House debates

Monday, 9 November 2020


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

6:09 pm

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

This government's attitude towards universities has been nothing short of outrageous. At a time when there is capacity in our universities due to the slowdown in the number of international students, we should be inviting more Australians to study at our great institutions. Yet what is this government doing? It's cutting government funding to Australia's higher education institutions on a per-student basis, and it's raising student fees, making it harder for Australians to get an education, at the very time at which we should be educating more young Australians.

This stands in complete contrast to the way Labor handled education in the early-1990s recession—the recession that those opposite referred to as the Keating recession, despite the fact that many other countries in the world saw a global downturn at that point. They won't have this recession called the Morrison recession, but they're happy to call the early-1990s global recession the Keating recession. What did the Hawke and Keating governments do at that time? We enabled many more people to expand their educational opportunities. We encouraged young Australians to stay on at school, knowing full well that, were they to leave school into the teeth of that global recession, chances were that they wouldn't be able to find work. So, we encouraged the increase in the educational capacity of young Australians. We wanted them to be learning when they couldn't be earning.

But what's this government doing now, a generation on, when the equivalent to finishing school is attending university? They're putting their heads in the sand. They're attacking universities. There might be a recession and a pandemic on, but the mob opposite are never too busy to play the culture wars, to attack Australian higher education institutions. They wouldn't even allow many of us on this side of the House to speak when their higher education bill was being rammed through. As soon as they'd done their deal with the member for Mayo, they just guillotined the debate. Many of us on this side of the House—I worked at the Australian National University, finishing up as a professor—didn't get a chance to speak in that debate, because they just wanted to ram through their retrograde attacks on higher education the moment they had the numbers.

They're scared of debate. They're talking about free speech in universities. Part of the deal in which they managed to get this through was to strike a deal with One Nation to get some so-called free speech bill through, legislating what already operates in practice. But while they were talking about their commitment to free speech in universities, they wouldn't allow free speech in the parliament. They wouldn't allow parliamentarians to have our say—no. They just wanted to ram the bill through.

The fact is that I haven't had a single constituent contact me and say, 'Hey, what I reckon would be really good right now would be if you made it harder for young Australians to get a spot at university, if you made it tougher for young Australians to have an opportunity to study.' No-one's contacted me about that. Instead, I've seen many young Australians struggling to find work. We saw those queues outside the Centrelink offices. We saw the impact on young Australians right there. We saw a million casuals shut out of JobKeeper because of the ideological predispositions of those opposite. They shut a million short-term casuals out of JobKeeper, despite the fact that they knew that in many cases that was arbitrary, that these were people such as a casual teacher who might have been working at multiple schools but hadn't been with this particular school for a full year and so was shut out of JobKeeper.

And they shut universities out of JobKeeper. They kept changing the rules on universities, the moment universities thought they might have a go. It was a bit like Lucy and Charlie Brown with the football: he's been promised one more time, 'I won't pull it away; it'll be there to kick.' He takes the run-up and at the last moment she pulls it away and he falls flat on his back. That's what those opposite did to universities—but, I beg your pardon, it was not all universities; private universities were alright. A couple of private universities could get JobKeeper. But if you're one of the 40-odd public universities in Australia, you couldn't get JobKeeper. So, they've had to fire more than 10,000 staff, with another 10,000 potentially on the chopping block, according to the National Tertiary Education Union.

Right here in the ACT, a jurisdiction that is heavily dependent on higher education, the Australian National University are doing all the belt-tightening they can. They have cut back on senior staff costs, they have forgone travel and they have tightened their belts in every possible way they could, but they still weren't able to prevent hundreds of jobs going at the Australian National University. At the very time that we're asking university researchers to assist in finding a vaccine for COVID-19, this government is cutting funding to universities. At the very time that we need researchers to deal with the scourge of dangerous climate change, this government is cutting funding to universities. This government is full of climate change deniers; it is in thrall to its backbench. And today Australia is finding itself increasingly isolated on the world stage. With President-elect Biden now committing the United States to zero net emissions by 2050, Australia stands isolated. More than 70 countries have signed up to zero net emissions by 2050. Every state and territory in Australia as well as major business groups and the scientists are telling us that we need to go to zero net emissions. Australia is now left out on the fringes of the debate—I was going to say 'in the cold', but it's really in the heat! Australia is left out with Saudi Arabia and Jair Bolsonaro's Brazil.

