Go and improve your skills and improve your education so that when the economy eventually picks up you're in a better position to add value. It's better for the country. What do the Morrison government do in response? They cut. They cut university funding, they jack up prices and they lock out students.

You can't trust the Liberal Party with universities. It's the eighth year of this government. Year after year, we see yet another attack on universities. Compare their treatment of universities with their neglect of aged care. That neglect of aged care was criminal neglect, sitting by and ignoring the advice and their own responsibilities while people died. The Morrison government did nothing but make announcements. For universities themselves, for people wanting to study and for Australia's economy, it would have been better, though, in this case if the government did sit by and do nothing. Instead, they're actually taking deliberate actions that will drive further job losses and make it harder for kids—especially those from poor families, as the previous speaker so rightly spoke about—to go and get an education.

Education is so critical not just for our economy but for aspiration. The government love to talk about aspiration. Last term, of course, by 'aspiration' they meant trying to ram through tens of billions of dollars of company tax cuts. This term, in the first part of the parliament, 'aspiration' meant the priority on tax cuts for the highest income earners. The government's priority for aspiration was to give everyone sitting in this House a $16,000 tax cut in the hope that some of it might just trickle down to everyone else following their failed, discredited, conservative economic theory.

For me, 'aspiration' means, above all else, making sure that every kid, no matter where they're from, can fulfil their potential in life and get an education without being unreasonably burdened by debt or deterred from study. It was part of my family story, seared into me from as young as I can remember. My mum was from a poor family in Footscray on the other side of Melbourne. Her family couldn't afford the uniforms to send her to a school that did matriculation, year 12. So she could never go to university. She actually got a scholarship from, I think, the Baptists, but they found out she'd been baptised as a Methodist and took the scholarship off her. She was the wrong brand of God. That's how it was back then. So she could not go to university.

It was the most important thing I discovered doorknocking. I doorknocked almost 10,000 houses for 18 months before I was elected to this House. My favourite question to ask people at the door was: what's most important to you? It was open ended, not yes or no. As people would know, it should be an open ended question, never yes or no. It got them talking and thinking about what matters. Overwhelmingly, the No. 1 answer was education. It surprised me at first. It didn't matter who I spoke to—young people wanting to go to TAFE or university, older people at that point worried about the Liberal Party's $100,000 degrees policy and cuts to TAFE and parents worried about their kids. But then I joined the dots and realised above all else at that point I had the highest proportion of migrants of any electorate in this parliament. People come to this country with that laser-like focus on education being the key to a pathway for a better life for their kids. It's a priority that my community continues to place on improving their lot in life.

Recessions such as the Morrison recession are the very time, more than any other time, when you'd think you'd want to encourage and incentivise people to improve their skills, rather than having everyone sitting around and applying for jobs over and over again that don't exist. There are not enough jobs. I heard of a part-time casual job at Chadstone Shopping Centre in Melbourne where they got 700 applications in the first couple of days. That's what a recession looks like. Instead of doing that, you want to encourage people to go and get new skills at TAFE and university. They should be making it easier, but the government's whole agenda continues to be to make it harder.

Everything that's wrong with the government can be seen from their mishandling of universities—the criminal neglect and their failure to save 12,000 or more jobs. We've been urging the government in recent months to finally step in and help universities save these jobs. Since then, more than 12,000 have been lost across the country, and thousands more jobs are predicted to go by the end of the year. Of course, those job losses don't include the thousands more casuals who have just been let go. They don't show up in the figures. We'll never know how many of them there are. I've spoken to people in that situation. As the previous speaker said, the Prime Minister's done absolutely nothing to support or save jobs in our fourth-largest export sector. You can't imagine the government treating any of our other top 20 export sectors—let alone one in the top four, worth $40 billion to the country—in this way. The Prime Minister actively told students to bugger off and go home. What do you think that did to people and our reputation globally?

The government's failure to act to save university jobs, though, exposes the lie at the heart of this government's budget—that it's all about jobs. The Prime Minister—their chief marketing guy over there—has shown no interest in the thousands of university staff losing their livelihoods or the communities that depend on those jobs. The Morrison recession, frankly, will be deeper and longer and harder and harsher and darker for thousands of Australians because of the government's missed opportunities and their failure to act. But they've actively gone out of their way. Universities are in a special category for this government. They're a target. They're something to be targeted. The government have actively gone out of their way to exclude public universities from JobKeeper. Private universities can get JobKeeper. But, for public universities—where the vast majority of Australian kids go—the government changed the rules three times to make sure that none of them could ever qualify for JobKeeper. Academics, tutors, administrative staff, library staff, catering staff, ground staff, cleaners, security—they all have families; they're all trying to make ends meet. But the government thinks anyone who works at a university is a lesser kind of worker than people who work elsewhere. It's disgraceful.

