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Jun 052014

The following is a speech by Federal Member for Griffith, Terri Butler, made on June 4th 2014. You can add comments and questions at the end.

It is a pleasure to rise to speak on this matter of public importance. I thank the member for Rankin for his impassioned and fantastic speech. This is such an important issue because it affects not only the lives of individuals but the future of our country as a whole. It is something I am very passionate about. Like other people who have spoken today, I was the first person in my family to go to university. My parents left school at grade 10; I went to James Cook University and then on to the Queensland University of Technology for my bachelor’s degree. I am very proud of that and, frankly, I would not have been able to do it, had it not been for Labor reforms to higher education. I am very proud of the Whitlam reforms and the Hawke reforms with the Higher Education Funding Amendment Act of 1989, which members opposite have spoken about.

The Higher Education Funding Amendment Act came into force because of a view that there was a limited private benefit to public education, but the public benefit was overwhelmingly greater than the private benefit of that higher education. We know that
graduates earn substantially more over the course of a lifetime. What do they do with that higher income?

We have a progressive income tax system and, as a consequence, graduates pay more in income tax. That is the way our taxation system works. Yes, we have a HECS system; we have a Higher Education Contribution Scheme. Why shouldn’t we recognise that there is some private benefit, but that ought not mean $100,000 of debt over a lifetime for an engineering graduate. Students should not be saddled with debt for their whole life.

Deputy Speaker, I will read to you a few things that I have received in my office about this issue. One is from a constituent. I will read it out in full. She says:

Abbott— the Prime Minister— is out of touch with reality and his budget will lead to considerably higher university costs for mature age students who are being forced to change career so they can continue working until they’re 70+. I’m a divorced 48 year old female who raised 2 children most of my life, hence I don’t have enough superannuation to retire. For me, retirement is a pipe dream. My career to date has been in office admin – my salary is therefore capped. I’m changing career to become a lawyer so I can become self employed in my own legal practice and work until I’m 80 years old, my mental faculties permitting. Hence, I’m enrolled in a Bachelor of Law, but the Abbott government needs to keep the funding available to mature age people such as myself who are being forced into re-education and a change of career so they can work longer. Mr Abbott you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Fair go.

That is what one of my constituents, who is a mature-age student, has said to me. It is not just young people who are being forced into debt. But when it comes to young people, when you think about that idea of having $100,000 of debt to be paid off over a lifetime — that is for an engineering student, and it is not my number; it is Universities Australia’s number—that is 20 to 25 years worth of repayment.

Think about the fact that women will often take more time out of the workforce to raise children. What is the consequence? It takes them longer to pay off their debt. That is the consequence. And when you increase the interest rate to six per cent per annum that debt is going to grow and grow. So you are going to saddle them with more debt, it is going to take them longer to pay it off and their debt is going to be higher because they have taken time out of the workforce. That is the sort of legacy that the Liberal-Nationals are leaving this country. They should be ashamed of themselves. As I said, these are not my numbers; these are the numbers of Universities Australia, that well-known, as the members opposite have described us, chardonnay socialist group—I don’t think. In a press release that I
received today and that most of those opposite would also have received today, Universities Australia said:
The peak body representing Australia’s universities has called for a rethink on the design of the proposed changes to the student loan program and the 20 per cent cut in the Government contribution to student fees.

The call comes as Universities Australia released new modelling — You might want to go and have a look at it — new modelling on the combined impact that the proposed changes to the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) and the reduction in Commonwealth support would have on student debt and payback periods.

The modelling is there on their website for all to see. Of course, when we are talking about the deregulation of university fees so that universities can charge higher fees, the higher interest rate and the lower repayment threshold, let us not forget the massive cuts to higher education in this government’s 2014 budget—$5 billion in cuts to higher education and university research. They should be ashamed.

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