They say that it's only when the tide goes out that you find out who's swimming naked. Right now, Australia's nudity on climate change policy is being exposed for the world to see. The fact is that the Morrison government has had 22 climate policies and still is unable to deal with the tinfoil hat brigade who are sitting on the backbenches over there and driving the government's policy agenda. It's no coincidence that those who are touting unproven cures for COVID-19, like hydroxychloroquine, are the very same who are touting climate change denial. They're small in number but they're powerful in their ability to make the tail wag the dog, to ensure that Australia is left behind in international climate change negotiations—that we were there, while Australian bushfires were burning, arguing in the Madrid climate conference that the world should do less to combat dangerous climate change.

That work is going on within our universities. The research on climate change is continuing in our universities, yet this government is attacking universities, attacking scientists and doing its level best to ensure that scientists are relegated on these major issues. It is unconscionable that at the very time in which Australia is suffering a human capital crisis we're not investing in human capital. Instead, the budget was very heavy on physical capital. Labor doesn't begrudge measures such as the accelerated depreciation measure that the government put forward. But we have to recognise the way in which these things work from an economics standpoint. Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz talked about inequality as being a race between education and technology. When education and technology both advance, you get growth with fairness. When technology advances and education stagnates, then you get a widening gap between the haves and the have nots. That's why when Labor were in government we were committed to encouraging automation and to encouraging education. It's why we went to the last election promising to properly fund schools, vocational training and universities and, at the same time, with accelerated depreciation measures. But in the latest budget we saw an incentive for firms to invest in new machinery—which, potentially, could be job displacing.

So if you're an older worker—an over-35 worker—you will have looked at the last budget and seen a budget that said to your employer: 'Here's a big subsidy to invest in machinery that could well do the job of your over-35 worker. Oh, and here's a subsidy to hire under-35 workers who could well do the work of your over-35 worker.' If you're an over-35 worker, the budget that the government brought down was dangerously unbalanced. What we should be doing instead is ensuring that we invest in the sources of growth, that we invest equally in technology and education. That is where this government has let us down. That is where the government's university and education policies have let us down. And that is why we are seeing universities having to let staff go at a time when instead we should be expanding funding to universities and expanding the places available for students to study in.

6:20 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a privilege to follow the member for Fenner on this. I know how passionate he is about higher education. This is important legislation. While Labor does not oppose the Education Legislation Amendment (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020 and the Higher Education (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection Levy) Bill 2020, we are once again disappointed by how long it has taken this government to act and we are extremely disappointed by this government's approach to higher education. This legislation must be considered in the broader light of this government's attacks on Australia's higher education system and on our students. The government's job-ready graduates bill, which recently passed the Senate in a dodgy deal done with Centre Alliance and One Nation senators, sells our students and young people short.

It is hard to imagine a worse time for reforms to be introduced which will increase the cost of going to university for our students. Young people finishing high school this year have had such a difficult year. People in year 12 in my electorate are about to start their VCE exams, and I wish them all the best. They have done their study under the most difficult of circumstances. The usual rites of passage—the ceremonies, the celebrations and the privileges that come with being in your final year of high school—have not been available to them in remote learning. They are going through all the stress and pressure of this final year of learning, and their exams and their assessments, in an environment where they will graduate into unemployment, uncertainty and limited options to begin their careers. Their planned gap yet might be off the agenda. Their plan to work for a year and make a bit of money before they go to university might not be open to them.

Despite all this, they have shown remarkable resilience and flexibility. And what does this government offer them in exchange? They have made it harder and more expensive for them to go to university. Some of these students will now pay more than double for the same qualifications. In fact, 40 per cent of students will have their fees increased to $14,500 a year. Students studying the humanities, commerce and communications will pay more for that degree than doctors and dentists. Fees will more than double for people studying humanities, jumping from just over $27,000 to $58,000 for a four-year degree. This government's is disincentivising students from enrolling in courses and subjects that they love and are passionate about, subjects and courses that can stand them in good stead for the future.

I, like many people in this place, have an arts degree—and it has stood me in good stead. I'm standing here and I have had a successful career to date. I believe the skills I got through that arts degree at university have helped me to think and to contribute to our community. And I've done it all without being saddled with massive amounts of debt. Surely all of us are in this place to make our communities better for those who come after us—not to shut the door and say: 'It's harder, it's more expensive. Sorry, we've had our chance but you don't get your chance.' But that is exactly what this government is doing. This government is waging an ideological war on universities and on students—cutting funding, jacking up prices and locking students out.

Of course, we know about the ideological war on universities: it has been all about locking them out of JobKeeper. Despite universities being one of the hardest hit sectors in this crisis, the government made a number of changes to make sure they were not eligible for the JobKeeper subsidy. In my electorate, that has had a big influence. The government changed the rules three times to make sure universities didn't qualify for JobKeeper. So academics, tutors, admin staff, library staff, catering staff, ground staff, cleaners and security staff—all people with families, all people with lives to lead, all trying to make ends meet—are not eligible for government support in their crisis. As I said, I've seen this impact in my community, where La Trobe University is a major employer and a major support for many of our businesses. La Trobe University has had to inform their staff that they're facing a significant financial shortfall this year. They were forced to ask staff for expressions of interest for voluntary redundancies and preretirement contract programs.