The government's relying on our brilliant universities and researchers to find a vaccine for COVID-19, but those researchers cannot rely on the Prime Minister to save their jobs. The government is relying on them to help drive our recovery. We know that we'll need an extra 3.8 million university qualifications by 2025. But, when it comes to higher ed, the government's priority is always to cut and to make it harder to go to university. The Prime Minister, of course, loves announcements, doesn't he? He loves announcements. He's never happier than when he's at a launch—the marketing guy. But then, of course, usually nothing happens. And the longer he's around, you realise that he starts announcing the same stuff, because stuff actually doesn't happen. We've seen this in education. It's always about the photo op, never about the follow-up. We saw it in the bushfires. After his little Hawaii break, he came back and said he did some stuff. There are still people living in tents. There are still funds with billions of dollars that they haven't spent a dollar from. But he had the marketing opportunity; he had the photo op. Nothing much happens. We saw it in education. They announced in the budget something like 12,000 new places: 'We're going to fix the problem. We're going to have 12,000 new places. How good's that?' Over the last year, they cut thousands of places. It's more spin and marketing. TAFE might be an option, you'd think, in education. They've announced more money for TAFE, but that doesn't address the fact that they cut $3 billion from TAFE. And, on apprenticeships, we've seen what I term a 'blind panic' in the last few months, with the government running towards announcing new apprenticeships. None of that makes up for the fact that there are 140,000 fewer apprentices in this country than there were in 2013, when this government got elected. Two years ago, the Prime Minister was out there. He announced that we were going to have 300,000 extra apprentices. Well, they're still down on that number today. It's just continuous announcements, but nothing actually lands.

The government, though, doesn't like to talk about universities. It's no wonder. Last sitting week, they gagged us from speaking on the last university bill. On Monday, when it came back from the Senate, they gagged us from speaking on the bill. In fact, the Prime Minister's voted more times in this parliament to gag members of the opposition from speaking than he's voted on his own legislation. But the whole agenda is to make it harder for people to go to universities. As Senator Jacqui Lambie said—and she nailed it on this one: 'The government's legislation, their approach, hurts poor kids, telling them, no matter how talented they are, no matter how determined, they should dream a little cheaper.'

It's as though the government's trying to pretend that the recession isn't real, that the Morrison recession isn't actually happening. 'La, la, la. Make it go away. We'll just make some more announcements. We'll rename some things. We'll change Newstart to JobSeeker. That'll help. Then we'll make up something called JobMaker. Then we'll call training stuff JobTrainer. Then we'll have JobKeeper.' They could well call their university policy 'JobCutter' or 'JobKiller' if they were being honest, because that's what it does. Every member of the government's cabinet went to university, but they don't think that our kids deserve the same chance, that Australian kids deserve the same chance.

I will give the government a little tick for this bill in that they actually got support for it, which is an achievement. They actually got some stakeholders in the real world and in here to support a higher education bill. Unlike their last bill—look at the stakeholder response to that. Literally no-one supported it. They couldn't get anyone at the Senate inquiry who said it was a good idea. Expert after expert, university after university lined up to tell them what a profoundly dumb idea and bad, flawed piece of legislation it was. There were, of course, a few universities they bought off with a few pieces of silver at the end, but fundamentally the sector didn't support it.

They won over Senator Hanson by legislating to let university staff say more racist stuff, as part of this bizarre culture war that they're running on campuses to distract from the fact that they actually don't have an education agenda—protection of racist stuff that universities themselves said they didn't actually need and would create a whole bunch of other complications.

They said they wanted students to study job-ready degrees, but the economist responsible for designing the HECS system, Professor Bruce Chapman, said, 'Evidence showed that the changes in course costs were unlikely to change student demand. Instead—who knew, brilliant advice—students make study choices based on interests and their earning potential.' People choose what they want to study.

Even Julie Bishop, the ANU Chancellor and the former Liberal education minister—yes, the former Liberal education minister, the former deputy leader of the party, that loyal deputy to so many leaders over so many years that they had—said:

My concern is that under these new arrangements, there is a greater incentive for universities to take in a higher number of law, commerce and humanities students than there is to take in students in engineering and maths. That appears to be contrary to the government's policy intentions.

