Senate debates

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Bills

Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016; Second Reading

7:22 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in opposition to this Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016. I am very concerned about what this bill is going to mean for future generations. I am extremely concerned that we even have to be debating this bill, a bill that is based on the premise of a litany of broken promises from the Labor Party. We know that all cuts are not created equal. There are definitely smart ways to raise revenue and then there are examples like those that we have before us today, cuts that only serve to hold this country back.

It seems as though the Abbott-Turnbull government has had one aim at the top of its mind since it was elected—that is, to make it harder and harder for the next generation to get ahead and to make a go of things. How else can we explain this government's obsession with slashing and burning funding for our universities? In this bill alone, there are $500 million—half billion dollars'—worth of cuts. We have come to expect that the Liberals have a burning ideological desire to hold back young people in this country, to hamper their access to decent education, decent jobs and their ability to get a foothold in the labour market. But for Labor to roll over like the pack of policy lapdogs that they have become is not only sickening but it is also too often becoming predictable. Yes, they have got some treats from the coalition overlords or perhaps a pat on the head, and every now and again they sit up properly and do as they are told. But is it really worth all of this to sell out young Australians and their access to higher education? The fact that we have Labor and the Liberals standing together proudly cutting more than half a billion dollars from our higher education system is simply disappointing. And the fact that they are crowing about it is even more disgraceful.

This bill will hit Australian higher education students in four significant ways, students who right now are studying, who are about to start or who have already started their second semester at universities across the country. It is going to cut public funding to universities by changing the indexation arrangements, meaning those organisations will get less support and will have to reduce the quality of education or increase the cost for students. This is a tricky manoeuvre designed to make it look like they are not cutting support to universities but in fact that is exactly what the government is doing.

Dropping the threshold at which young people start paying back their HELP debts means people will be slugged harder and earlier to start paying for their increasingly costly degrees. We know right at this moment university students are paying more than they have ever paid before for access to basic bachelor degrees let alone postgraduate qualifications. And here in this bill tonight, students are going to have to start paying this back earlier with lower incomes and it will make it even more difficult once they graduate to get on with their new careers and get themselves set up for the future. It will hold them back as they enter the workforce and try to get on with their careers.

Cutting support to STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—students is a regressive step that will hamper innovation and hold our country back. Of course this is coming from a Prime Minister who says innovation is what he is all about—well, innovation for some and bad luck for others. Further removing access to student start-up scholarships means that students who are already studying extremely hard, who are already at university struggling and doing it tough are about to have the chair kicked out from under them.

Many of these measures were originally part of the Abbott government's disastrous 2014 budget. At the time Labor and the Greens along with other crossbenchers worked together to make sure that they did not get through because they were bad then in 2014 and they are still bad now. Trying to make savings out of university funding, and making students cover the costs of higher income tax breaks that the government has announced only earlier today is just not fair.

In his budget in reply speech from 2014, the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, said: 'Tonight I rise to speak on behalf of millions of Australians who feel shocked and angry. Well, tonight Bill Shorten seems to have forgotten about those shocked and angry Australians because here he is with his troops here in the Senate, lining up with the coalition to push through cuts to education.

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