According to La Trobe, access to the JobKeeper scheme would have provided them with $50 million to mitigate the impact of this crisis, but this government had no interest in providing that support. They kept moving the goalposts. All of those people suffered, and their families suffered. La Trobe University is a key employer in my electorate, and it's responsible for thousands of direct and indirect jobs. I know it has hurt that this government has not felt that it can extend JobKeeper to universities and, in fact, has instead waged an ideological war on them. It's not good enough. Our students deserve a future. They do not deserve to be saddled with debt as they try and embark on the rest of their lives. Our universities deserve support, not an ideological war.

6:26 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very happy to speak to this amendment moved by the member for Sydney. What a contest of ideas there is on education policy! Lately the Labor leader, the member for Grayndler, spent nearly a whole day at an early childhood education centre discussing Labor's promise to make child care universally affordable. Meanwhile, the Liberals have spent their days passing their awful job-ready graduates legislation, which, in summary, says to kids from less privileged backgrounds, 'Uni is not for you.' Labor has fought tooth and nail to kill off this legislation. We heard from the member for Grayndler who said: 'We see education as being about creating opportunity. Those opposite see it as entrenching privilege.' And now this: another piece of legislation which is just a tweak to a system—a tweak which Labor had to demand after it was introduced half baked last time.

Labor will not oppose these bills. From 1 January 2020, tuition protection scheme arrangements were expanded to cover students accessing VET student loans, FEE-HELP and HECS-HELP assistance at private education providers through the Education Legislation Amendment (Tuition Protection and Other Measures) Act, which Labor supported through parliament. At the time, Labor 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. The shadow minister for education and training wrote to the minister asking him to consider exactly these changes. I was proud to support the member for Sydney in this work. I spoke to many stakeholders at the time who were also concerned about the lack of coverage for fee-paying students. We welcome these bills which provide new tuition protection arrangements for domestic up-front fee-paying students. It may have taken nearly 10 months, but we're pleased that the government has come around to legislating to tie up these loose ends.

More broadly, while we welcome this tweak to the tuition protection scheme, we must consider this in light of this government's attacks on Australia's higher education system. We on this side of the House support university education, we support TAFE, we support schools and we support early education. The same cannot be said for those who sit opposite. The Liberal government is systematically dismantling the choice that Australian kids should be able to make to decide between going to TAFE, getting a university degree or entering the workforce. The Liberals have decided that only rich kids should go to uni, and they refuse to fund our public provider, TAFE. They ignore the incredibly weak job prospects that 2020 has delivered to our youngsters. Now, rather than choosing between earning or learning, many will just enter the dole queue.

The year 12s in my electorate have had such a tough year, persevering through incredible uncertainty this year. Year 12 kids sitting their exams are thinking about the fact that the degree that they set their heart on years ago may well be out of reach. I've had so many emails and calls from students who had planned to study humanities, law, economics, commerce, communications or visual arts, and now they see those degrees as being out of reach. Fees for humanities and communications subjects will rise by 113 per cent. Law, commerce and economics will increase by 28 per cent. A full four-year program in these disciplines will cost students about $58,000. As the Labor leader said this morning, those who sit opposite have said, 'Know your place.' That's their view of the world; it makes me furious.

Despite the hubris, the Liberals are making it harder and more expensive to go to university and not only are they closing the doors on a uni education but they are refusing to value a vocational education and training sector, particularly by the public provider. There was not a cent in this budget for TAFE. The government has spent seven years neglecting TAFE and training systems at a time when we as a nation are screaming out for skilled workers. It's a travesty that this government has neglected the VET sector and our youth.

Labor has a vision. A vision for TAFEs and the VET sector. It's one where it is vital, robust and valued. We have a vision for the uni sector where every kid who excels at school can go to uni. Labor doesn't want Australia to be like America, where our kids have to get a life time of debt to get a good education. It's only ever Labor that makes good education possible for all Australians. Labor wants uni to be affordable and available to all students who work hard, and we want that for kids who want vocational training as well.

We have a vision for early education to be universally affordable and high quality. This government does not. It gives lip-service but does nothing useful. Yes, we will support this legislation—there's nothing wrong with this piece of legislation—but please get your act together and actually open up pathways for young people to study and work.