That's almost an achievement. In areas where the government wants greater enrolment they're now paying universities less per student. And in areas where the government wants to discourage enrolment—because apparently you shouldn't study history or humanities or anything anymore—they're paying universities more. It is a gold medal achievement in awful legislation.

The original architect said it wouldn't work. A former Liberal education minister said it wouldn't work. The overwhelming majority of the university sector said it wouldn't work. But the government was dead set on it because it helps them cut access to universities.

What the government should be doing in a recession, when thousands of jobs are being lost, is investing in education. In plain English: if you don't have a job you go and study. Study is better than applying for jobs that don't exist. Education is still the best way to skill up Australian workers, to prepare our workforce and lay the foundations for economic recovery. When the choice is between joining the growing dole queue and facing the cuts that're looming—coming down the pipeline at millions of Australians who are going to be pushed into abject poverty under this government, being forced to live again, or try to live again, on $40 a day—surely it's a better choice to enable, to incentivise, to encourage, to let more students go to university. The government should be making it easier to go to university, not harder. They should be acting to save tens of thousands of jobs, not watching them disappear.

6:28 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, as you now well know, Labor will not oppose these bills. As you've heard a number of times, in November last year the shadow minister for education and training wrote to the minister asking him to consider exactly these changes. We've voiced our concerns that exclusion of domestic up-front fee-paying students from the tuition protection scheme would create a complex situation where different students had different rights and protections. It may have taken 10 months, but at last we're there. And we're pleased that the government has come around to legislation to tie up these loose ends.

We welcome the practical effect of the legislation that creates simpler arrangements for students and creates processes for decision-making, student placement and loan re-crediting. More broadly, while we welcome the tuition protection scheme, we do consider this in the light of the government's recent attacks on the Australian higher education system.

I now want to refer again to the amendment moved by the member for Sydney, reminding us what we want to do as a result of this amendment. She said:

… whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that Australia's higher education system is failing our kids, workers and businesses, due to Coalition Government policies that:

(1) slash billions from university funding;

(2) are bad for our economy and labour market; and

(3) impose massive debts on people seeking a higher education".

Last week we had the hideous sight of the government gagging a debate that was around universities and the passage through this chamber. It had the result of imposing huge increased costs on students attending universities, who will now pay more for their degrees. Thousands, literally thousands, will pay more than double. These bills, which were passed last week, will cut billions from the sector while doing absolutely nothing to help young people get into high-priority courses and jobs. As we've heard, every member of the cabinet opposite and most members of this parliament have had the privilege—the absolute privilege—of having a higher education. Not all have. I'm not sure how many haven't, but I dare to say most have—by far the majority have.

I recall when I was at university, I was lucky enough to be at university at a time when tertiary education became free. That was the second year after I started university. I was a beneficiary of the Whitlam innovations, which opened up access to university for so many Australians who would otherwise have not achieved a university outcome.

I contrast that with what we're seeing here. I was brought up here in Narrabundah, just down the road. It was a very working class suburb. I think it's right to say that I was probably the only kid in the street to attend university. There were a couple of blokes over in the back street, and we used to come together to go to university—but there were very few.

Sadly, what we're going to see as a result of this legislation is the aspirations for so many young Australians trampled by this legislation. Others, in this debate, have detailed the abhorrent situation which now exists. They've detailed the costs which have been imposed upon students. It's $14½ thousand for an arts degree per year. I might ask: what does that mean?—through you, Deputy Speaker Wallace, to someone who might be able to explain it to me. Say I intend to attend the University of Melbourne, for example, where the model of that university requires university entrants to do a general degree before a professional degree, such as an arts degree or general science degree. These aspirants to a career, if they are doing their first year of an arts degree next year, will now be required to pay 113 per cent more than if they were attending that university this year. They'll be required to front up with $14½ thousand, and, if they don't have a state sponsored place, that money has got to come from somewhere. Then, on the assumption that they do well and they want to go on to do medicine, they'll pay less for their medical degree per year than they paid for their arts degree when they first enrolled in university. More than 40 per cent of students will have their fees increased, and 67 per cent of that 40 per cent will be required to pay $14½ thousand a year.

