Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 October 2020


Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-Ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill 2020; Second Reading

7:16 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in opposition to the Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-Ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill 2020. Quite frankly, when we first saw this legislation we could not believe how the government could put forward a bill which so obviously disadvantages a group of students who are largely studying in the humanities area. When we looked further at the bill, we thought: 'We can't even improve on this bill, because it is so bad. We will stand in opposition to the bill.' I'm really proud to stand here tonight in opposition to the bill.

I think the other point the government has completely misunderstood, or is simply ignoring along with One Nation and Senator Griff, who are supporting the bill, is that students currently in years 11 and 12 aren't suddenly going to be able to change their course to do a STEM degree. They have committed themselves to two years of study—the ATAR is really for a course of two years study. So we are not only disadvantaging university students. University students in good faith signed up to do a course knowing that they would incur a HECS debt at a particular price, only to suddenly find—whether they were halfway through first year or in second year or in third year—that the cost of their degree, because of the course they've chosen, has absolutely doubled. And now we are disadvantaging those students in years 11 and 12. As if they have not been disadvantaged enough this year with their schooling, the government seeks to punish them even more. They simply are not in a position to change their course of study right now, even if they wanted to. And what has the government got against a humanities degree?

As I said earlier today, the other group of students who are absolutely disadvantaged in this bill are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As I said earlier today in another contribution to the Senate, in Western Australia we have fewer than 2,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled at our universities. That's shameful. What are we doing to those students? We are absolutely disadvantaging them, because the stats say that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely than non-Aboriginal students to enrol later in life. They take longer to finish their degree, and they pretty much enrol in humanities. So look at what we're doing to First Nations people right across this country. We are simply going to say, 'Sorry, we're not interested in you.'

The government senators—I've listened to some of their contributions—have made a big deal about how it will advantage regional and rural students. I'm not seeking to single out anyone, but significant numbers of students from regional and rural areas already attend university— many times the number of students from First Nations backgrounds who attend university. Yet it's those students that we're seeking to advantage over First Nations students. Quite frankly, to sell them out as we've seen Centre Alliance do for 30 pieces of silver—a few roads in Mayo—is a disgrace. How those senators can come in here and disadvantage the nation's students is beyond me.

Debate interrupted.