6:31 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the Higher Education (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection Levy) Bill 2020 and the Education Legislation Amendment (Up-Front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020. As we know, these bills provide new tuition arrangements for domestic up-front fee-paying students. Whilst we welcome the practical changes of this legislation and the simpler arrangements in place—we've stated we do support that—we must consider this bill in light of this government's constant attacks on our higher education system and, indeed, their attacks on our education system more broadly, whether it be in our universities or in TAFE. We've see massive cuts from this government when it comes to TAFE funding, or indeed their lack of funding right across the board when it comes to our schools. It's making it extremely difficult for young people, especially from the regions, to be able to access effective support and training. It's harder for younger people from the regions to access university. With the increase in fees, it makes it increasingly difficult for our young people to gain the education they all deserve.

We've consistently seen Liberal-Nationals governments cut right across the board, making it very difficult for those younger people. I support the amendments moved by the shadow minister that the House notes that our education system is failing our kids, our workers and our businesses due to the coalition government policies that slashed billions from university funding. It is extremely bad for the economy and the labour market and, really importantly, it imposes massive debts on people seeking a higher education. The fact is you can't trust the Liberal and National Parties with universities. They cut funding and push prices up, making it so much harder for young people to get an education.

We've seen constant neglect from this government when it comes to the higher education sector. It's extremely clear when you look at the university sector during the pandemic and the lack of support from the government. Their lack of support has meant massive job losses in the industry. Labor has been calling upon the government to step in and help our universities to save those jobs. In my area it's specifically with Southern Cross University. We've consistently called on the government to take action to support the university. We've seen so many job losses in that region and we will continue to ask the government, and call upon them, to step in and assist particularly our regional universities, who have had a very difficult time during the pandemic.

Higher education—our fourth-largest export industry—is such an important industry for our nation, and this government is doing nothing to protect the industry from the massive job losses. As I said, we've seen so many cuts from the government when it comes to the education sector, and we see these cuts at both federal and state levels. Indeed, just last week we saw the New South Wales Liberal-National government's very harsh decision to close four schools in the town of Murwillumbah in my electorate of Richmond and force them into one location and then sell off the remaining sites to developers. This decision has quite rightly angered locals in my community. This sudden decision was made with absolutely no consultation whatsoever. Under the New South Wales government's plan, Murwillumbah Public School, Murwillumbah East Public School and Wollumbin High School will all be forced to close and move into a single campus at the Murwillumbah High School. That's four schools closing, forced into one location and then those sites being sold off to developers. This is a bad decision by a bad government. Our community will rightly fight this really, really bad decision.

Murwillumbah, as a community, a very strong community, has united to save these schools. All four P&Cs have voted for a halt to the plans and have called for consultation with the community. The Teachers Federation members at all four schools have also united to call for a halt and to demand consultation over this action. The community have also launched an online petition to the New South Wales parliament calling on the government to abandon their plans to close the four schools and to genuinely consult with the families directly affected by this decision. These closures are disgraceful, shameful and wrong. The New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, and her rotten-to-the-core Liberal-National government have cut so many services in Murwillumbah, and now they're closing all four local schools. These closures will result in severe job losses and worse educational outcomes for our children! It shows yet again in regional and rural areas that the Liberals and Nationals just cannot be trusted.

The New South Wales Labor leader, Jodi McKay, visited Murwillumbah together with state Lismore MP Janelle Saffin, Tweed Labor deputy mayor Reece Byrnes and me. We met with parents and students who explained to us how they weren't even consulted about this decision. Students also have spoken about the lack of consultation and the shock of receiving the news that their beloved schools would close. I spoke with local students from Murwillumbah East primary school, Zac and Zoe, who spoke so passionately about their school community. Zoe was concerned because there had been no warning for the students at all, and she said: 'They haven't considered anything about how the students would feel. I know I was crying when I found out. This is my home away from home. This is my family.' And Zac told me how important the school is to him, saying: 'It's not really so much of a school—it's more of a community.' It's a disgraceful decision to not let our community have a say.

There's no evidence that megaschools produce better educational outcomes for students. These closures are all about the Liberals and Nationals selling off prime real estate to their developer mates rather than educating our children. They're trying to make a profit at the cost of our children's education. These secret school closures are indeed a shameful act by this government. They're selling out our children and they're selling out our community. We also now know that the New South Wales government has been planning this since February—secretly planning this. Well, they now need to come clean with all of the documentation around these secret plans. The fact is that North Coast Nationals MPs Geoff Provest and Ben Franklin have been secretly plotting for months to forcibly close four of our local schools, cram those students into one location and then sell off the other school sites. Disgraceful.

Well, our community stands together and demands the Nationals come clean and tell us the full story about these dodgy deals. Labor is demanding and will continue to call for the New South Wales government to abandon its plan to close the four local schools at Murwillumbah, forcing them into that one location. This is a decision that's rightly angered our entire community. And who will be next? Which community on the North Coast will be the next to be told overnight that all their schools are closing?