Let me ask you something, Madam Deputy Speaker Wicks. If you come from a rural community such as from my electorate of Lingiari—but I could be talking about the whole of the Northern Territory, except Darwin—how will these cuts impact you? I'll just make this observation for a start. At the moment in the Northern Territory the proportion of people aged 25 to 35 with a bachelor's degree or higher is only 15.4 per cent of people who live in regional parts of the Northern Territory and 27.3 per cent in the Darwin area, compared to an Australian total of 35 per cent. So, if you live in a regional area of the Northern Territory, a small town, you are less than half as likely as the average Australian to get a university degree.

Now, how does that gel with these funding proposals? Let's say you've got to travel from Tennant Creek to Adelaide, Melbourne or Darwin to attend university and you don't have rich parents and you don't have a scholarship. If you do a general arts degree and you successfully do it in four years—because it's an honours degree—you will need to have in your back pocket, or you will need a way of getting, $58,000. Madam Deputy Speaker Wicks, that's not a prospect that would attract your support. We're talking about people coming from remote places, rural communities, to attend universities to do the degree that they desire, and maybe they want to be a historian. Maybe they live in Katherine and they don't want to be studying agriculture, as the member at the table talked about; they want to study literature. They've got the prospect of huge costs when they attend university.

Let's talk about regional universities. Smaller universities, like Charles Darwin University, have lost staff. The university has announced that 100 jobs and 20 courses are going, mostly in the TAFE sector. These course and job cuts are a result of a direct lack of funding for regional universities—628 students at 28 apprentices will be affected directly. These educational spaces at Charles Darwin University play an important role in individual communities, and we should not be restricting university opportunities for higher education students—or, in the case of TAFE students, apprentices—who want to learn.

And they shouldn't have to travel. As a result of these changes, for some courses, apprentices will have to travel interstate to get the qualifications they require out of their apprenticeship. Many young people who live in regional areas, and this is possibly reflected in the data I've just given you, are keen to stay near home and family or are unable to afford to move away to study, and they benefit greatly from regional TAFEs. But these are underfunded. They provide employment for locals and inject money into the local economy, but the government has made it really hard—a lot harder—for regional universities, like Charles Darwin University, to be able to provide either the vocational courses through TAFE or the higher education opportunities for Territory students. They've lost academics, tutors, admin staff, library staff, catering staff, ground staff and cleaners.

The then acting education minister for the Northern Territory, Eva Lawler, said that university cuts were forcing universities into submission. She said:

The federal government's cuts to university funding have hit regional universities such as CDU hard.

I cannot imagine why anyone in the government would think cutting investment in universities is a good idea, why increasing the cost of university places is a good idea, or even wanting to do as they've done: emphasise the importance of STEM projects, while at the same time universities receive 30 per cent less to teach medical scientists, 17 per cent less to teach maths student and 16 per cent less to teach engineers. How does this gel? You've jacked up the prices for humanities and arts students—the people who want to do literature or communications. You've said you want to get STEM students through the university, but you've cut expenditure. You've cut your investment in those very courses. The absurdity of that proposition is plain for everyone. The approach of this government to universities is disgraceful and it is inhibiting and limiting the opportunities for every Australian.

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.

6:58 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Education Legislation Amendment (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020. I'm pleased to follow the member for Gilmore. I commend her for her lifelong commitment to higher and vocational education, as I do many members on this side of the chamber. I acknowledge the strong commitment of the member for Kingston, the member for Moreton and the member for Makin not only to early education but to education throughout life.

Labor support the changes in the bill tonight, which, as we've heard from previous speakers, are as a result of the diligence and hard work of the member for Sydney and shadow minister for education in writing to the minister last year to ask for fairness and for the rights of our students to be protected in regard to university fees. Sadly, as we've heard in tonight's debate, it has taken around 10 months to legislate on what are really loose ends for our university students.

Australian universities have suffered an absolutely horrific year at the hands of this government. I want to talk about that a little tonight, and I'm delighted that the member for Sydney has moved a second reading amendment to this legislation as it enables me to put on the record very clearly the impacts that this government has had on the higher education system and the university sector, and how those are impacting our economy and the labour market. Obviously, the end result is not only an economic question for our nation; there's an economic question as to the massive debts on people seeking a higher education.

Not one speaker from the government, nor, indeed, the minister, has outlined why these changes are necessary or required. This government has some kind of ideological disposition against the university sector; I know, from listening to the debates right across the country. We're seeing government member after government member obsessed about what's happening not only with the content at universities but what's being taught at universities and what's allowed on university campuses. For a government and a party that alleges that they are interested in free speech, they've a funny way of demonstrating it when it comes to what goes on at universities in this country. You only need to pick up a paper or turn on the television and you'll see one government backbencher from the extreme right wing of the Liberal Party talking about their obsession with what's being taught at university and the sorts of people that are going to university.

