I was the first person in my family to go to university, and there are a lot of people my age who are in the same situation—who were able to go to university because of Labor governments' identification of the importance of higher education and Labor's moves to make higher education accessible to all. That is something that we have been very proud of over many years.
Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (19:40): A Queenslander—thank you. I think that there are a lot of Queenslanders in the room tonight and we are all on the same page when it comes to the State of Origin and wining nine in a row. But where we are not on the same page is in relation to higher education funding, and I rise this evening to talk about the Abbott government's attacks on higher education and its attacks on the potential of young people in Griffith and across the country to gain a university education.
The electorate of Griffith on Brisbane's south side has three major universities in and around its suburbs, including the University of Queensland, the Queensland University of Technology and Griffith University, the latter having a campus within Griffith. There is a University of Queensland presence and there are other universities around us, including a James Cook University campus and others.
Higher education is a very important issue for people who live in Griffith because we do have a high preponderance of university students living in the southern part of Brisbane. There are also many parents on the south side who wanted nothing more than to see their children have the opportunity that they might not have had, and that is the opportunity to go to university. I was the first person in my family to go to university, and there are a lot of people my age who are in the same situation—who were able to go to university because of Labor governments' identification of the importance of higher education and Labor's moves to make higher education accessible to all. That is something that we have been very proud of over many years.
But what we have now from the Abbott government is a budget that will saddle students with more debt that will take much longer to pay off. Sadly, for many of those hopeful families and their children—maybe families where no member of any generation has yet gone to university—this budget means the opportunity of higher education might never be a reality. The budget marks the end of fair and affordable higher education, and it is a betrayal of Australian students and their families. As the shadow minister for education, Senator Carr, has rightly pointed out:
"This Budget heralds the death of the Whitlam-Hawke higher education system: a system in which your brains, not your wallet, determined where you go to university and what you study."
Not only is this government savagely cutting funding to universities; the Abbott-Hockey budget also increases the interest payable on student HELP loans. The government is also increasing the student contribution by 20 per cent. When HECS was introduced under Labor—as the point has been made today: it was Labor that introduced HECS—we looked at the public benefit of higher education. We acknowledge that there is a private benefit from higher education. We acknowledge that the individual benefits from higher-paid jobs throughout their career due to higher education. But that is vastly outweighed by the benefit to our nation of having more people in higher education. That is why it was 80 per cent to 20 per cent. That is why we recognise not just the benefit of the higher tax revenues that you get when you have a more highly paid population but also the benefit, in a broader sense, of having highly skilled, highly educated people. 'A race to the top, not a race to the bottom,' as Bill Shorten has said. That is why HECS was introduced.
I was a student when the Howard government was elected and I remember very, very clearly the changes that the Howard government brought about. There were increases to student fees and student loans. I know that, whereas I was a working-class kid who got a university education and got ahead, there are people who are only five years younger than me who will be paying off their student loans for a lot longer. And that delays buying a home.
It delays so many opportunities that people of my generation—and I say 'generation' because there is only a few years difference—and there are a number of people in this place who had the benefit of the Hawke era Higher Education Contribution Scheme.
What we are going to see now under the Abbott-Pyne higher education system is that students will be forced to weigh up how much debt they will incur and how long it will take them to repay it, and deciding whether they can have a tertiary education. Some of them will have to decide whether they want to someday own a home or, alternatively, go to university. That is not a choice that people should have to make. People should be able to have access to quality higher education and the dream of owning your own home, and we are not talking about kids who have to wait until their late 30s or early 40s before that home-ownership dream can become a reality. It is not the Australian way. Higher education access has been a pillar of Australian society since Whitlam and, before that, since the postwar era when Labor introduced the Commonwealth scholarships. I would like us to recognise that despite Tony Abbott's promises that there would be no cuts to education, there are now going to be cuts, and it is a shame.