This really is a shameful act. In fact, it's disgraceful. And this is being done by a rotten government with no integrity. So we'll continue to call upon the New South Wales government to abandon these harsh plans.

As I say, we see, right across the board, whether it's the federal or the state Liberal-National government, harsh cuts that are hurting our community. In my electorate of Richmond, as I've said, Southern Cross University is a major employer, and this government have done nothing, while the university is in really difficult circumstances due to the pandemic. We're talking about many job losses there. Many staff have lost their livelihoods as a result of this government's failure to take any action at all. In fact, this government's gone out of its way to exclude universities like Southern Cross from JobKeeper, and indeed it has been impacting severely upon the university. Recently, Southern Cross announced a $33 million funding shortfall that will lead to catastrophic losses of more than 130 local jobs. Seventy-one staff have taken voluntary redundancies, and there are a further 63 full-time job losses. Southern Cross University, like all universities, and particularly regional universities, is a strong economic driver in our region, and it produces great quality graduates. And now, more than ever, we need to keep them there and have them in place. So I will continue to call on the Morrison government to take action.

We've also seen this government increase university fees for our students. Thousands of students will have to pay so much more. So, whilst they're cutting a lot from the education sector, they're also forcing up those fees, and many parents have told me that their children will not be able to go to university. It's outrageous! An ordinary four-year degree will now cost about $58,000 for many disciplines, making it so difficult for students to be able to go to uni.

And make no mistake: every student who ends up paying more, every student who misses out on a place and every job lost in the university sector is the fault of the Liberals and Nationals—that is a fact. This government is doubling the cost of a university degree for thousands and thousands of Australians, and here we are, in the depths of the Morrison recession. We need to be focusing on training and educating our young people. We are seeing rising youth unemployment and we're also seeing the demand for university places increasing. It's been such a difficult year for our year 12s, and this government should be providing support and pathways for them, for greater training, whether it be through universities or TAFEs. But we consistently see, from this government, more cuts in place.

In conclusion, we've consistently seen, since this government was elected, cuts to funding for TAFEs and universities, and, generally, for schools as well. We've seen the Liberals and Nationals, at all levels of government, making it more and more difficult for our young people to access universities and the educational outcomes they rightly deserve—particularly in our regions, and we blame the National Party for that.

6:43 pm

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I echo the words of the member for Richmond in her fine contribution. I know that the Prime Minister has spent a lot of time away from the great state of Victoria. He's avoided Victoria for the last few months. I know that the Prime Minister has forgotten about Victoria and that the welfare of Victorians hasn't been the issue for the Prime Minister, though he's been happy to issue press releases undermining the health authorities in Victoria. What makes it worse is that Victorian institutions have suffered because of the neglect of this government, and no institutions have suffered more than those in our university sector.

We've remarked a number of times since the start of this pandemic that this government designed a JobKeeper scheme specifically to leave people off it. They specifically left off artists and entertainers. They specifically left off those working in local government. And they specifically left off those working in our university sector, and there have been hundreds of job losses because of this government's decision not to back in our university sector. To make matters worse, our university sector is now operating under guidelines that are completely the responsibility of this federal government. The international education sector in Australia is at the behest of the COVID rules outlined by this government, yet this Prime Minister, who has forgotten about Victoria, except for issuing the odd press release with his mates undermining the Victorian health authorities, is now not supporting the Victorian institutions. And why does this matter? It's because international education is Victoria's largest exporter. International education is a massive institution and a massive driver of economic prosperity, growth and jobs in the great state of Victoria. Instead of supporting our major exporters, what did this Prime Minister do? What did this government do? They left them off the JobKeeper. That has meant that hundreds of jobs that didn't need to go are now gone because of the decisions of this government.

But it's not just attacking the staff and it's not just leaving those who work in our universities sector behind. This government and the hypocrisy of those people who sit around the cabinet table—many of whom enjoyed free university in their time studying—have decided that their legacy, the legacy of the Morrison government in our university sector, is to leave them behind, to leave those staff behind during a pandemic and to make university degrees more expensive for Australian students. The legacy of this government is to leave the staff of our universities behind during the pandemic and to make universities more expensive for Australian students. It wouldn't be so hard to believe and to stomach if it weren't for the galling hypocrisy that many of those who made that decision had the full support of this nation to get qualified, to study, to learn and to think at university for free.

But of course what was good for them isn't good enough for the next generation of Australians. What was good enough for those sitting around the cabinet table isn't good enough for the ordinary Australian student or those in year 12 right now, who have had a year that none of us can imagine. Seventeen-year-olds having to go through the hardest year of high school know that they're going to have to face more expensive university degrees, unlike those people who made that decision for them.