Honestly, in my community, in my electorate, in the south-west of Brisbane and Ipswich, people are worried about education. They're worried about whether they can afford the cost of education: will their children be able to afford an education?

As we've seen time and time again, we're seeing the government standing sort of idly in front of this pandemic, and as a result of this pandemic, while one of the industries which is most critical to our economy has seen literally thousands of workers lose their jobs, regional campuses close, whole university departments shut down and funding dwindle down to nothing. There's no other industry of this size that has been treated with the absolute neglect and, I believe, contempt that the university sector has, and no other industry that employs 260,000 Australians has been thrown under a bus in the way this sector has by the Morrison government.

Australian universities are world-class institutions that represent our fourth-largest export industry, placing Australia and studying in our universities on the international stage and setting a standard for higher education. Yet the Prime Minister and members of the government seem to have no interest in preventing the job cuts and the harm to the community and the ability to deliver quality higher education that these will bring.

The impact of this on regional universities is going to be absolutely devastating. Those universities support around 14,000 jobs in regional Australia. Regional universities educate around 115,000 students each year, and that's around nine per cent of enrolments at Australian public universities. If those numbers don't speak for themselves, this means hundreds of jobs, and areas of Australia that have already suffered due to resource management and lack of tourism are going to suffer even more.

I've had countless conversations and street corner meetings with community groups, churches, welfare organisations and international students—which I'll touch on a little bit in my remarks tonight regarding the second reading amendment—about these issues. Time and time again, our not-for-profit groups and churches are filling the gaps that the government has allowed people to slip through. They help our stranded international students who are stuck in Australia with no jobs and no way to get home.

This is an important sector in our economy in Queensland. There are students who saw Australia with purpose and future, who wanted a better life and education for themselves, whose parents in some cases saved for years to be able to help send them here, only to be stuck with a government that doesn't want to acknowledge or support them—basically a government that's happy to leave them behind. In 2019 there were 120,000 international students in Brisbane. Most of our universities are now seeing between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of their student base consist of full-fee-paying international students. International students in 2019-20 contributed $32 billion to the Australian economy. I've stood in this House and spoken about this before, and I'll say it again: why does this government want to lose them? I know from talking to brilliant organisations like Riverlife Church, who have filled the gap, who have been advocating and working hard, as the member for Moreton knows through our strong partnerships that he and I have with the communities from the subcontinent, from our ethnic and migrant communities, that these students have been abandoned by the government.

Now, I could understand if this were an ideological thing, but this should be key economics 101. The more support that we can give these students, the greater our economic survival and rebuilding of our economy, particularly in the southern suburbs of Brisbane. As I said, they also contribute over $2.1 billion and 14,000 full-time jobs to the national economy. So, if the minister is listening—and his office, I'm sure, is tuned in to this—and the Prime Minister can do something, we are re-issuing the call to arms to help rebuild through our international students and to support those students that are here.

The government's just passed its job-ready graduates legislation, and this cuts $1 billion a year from our universities, as has been outlined tonight, making it even more expensive for people to get an education at a time where one in three young people are looking for a job or more hours for work. Prime Minister Scott Morrison's cuts will mean 10,000 fewer fully funded university places next year, according to analysis from the ANU from one of Australia's leading higher education experts. Then there's double the number of year 12s who want to go to university next year, and the minister has said that from next year:

Students will have a choice.

Their degree will be cheaper if they choose to study in areas where there is expected growth in job opportunities.

This is advocating for freedom of education only if you study maths or science, not the humanities or half the degrees that most people making up the 46th Parliament have obtained. It's good enough for the members of parliament, it's good enough for cabinet but it's not good enough for the kids in my electorate.

This reform is a complete mess. What it's going to mean for our economy is that, in five to 10 years time, when all the graduates and all those looking for work are skewed to one set of industries, they can't get work, because it's too competitive. Better yet, they can't even get to university, because it's expensive.

I congratulate the university leaders who are standing firm against the Prime Minister and his plan to make it harder and more expensive for Australians to go to university. I acknowledge the University of Southern Queensland campus located in Springfield, just over the border in the member for Blair's electorate. He spoke passionately tonight about the regional universities, particularly in Queensland. And this is not an argument about the large sandstone universities and some ideological issue; this is a practical economic outcome for places like the University of Southern Queensland and the regional impacts that this has in places like Toowoomba. We have a by-election coming up in the seat of Groom, and this is a perfect example where the government can actually deliver for the community.

