Senate debates

Monday, 16 March 2015

Matters of Public Importance

Higher Education

4:52 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | Hansard source

I would like to speak on this matter of public importance. I think it is so interesting to hear those on the opposite side trying to deflect the debate away from the real issue, and that is the attack on education, and higher education particularly, in this country by this government. We have seen this government's relentless and constant moves to deregulate Australian universities, to increase student fees and in turn to create an endless cycle of debt and inequity for the children of this country. The Prime Minister's election commitment was that there would be no cuts to education, but we now know that this statement could not be further from the truth. This government has been built on lies and untruths.

The Minister for Education, Mr Pyne, has announced that the higher education bill will be split, but this, to me and to my colleagues, is nothing more than an act of desperation. The government continue to push forward with their policy of fee deregulation and reform, representing a fundamental attack on the future of education in our great country. Degrees will still cost $100,000, and 20 per cent will be cut from the funding. This will still have a devastating impact on the higher education sector.

But I can assure those opposite and those that are listening to the debate that Labor will stand firm against any cuts to university funding and student support. Labor will fight for the survival of Australia's education system. This government wants education to become exclusive. We will find ourselves in a situation similar to the United States, where only the rich can afford a university education and people on a lower or middle income are unable to improve their circumstances. That is what those on the other side are proposing. That is their proposition. This will be devastating to many communities around the country, but none more so than my home state of Tasmania, where people cannot afford the $100,000 degrees. They cannot afford the cost that this government will bring down on them. This government will destroy a proud tradition that this country has: an internationally recognised education system. Under this government, that is indeed under threat.

The cuts that this government wishes to implement vary across the disciplines, coming into effect in 2016. They are arbitrary. Vital areas of study will feel the wrath of the Liberal government's cuts. These are vital areas to the community and to our economy, such as engineering and science, nursing, education, agriculture and environmental studies. These are the people that treat our sick. These are the people that are building our roads. These are the people that are teaching our children. These are the people that are feeding our families. These are the people that are saving our environment. These are the people that are being punished by this government for wanting to make a valuable contribution to our society, unlike the Liberal government.

Those opposite come in here, and they want to rewrite history. Of course they have to blame the opposition, because who else are they going to blame? We know that those on the other side at the moment are in absolute chaos. We know that they are doing somersaults and backflips. Anyone would think the circus was in town, instead of in Launceston, for the children's entertainment.

We know that those opposite want to have a two-tiered system that goes beyond our economy. They want it to go across education, and they want to deny access to those who cannot afford to pay $100,000 for their degrees. They want an education based on the American system, where those who have a big enough credit card can go on to university.

Not only that, but it was this government and this minister who today did a backflip. He was trying to hold 1,700 research jobs to try and persuade the crossbench and those in this place to support this outrageous attack on higher education. This is a government that cannot be trusted. The Prime Minister, prior to the federal election, said there would be no cuts to education; there would be no cuts to health; and there would be no changes to pensions, and what have we seen? Backflips and lies. This government has been built on lies, untruths and broken commitments. You cannot even call them broken promises. Even Mr Abbott himself said that unless it is written down you cannot believe it. But, as we know, even the brochures the now government took to the last election, which said there would be no cuts to education, cannot be trusted. This is a man who is at the head of this country, the Prime Minister of this country, who is only governing to save his own position.

This government is firmly committed to attacking the education system of this country. But Labor will not support a system of higher fees, bigger student debts, reduced access and greater inequality. Labor will never tell Australians that the quality of their children's education depends on their capacity to pay. This is Labor's clear position. This is one of the very reasons I joined the Labor Party and aspired to be a spokesperson for the values that we believe in on this side. We will stand firm with the community against any further cuts. We do not want an American-style education system. We cannot afford to go down that path. We believe—unlike those opposite—that all Australians are equal and that your credit cards should not dictate whether you can access good-quality education and good-quality health. That is the difference between those on that side of the chamber and us.

The people of Australia recognise this. They recognise the motivations of this government. They too have said no. They will not support this, and they do not want those on the crossbenches or on this side of the chamber to fall in line and follow the push by this government to tear down the higher education system of this country. Those on that side can backflip; they can juggle; they can tell lies; they can do their backflips, but there is one thing that they cannot do, and that is that they will not fool the Australian people, because they know that Tony Abbott is only interested in saving his own job. It does not matter whether it is Tony Abbott, it is Julie Bishop or it is Malcolm Turnbull; you cannot change the DNA of the Liberals, and that is that they are against universal education in this country. (Time expired)


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