This will have a full-on effect. I'll finish with this point because it's specific to those in my electorate. Monash University, a great university, churns out even better people, I have to say, and I'm a very proud alumni of the great Monash University. But because of the decisions made by this government, Monash University has had to make cutbacks. Unfortunately, it's had to let 270 staff go. It's also had to make a really difficult decision around removing the Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance. It has been collapsed and merged into the school of music, reducing the amount of subjects, dedicated staff and students who are able to be educated in the performing arts at Monash. That might not seem like a big deal to those opposite, who have left our artists and entertainers behind. But this is a $100 billion industry. Melbourne is a city full of vibrancy and culture, and this government has continued to attack the very institutions which create thoughtful, smart and articulate Australians who challenge the notions that this government puts forward.

With this bill, we say, 'Sure, we'll pass this piece of legislation but there is a bigger issue and a bigger challenge that we must right.' This government has attacked universities at every opportunity and they have left staff behind, causing thousands of job losses. The largest Victorian exporter, international education, is on its knees because of the decisions of this government. Australian students have been given no support and, to make matters worse, the icing on the cake is that this government has made university degrees more expensive. This will forever be its legacy and it will forever be its shame.

6:49 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Technology and the Future of Work) Share this | | Hansard source

I really want to commend the member for Macnamara for that address. It turns out some of the best people in the parliament went to Monash! I'm really pleased to be able to make a contribution to the debate today about upfront payments tuition protection. Labor will be supporting the bills that are before the House, the Education Legislation Amendment (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020 and related bills. We're doing that because the shadow minister for education wrote to the relevant minister—I think almost a year ago—asking him to consider these exact changes. There were some issues between upfront payment students and other students in the way that their degrees were being handled, and we're really pleased to see that the government, after the creaking wheels of how things operate around here, has finally gotten around to fixing this problem.

But I want to spend a little bit of time today talking about some of the broader issues facing the education sector, and specifically the vicious and unwarranted attacks that have been dealt out year on year on year since this government was elected seven years ago. I have a real passion for the subject on the table today. That's partly because I went to Monash University myself—I was there for 6½ years—and also because Monash University's main campus is right in the heart of my electorate, and I can tell you that thousands of people I represent are among the incredible number of people around Monash University—including students, ex-students, teachers and researchers—who are doing awesome and creative things and making our country a better place.

What has happened in the last seven years has been an absolute disgrace, and I utterly condemn the approach that this government has taken to education. It has been anti-intellectual, short-sighted and virtually Trumpian in how it's treated the education sector. You would think that, if there is one thing that we can come into the chamber and agree on, it would be that education is valuable and a part of our future. We know that, if a country denigrates its education system, reduces the quality and standard of education and reduces the number of young people in that country who get these awesome opportunities to get themselves educated, that country is going backwards, and that is exactly what is happening on the Morrison government's watch.

One of the most unspeakable betrayals of this sector came through the recent Job-ready Graduates Package. I have to start by saying: the job-ready package? Can we just kill the marketing slogans in this House, please? It was a vicious cut to the support that's provided for education and for thousands of young people around this country. The legislation makes students pay more for their degrees. That's the long and the short of it. In fact, for thousands of students it means approximately doubling the cost of their education.

Other speakers have pointed out the extraordinary hypocrisy of this policy. Every single member of the cabinet of this country went to university, and they used that opportunity and got all the great things from that. Many of them went to university for free. Then they got to the pinnacle of their careers, into the cabinet room down the hall here, and they made it harder for the Australians who follow them to do the same thing. I just think that is rank hypocrisy. It is a disgrace. Why would you come into this place and think, 'Yes, what I'm going to do with my great opportunity here is make things harder for the generations that follow'? But that is what we've seen under this government.

The timing of this is also a complete outrage. We are in the middle of the first recession that we have had in this country for 30 years. For the first time, many Australians who never thought they would face unemployment are in a dole queue somewhere, and young people are particularly badly affected by this problem. Any government worth its salt would see this for the huge opportunity that it is to get those young people who are not fully occupied with work and give them a chance to improve their skills so they don't bear the scars of unemployment and underemployment for years down the track. But, instead of doing such an obvious move, the government have chosen this moment to make it harder for them to go to university, and for that I think they need to be held accountable.