I know some university leaders have allowed themselves to be bullied by the government into accepting cuts and fee hikes, and young people and university staff have every right to feel betrayed. Particularly for the year 12 students that are finishing this year, it's been a horrific year, and these changes have just made it worse. You wouldn't find many school principals who'd support government cuts to their school budgets or support policies that disadvantage their kids, so why should families with students graduating be in fear? In the face of a tax from the Liberal government, we are asking the university sector to stand strong for our young people and their parents. Parents know that getting a great education is a ticket to a great job and a lifetime of opportunity for their kids.

Labor believe education and jobs go hand in hand and, by locking young Australians out of university, the Prime Minister is locking them out of jobs. We want every Australian to get a great education no matter where they live and to have the training they need to get a job, to get ahead and to stay ahead. That's obviously whether it's at university or TAFE. I've said this before in this House: every member of the Prime Minister's cabinet has benefited from Australia's world-class university system. In my opinion, they now want to pull up the ladder when young Australians need to access training and education the most. Many of these cabinet members wouldn't have paid a cent for their degrees. On average, under this legislation, 40 per cent of students will have their fees increased to $14,500 per year. Students should have the choice to study whatever they wish and not be penalised down the track when they have to repay that debt.

With job prospects so weak right now, the choice for many people will be between waiting in the Centrelink queue and getting an education. Year 12 students, as I've said, have persevered through incredible uncertainty this year, and I pay tribute to those students, many on their last day of school this week, particularly in my electorate, where I've already attended some graduation ceremonies and award nights—mind you, virtually. It is a credit to those amazing teachers. I'm very proud, in my own family, that my sister, Susan, is an educator with around 30 years experience. She teaches in the southern suburbs of Brisbane in the mighty Moreton electorate. There is no place she would rather be than with her year 4 class, transforming lives.

I understand the power of education and the transformation that it has made through my family. My parents were unable to go to university. My mother was lucky to finish form 6, as it was, in Brisbane in 1947. There were three options, she always said—nurse, teacher or governess. They were the three occupations. There was a girl who graduated in her form 6 class who went on to become the first woman to graduate from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Commerce.

When you put that in perspective with what we're dealing with today Australia has come a long way for the access, particularly for women, to higher education. These changes will have a direct impact on, particularly, women and workforce participation. Forty per cent of students will have their fees increased, as I said. The vast bulk—67 per cent—will be to around $14,500. Around 10 per cent will see their fees more than double, and more than 20 per cent will see their fees go up by nearly one-third. Around 10 per cent will see their fees go up by around 16.8 per cent.

We are simply asking the government to do the right thing by our kids. No Australian should miss out on the job they want and the education they need. For months, Labor has been urging the federal government to act, to help universities to save jobs and, for months, the Prime Minister has failed to do so. So, once again, I'm using my time in this parliament to speak out on behalf of those parents who want a decent education for their kids and on behalf of those people who work in and around the university sector. In my electorate, that means kids trying to get into university in Brisbane or trying to get into the University of Southern Queensland in the Springfield area. Those universities do amazing work. But they not being supported by this government. They are not being invested in by this government. Labor will always stand up for higher education in this country and, tonight, I'm calling on the federal government to do the same.

7:14 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

The Education Legislation Amendment (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020 before us tonight is largely uncontroversial and Labor will be supporting it. So my remarks tonight will be largely directed towards the second reading amendment, which goes to the job-ready graduates bill. That bill passed the parliament with the government using the guillotine twice. I was on the speaking list when it first came before the House and was unceremoniously cut off. Again, when it came back for debate in the House, I was on the list but was unable to have an opportunity to speak. Having spent six years working at the Australian National University—finishing up as a professor there—there were contributions I wanted to make on the job-ready graduates bill but the government wasn't willing to hear them.

The fact is at a time when Australia is facing its first recession in a generation the smart play would be to encourage more young Australians to go to university. In the early 1990s when the recession hit many young people extended their time at school. The year 12 completion rate soared, as people recognised if you don't have a chance to be earning then you should be learning. We should be sending a message to those year 12s sitting their exams today—and I reach out to them, brave students one and all who've suffered through the annus horribilis that has been 2020. We should be saying to those young men and women: if you've got the smarts to go to university there'll be a place there waiting for you. We should do that because attending university boosts the productivity of graduates.

