Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014; Second Reading
that ensures domestic student fees must be lower than international fees. In fact, the domestic student fee and the Commonwealth contribution combined must be less than the international student fee. The government has also circulated two technical amendments on grandfathering and the definition of 'additional revenue' for the purposes of the Commonwealth scholarships. I hear Senator Carr indicating that he finds one of those amendments 'paltry'. That would have to be from a comparison with living in a complete intellectual vacuum and, therefore, I completely understand his point, from his perspective!
We have also indicated that we will support the creation in the HEPP a scholarship component for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. We have guaranteed that Commonwealth scholarship guidelines will ensure that those scholarships are focused on low-SES and regional students, as so many senators have sought. We have indicated that the Treasurer will direct the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to monitor prices in the higher education sector, and we have guaranteed a suitable process of evaluation of the reforms over coming years. These amendments will guarantee for students huge benefits of freeing up the higher education system and of supporting all Australian undergraduates from diploma courses through to bachelor degrees—for the first time ever.
Now the Australian parliament has an opportunity to support some of the greatest higher education reforms of our time, and frankly, it is clear that there is no credible alternative. It is a vacuum on the other side. The opposition has not furnished one, either when it was in office or today. In fact, as Senator Carr has suggested in recent days, their solution appears to be recapping the higher education system and slamming the door in the faces of many thousands of disadvantaged students. As Mike Gallagher, one of the most experienced figures in higher education policy, has said:
The 2014 higher education budget reforms are necessary. They are logical, coherent, sustainable, equitable and inevitable. My guess is that the detractors of microeconomic reform in Australia's higher education industry will find themselves on the wrong side of history in resisting efficiency, improvement and innovation, as they will be in opposing the redistributive measures of the package and, curiously, supporting socially regressive subsidies from general taxpayers to more advantaged segments of the community.
This bill will allow our higher education to be the best in the world, with some of the great universities in the world. It will ensure that future generations of Australians can get a world-class education to support them in the jobs of the future. It will provide the backbone of our future economy. I do not understand why those opposite want to make students continue to pay interest fees of 20 and 25 per cent on VET fee-help and fee-help. I do not understand why they are turning their backs on those who choose to participate in higher education through TAFEs and through the private sector. I do not understand why those who purport to stand up for those who face some of the greatest challenges in life cannot see that we need to make these changes and that it will indeed be the backbone of our future economy. Because if we do not, we only go backwards. I urge senators to support the bill.