House debates

Thursday, 30 November 2023



12:45 pm

Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is untapped human potential in all of us—yes, even over there across the parliament! It doesn't matter where you come from. There is untapped potential, and a good education is the key that opens the door to opportunity, whatever obstacles you may face in life. Higher education is critically important because nine out of 10 new jobs created today require you to go to a TAFE or university. The average income of someone with a university degree is about $94,000. In comparison, the average income of someone who's last year of education was year 12 is around $68,000. Everyone should be able to access a good education if they choose to and if they want to. No matter who you are, no matter your background, gender, ethnicity or faith and no matter whether you're in remote or regional parts of Australia or the cities, whether you're disadvantaged socioeconomically, whether you have a disability or whether you come from a new and emerging migrant background or an older established migrant background, you should be given the same opportunities as every other Australian.

That's what I got, as a migrant kid growing up in public housing, because of Labor governments and their policies. I went to university because of Labor governments—because of Labor's commitment to equality of opportunity. Bob Hawke, one of the greatest prime ministers of this country, was also the member for Wills, so I've got big shoes to fill. I once asked Bob, 'What is the policy area that you are most proud of?' I won't do the accent, but he said: 'When I started as Prime Minister in 1983, about a third of students finished high school, but, because of the policies that my government put in place, by the end of my time as Prime Minister, it was almost 80 per cent.' That's a tremendous achievement. The importance he placed on that relative to everything else he achieved in that government says a lot about the importance of education. I said: 'Bob, I was one of those kids. I did year 12 in 1990, and, if it wasn't for you and your government, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to go to university.' Despite my socioeconomic circumstances and my migrant background, I still got a chance to do something with a good education. That's what good policy is all about. Investing in education means giving people the chance and the opportunity to reach their full potential. But if it's too expensive—if it's out of reach of people because they can't afford to take on that debt—we are failing our citizens before we even begin.

My electorate of Wills in the northern suburbs of Melbourne is home to many students and staff in the university sector, and, when I speak to young people in particular, one of the issues they often raise is their HECS debt. This debt should not be a deterrent to people seeking education opportunities. Our future as a diverse, modern society depends on students from all walks of life being afforded the opportunity of a higher education if they choose it. It's one of the great Labor traditions to ensure that a university education never remains out of reach for any Australian wanting to obtain one. The Albanese government is committed to a higher education system that not only gives Australians the opportunity to learn and grow as individuals—the inherent value of learning—but also provides them with the means to realise their aspirations and be equipped with skills required for future employment.

The budget was the first pillar of our long-term plan to revitalise and re-establish our higher education system as world leading and inspiring. We announced $485 million over the forward estimates to provide up to 20,000 additional university places, $2.7 million for the Australian Universities Accord and $15.4 million for the Startup Year program to help university students turn their ideas into reality. That's an investment in the future and the potential of our country's greatest asset: our children and our young people.

Since the budget, we've expanded on this. Students commencing teaching degrees in 2024 can now register for scholarships worth up to $40,000 to encourage people to be teachers. We've also provided relief to students by increasing youth allowance, Austudy and rent assistance. I know HECS affordability remains an issue, and Minister Clare has asked the Universities Accord team to look at this closely, along with other important issues in our system. Professor Bruce Chapman, the architect of HECS, has been engaged by the accord team to work on this.

Whilst we know more can be done, we will not rest until our higher education system is the envy of the world. The great thing about Australia is that everyone gets the same access to a quality education. That is fairness. That's equality of opportunity. That is a faithfulness and a commitment by the Albanese Labor government to what is the quintessential Australian value, and that is the fair go.