My own research suggests that every year of university boosts earnings by something in the order of 10 per cent, suggesting that the returns to a university degree over three years, a bachelor's degree, are at least 30 per cent. We should be doing it because attending university boosts the productivity of co-workers. You're not just more productive, the people working alongside you are more productive. There are other spillover benefits: university graduates are less likely to commit crime, less likely to be on welfare, more likely to live longer. The benefits of university even extend to civic engagement, with university attendees being more likely to play an active role in their communities and in the democratic process. Yet that's not what we're seeing from the government. Despite the fact that every single member of the Morrison government's cabinet went to university, they're making it harder for young Australians to do the same. They're giving the opposite advice to disadvantaged young Australians than they'd give to their own kids. To disadvantaged young Australians they're saying: 'You'll be right. Don't bother going to uni.' Then they scurry on home and tell their own kids: 'Study hard. Go to university if you can.' It's that hypocrisy that is at the very heart of what the government is doing.

There is no evidence that people studying humanities have worse outcomes. People with humanities degrees have the same employment rates as science or maths graduates. To the extent that the government is relying on modelling, it's short-term modelling based on the Graduate Destination Survey, which is a snapshot of labour market outcomes at the time of graduation.

Research by Harvard's David Deming suggests that if you look over a career you see a very different picture. Students who are trained for narrow skills do well in the immediate years, in their 20s, but tend to have worse outcomes in their 40s, 50s and 60s when the labour market has shifted and their skills have become redundant. Those who adopt broader skills early on are able to adapt as the labour market changes. It's a point that Joshua Gans and I made in 'Innovation + Equality', talking about Australia having a future that is more Star Trek than Terminator.

It is vital that we ensure that young Australians can study the course that most suits them. As education expert Andrew Norton has said:

Students should have the choice to study whatever they wish, and not be penalised down the track when they have to repay the debt.

We know though, that as a result of the government's job-ready graduates program, that 40 per cent of students will have their fees increased to $14,500 a year; that students will pay, on average, seven per cent more for their degree; that people studying humanities, commerce and communications will pay more for their degree than doctors and dentists. And we know that the bill will cut a billion dollars from universities.

At a time when we're seeing the government having changed the rules three times to exclude public universities from JobKeeper, universities have shed some 11,000 staff, with Universities Australia forecasting 21,000 job losses in coming years. That's just university staff, but there'll be flow-on impacts on tutors, administrative staff, library staff, catering staff, ground staff, cleaners and security. At the very time in which we're relying on our brilliant academics for solutions to deal with the economic crisis, we're making it harder for people to study economics. At a time when we're relying on brilliant university researchers to come up with a cure for COVID, we're cutting funding to universities. This is simply madness.

When Labor were in office, we boosted investment in universities from $8 billion in 2007 to $14 billion in 2013. We expanded places, putting in place demand-driven funding following the Bradley review, which ensured that we were no longer operating a system of command and control from the Molonglo but were allowing universities to respond to student demand. We saw an extra 220,000 Australians get the opportunity of a university education. And, in particular, we saw increased enrolment among the most disadvantaged. Financially disadvantaged student enrolments went up 66 per cent. Indigenous undergraduate enrolments increased 105 per cent. Enrolments of undergraduates with a disability grew 123 per cent. Enrolments of students from regional and remote areas increased 50 per cent. By the time Labor left office, a quarter of the students at Australian universities were there as a result of us opening up university places.

Today, the government claims that 39,000 places will be added over three years. This is woefully inadequate to meet the demand from the children of the early 2000s baby boom—'one for dad, one for mum, one for the country'—who are now reaching university age. The university sector, as I've said, faces a funding cut of around a billion dollars a year. Average funding per student to universities will drop by 5.8 per cent. That fee will drop by 16 per cent for engineering, by 15 per cent for clinical psychology, by eight per cent for nursing and by six per cent for education. That's on top of the $16 billion projected revenue drop due to the loss of international students. The impact of these changes will be tough on women. Average female student contributions will increase 10 per cent. Average Indigenous student contributions will increase 15 per cent. The highest fee-paying courses will have twice the share of First Nations students.

It isn't just Labor that's been critical of these changes. Bronwyn Evans, the CEO of Engineers Australia, says:

An increase in university fees risks increasing structural inequality for women and people from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds who choose to study humanities, law and other courses that will now leave them in even more debt.