It's also part of the context here that young people are going through an incredibly difficult time anyway. Even before COVID, we had a generation out there who were really struggling. They are far less likely to own a home than even people my age and certainly people a bit older. As I said, they're paying more for education. They're far more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. They're far more likely to have lost their job because of COVID and far more likely to have missed out on JobKeeper, that important support that's helping so many Australians right now. What are we doing for these young people? Why are we kicking them while they're down by trying to make their opportunities to go to university harder? I just don't know how hard Scott Morrison wants to make life for these young people.

I want to say a couple of things that are a bit specific to Monash now. A lot of the people I represent are employed by Monash University, and those people are acutely aware of the impact of seven years of neglect by this government.

This is a sector that is rife with casualisation. It is rife with poor treatment of researchers and scientists, these people who contribute so much to the value of being Australian, and this has had its toll. Just in the recent COVID crisis we've seen Monash University lay off somewhere around 277 staff, and this has had a particular impact on its performing arts department. I am sure those on the other side of the House don't have too much concern about this, because we know the way they treat the arts sector has been very shabby in the last few months. But this was a vibrant part of the university, quite a famous part of the university. I want to say to the students who are tackling this problem at the moment that I'm standing with them in their fight and I hope they are having good discussions with the university about how this is going to unfold.

If I can say one final thing about universities that I have found incredibly upsetting over the last couple of months, it has been the exclusion of university staff from JobKeeper. It is insult after insult after insult. We need to do better than this, and that is what Labor wants to do. You have heard over previous weeks the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, stand in this chamber and speak with such great passion about how he values education. Labor knows that, if we want a brighter future for young people and our country, we are only going to get it one way, and that is through the education system.

6:56 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) 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. I would like to begin by thanking the shadow minister for education, the member for Sydney, who last year wrote to the Minister for Education to voice our concern that the exclusion of domestic upfront-fee-paying students from the tuition protection scheme would create a complex situation where different students have different rights and different protections. It is pleasing to see the government has listened and introduced legislation to address the problem.

Labor welcomes this practical legislation, but it is important that the House recognise this legislation does nothing to address this government's diabolical funding cuts and attacks on our higher education system, on the workers and the researchers and, importantly, on the students. Recently, this government made changes to the cost of university study. This year, 2020, has been a nightmare year for young Australians. Students have had to study remotely. They have missed out on key milestones, from formals to schoolies and gap years. Many young Australians have spent much of the year unable to see their friends and classmates, so the last thing they need is to be saddled with a lifetime of debt if they continue their studies. Yet the Morrison government is embracing policy that would result in 40 per cent of students paying double the amount for their degree, an added extra cost of $14,500 a year. This makes no sense. It's unfair and it is ill thought through. I have spoken to many young people in my electorate about the impact these changes will have on their lives and their education. One young woman who attended a recent forum I ran with the member for Sydney on these changes was Lily Watterson. Lily is a bright, articulate, passionate young woman who is currently a student at Surf Coast Secondary College in Torquay. Lily hopes to study for an arts degree next year. She said:

… I live regionally, so I definitely can't commute to uni every day and having this added pressure of the fees more than doubling is just crazy.

There's no way I can afford to move to Melbourne and support myself. I've got a single parent so it's not like I'm going to be getting my rent paid every week.

And Lily is not alone. I'm worried for so many young people in my community who won't be able to go to university because of changes this government has made.

It's not just high school students; current university students are also being impacted. Ana Machado Colling is another intelligent young woman who attended the forum. She has already done a Bachelor of Arts and hopes to go on to do a masters. This is what she told me: 'A lot of us have found ourselves unemployed during COVID, and study has become a strong alternative for us. For a masters degree to cost something like $80,000 is just unbelievable. It will go over my HECS-HELP, which means I'll have to pay upfront. I don't understand how that's feasible for someone living out of home, paying rent and studying full time.' Over and over, when I speak to young people in my electorate like Lily and Ana, they're concerned about the changes. They're so downhearted. They're altering their plans—plans they've had for years—because of the threat these changes present. They're being denied the opportunities I and many others in this chamber have had, largely due to these changes. Thanks to former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, this was an opportunity that we all had for the power of education, and many of us had free education. It was a great thing. Now things have changed.

I myself am a proud graduate of the humanities. I studied drama and literature as an undergraduate and went on to study communications at a postgraduate level, as well as teaching. I am very grateful for that education; it taught me so much about the world around me, and I use my degrees every day. I also believe the humanities are more important than ever. The big problems we face right now—declining trust in our political system and our institutions like this parliament, inaction on climate change, income inequality and injustice—are social problems, problems of collective action, and it is the humanities which equip us to deal with social problems, to analyse and to question the status quo. As Robert French, the Chancellor of the University of Western Australia and former Chief Justice of the High Court, has said:

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

Studying the humanities helps teach us to reflect, to inspire, to create, to move people, and to understand and change the world around us. Studying the humanities helps young people get jobs. According to recent research, people with humanities degrees have higher employment rates than science or maths graduates. Australia is in the midst of a once-in-a-100-years recession. I cannot think of a worse time for the government to be making it harder for young Australians to study the humanities. I urge the government to rethink this petty attack on humanities and instead to think about creating jobs and opportunity for the next generation.

