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Speech: Budget changes will decimate public higher education

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 26 Aug 2014

 

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (16:55): This budget is a shocker. Even 106 days after Treasurer Hockey unveiled the damaging details of the 2014-15 budget, community anger is still hot. Who can remember when a budget resulted in such ongoing concern, upset and real anger: the town hall meetings, the rallies, the protests, the occupations? I congratulate those who have organised those events. This Sunday there will be another round of national protests, with the march in August. These are events that senators and MPs in this place should really be well aware of, because this budget symbolises the dishonesty of the Abbott government. Just take the budget changes to higher education, for example, since they illustrate this so clearly. Not one aspect of this extreme plan was announced before the election.

We heard from the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, that there would be no increases in fees, no cuts, no changes at all to the funding arrangements for our universities. Now we see what the plan is. The direct opposite is what the government are now wheeling out. Talk about broken promises—here we have it writ large. Mr Abbott and Mr Pyne really are being gutless with the Australian people in the way they handle this. We are seeing that the member for Warringah, well-known for his bullying tactics in many ways, does not have the courage to honestly detail the changes that the government are bringing forward with higher education. They did not have the courage to do that before the election. There were so many opportunities where Mr Pyne was put on the spot about what these higher education changes will mean for students, for the very fabric of our society in terms of higher education and what it can deliver. He tries to present it in a rosy way, when in fact it is extremely damaging.

Minister Pyne told the Insiders that his plan for changes to interest rates on student loans—really a market-based form—would only impact enrolled students; whereas, if he had looked at his own government website before he made that comment, he could have been honest with the Australian public. The website showed that all students and graduates with a debt would be impacted. Again it is still something that he has not corrected to this day. Another area where we see Minister Pyne being deeply misleading is with regard to the impact that this will have on graduates, particularly on people who have to survive on low incomes—women and other people who go in and out of the workforce. With this form of compound interest, those people will pay so much more. It is a debt burden that many of them will not pay off, not just in their working life but for the rest of their life. These are measures that are simply unacceptable and that this government refuses to acknowledge and be frank about. So it is not surprising that the minister goes to such lengths to misrepresent the proposed changes to higher education. Public higher education will be decimated if the Liberal-National government gets its way. This is one of the many areas in this budget that we need to defeat in its entirety. And the cost of university degrees could be as high as $100,000. That is not a figure plucked out of the air. You can work that out when you look at what overseas students sometimes pay and at how the system is currently running.

So, when we hear Minister Pyne bark out his insults that students should pay their way—and then there is that ultimate insult from the minister, 'Well, it's not your left kidney, so what's your problem?''—it is sadly not surprising how insensitive he is, how abusive he is. But it certainly reminds us what the essence of this budget is. Yes, it is correct that graduates have a better chance of finding work than those who did not have the opportunity to go to university. And yes, it is true that graduates will earn more money. But what the minister fails to include in his comments is the large amounts of tax that those graduates are paying. That is how they are contributing to their higher education costs. The dishonesty here is extreme. The higher education package should not be passed in its current form, and it really reminds us how wrong this budget is. (Time expired)

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