Dan Woodman, the president of the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, says:

Some of the fastest growing job areas for university graduates are new, many of which require exactly the skills and experiences that the study of HASS subjects can provide. Content Specialists, Customer Officers, Data Scientists, and Sustainability Analysts are in high demand. These jobs did not exist five years ago, and a strong humanities or social science degree provides a foundation for working in these and the new, related fields that will inevitably emerge in the coming years.

The Languages & Cultures Network for Australian Universities says: 'The proposal will actually involve higher costs for language students than first appears. We consider the proposal is inherently flawed, does not have the capacity to meet its stated aims and does not openly state its major objective, which is to reduce university funding.' Mark Warburton, the higher education expert, says:

… my analysis shows the growth in student places … will not meet any additional demand from the COVID-19-induced economic slowdown or future growth in the university-age cohort.

Peter Hurley from the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University points out that humanities graduates are employed at a rate of 91.1 per cent—that is above science and maths. Julie Bishop, the chancellor of the ANU and former Liberal Minister for Education, Science and Training, says:

My concern is that under these new arrangements, there is a greater incentive for universities to take in a higher number of law, commerce and humanities students than there is to take in students in engineering and maths. That appears to be contrary to the government's policy intentions.

Robert French, the chancellor of the University of Western Australia, says:

Humanities is the vehicle through which we understand our society, our history, our culture.

The changes that are being put in place will have a long-term adverse impact on Australians. Many Australians who are facing the prospect of university cutbacks will no longer have the opportunity to study. That will cost them and it will mean that Australians end up paying unemployment benefits rather than assisting somebody to take on a Commonwealth supported place. This can't be good for them. This can't be good for Australia's society.

I want to conclude by talking about the impact on universities in the ACT. The University of Canberra will be hit by a funding cut of $15 million between 2018 and 2021. The Australian National University will lose $14 million. The Australian Catholic University, which has a campus in Canberra, will be hit by a funding cut of $35 million. Australia's universities in total will lose $1.2 billion.

It's not as though Canberra's universities haven't tried to tighten their belts. Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt is among those who've taken pay cuts. ANU's top leaders have taken pay cuts which have saved some $397,000. ANU staff have deferred their pay rise, saving $13.5 million and up to 90 positions. ANU staff have made donations to the ANU Staff Urgent Relief Fund, which has provided support totalling $116,000 to 68 staff. But ANU is nonetheless having to lay people off, because its foreign student numbers have fallen markedly. They're already below 2017 levels and they're expected to fall to 70 per cent of 2019 levels in 2021. Characteristically a diplomat, Brian Schmidt has said of the government's support package that it is 'not one I would have designed', although he goes on to say 'it's not pathologically bad either'. If the best you can get from a diplomatic university leader is that your package is not pathologically bad, then I think you need to go back to the drawing board.

The fact is that at the very time we should be expanding universities this government is cutting them. This is a government that has effectively removed the demand-driven funding system. No longer do we have a system in which people who have the smarts for university can take up a place at a university that's ready to train them. Instead, we've gone back to the command-and-control system that pre-dated the reforms of the Rudd and Gillard governments. Those reforms were vital in opening up the university sector. They didn't just create more places; they ensured that universities and students were able to focus on the courses in high demand. This reflects the fact that those seeking a place at university are looking ahead to the labour market. We know, for example, that when the dotcom crash in the early 2000s came there was an immediate drop in the demand for computer science courses. My own research shows that in the teaching profession, if you look at demand for studying teacher education, as soon as salaries are changed in a state or territory you see an immediate demand response from students. Students are thinking about their future, they're acting rationally and they're moving into the courses that they know will be best for them. That's why a demand-driven system works so effectively to ensure that students study the courses that are best for them and best for our economy.

But the coalition, the so-called party of markets, has gone back to command and control. The coalition, whose cabinet is stuffed with university graduates, many of them with multiple degrees, have decided to pull up the ladder of opportunity, to take away the chance for young Australians to get the degrees that they themselves have benefited from. We know that university study is beneficial for the individual and is beneficial for Australia as a whole. Yet the changes that the government is making are eroding Australia's long-term future. What we need is investments that ensure that more Australians can study at university, that we can continue the inexorable rise of the education of Australians.

We know that we can't predict the jobs of the future. Occupational forecasting is one of those sectors that make astrology look respectable. So we don't want to be narrowly forcing people into particular occupations. But what we do know is that the labour market of the future will demand high levels of skills, and that's why we need to be opening up universities and that's why the government's changes in the university sector are so short sighted, damaging and bad for Australia's future.

Debate interrupted.