One of the aspects of the government's recent changes to higher education that I find particularly appalling is the significant impact it will have on regional areas like my electorate. The government has said it wants to help more young people in regional areas, but its policies are instead leaving regional, rural and remote universities, their staff and their students worse off. This is because regional universities deliver a greater proportion of courses that will have a funding cut compared with non-regional universities. Under the government's policy, nearly twice as many regional and remote students will have to pay the highest rate of student fees.

I'm proud to represent regional Victoria. Parents in my communities of Corangamite want their children to have the opportunity to go to university. They know that getting a great education is a ticket to a great job and a lifetime of opportunity for their kids. They do not want to see children in our communities priced out of an education.

But it's not just about kids, it's about jobs. Universities support 14,000 jobs in regional Australia. They support jobs in my electorate at Deakin University. But funding cuts in regional universities will mean fewer jobs in our regions for academics, for support staff, for administrators and for service providers. This process has already begun in my region, with Deakin University cutting over 300 jobs. Unfortunately, these workers were ineligible for JobKeeper. The question must be asked: why is the Morrison government discriminating against these workers and leaving them adrift to join the unemployment queue? They've been left behind by the Morrison government, and these workers know it.

The coronavirus has exposed the flawed financial model that many if not all of our universities have embraced. They had pursued the international student market as a way of raising revenue, but, with the advent of COVID, having all the eggs in one basket no longer works. I'm not criticising universities. They've been forced into this precarious situation because the federal government does not, at its core, believe in funding universities—quite shameful, really. In contrast, Labor's record on education in regional areas is strong. Labor's policies in government saw enrolments of students from regional and remote areas increase by 50 per cent, and I want this to continue.

The government's approach to higher education is cruel. It cuts billions from the sector while doing nothing to help young people get into high-priority courses and jobs. It will make thousands of students pay more than double for the same qualifications, and it will continue the Liberals' track record of years of neglect and cuts to our higher education sector. The young people in my community that I've had the chance to meet and talk to are passionate, clever and articulate. They want to study at university, they want to get good jobs and they want to contribute to our community. I feel for them so much, not just because of the big challenges they've faced this year but because the Morrison government is making it harder for them to achieve in the future. As a mother of two daughters aged 17 and 18, I have seen firsthand just how tough this year has been for the younger generation. For those young people in my community who might be following along with this debate, I want them to know: I hear you, I stand with you, and Labor will fight for you.

The Morrison government's approach to higher education is a world-class blueprint for inequality: increase fees to limit access, fill the gap with a loans scheme so that people with less financial stability feel less able to repay, and put the highest price tags on courses linked to socially influential careers—this is the holy trinity of shutting down aspiration. We don't want it in Corangamite, and we don't want it in Australia.

7:06 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank those members who have spoken on the Education Legislation Amendment (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection) Bill 2020 and the related bill, the Higher Education (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection Levy) Bill 2020. The bills enable Australia's unique and successful tuition protection arrangements to be extended to cover domestic students who pay their tuition fees for their studies up-front. This will ensure that these students receive the same government-backed protections and assistance as students who access Commonwealth assistance loans to fund their studies—that is, support through either a replacement unit or course to continue their studies or a refund of their tuition fees for incomplete units of study where their provider has failed to deliver.

The Higher Education (Up-front Payments Tuition Protection Levy) Bill 2020 will seek to impose the up-front payments tuition protection levy and prescribe the levy components and the manner in which they will be determined each year. This will enable the viable providers to contribute to a fund, rather than maintaining their own separate tuition protection arrangements for domestic up-front paying students, which can often be burdensome for providers to maintain. The new tuition protection arrangements for up-front paying students are consistent with the already-proven successful tuition protection model for international students and domestic students who access a Commonwealth loan to support their studies.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the education sector. Now more than ever, these bills provide an additional measure of surety to domestic higher education students who are not relying on Commonwealth assistance loans. These students can be assured that they will be assisted through these government-backed tuition protection arrangements in the event that their provider closes or stops teaching a course from 2021. This surety will also encourage people to invest in their higher education and gain the necessary skills and qualifications for employment in their chosen career field, thereby contributing to future growth of Australia's skilful workforce. I thank members again for their contributions to this key debate on extending tuition protection arrangements in the higher-education sector to domestic students who pay up-front for their studies. I commend the bills to the House.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal 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 amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.