This government should be ashamed of its attacks on young people - Terri Butler MP, Labor for Griffith

This government should be ashamed of its attacks on young people

Read the full speech below. 

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (12:33):  I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

    (a) the government’s short-sighted $2.2 billion in cuts to universities are equivalent to more than 9,500 Australians missing out on a university place in 2018, and again in 2019;

    (b) across the country this month, students will be attending university, with orientation periods beginning, and that these students are faced with more uncertainty about how the cuts will affect their student experience; and

    (c) the government’s short-sighted cuts will hurt regional and outer metropolitan universities and their students the most; and

(2) calls on the government to reverse its short-sighted, unfair cuts to universities, which are closing the door of opportunity to thousands of Australians.

We've seen from this government nothing but attacks on young people and attacks on our nation's future. Unfortunately, the recent cuts to university funding are consistent with that theme. We live now at a time of increasing and significant inequality in wealth and incomes in our nation. If we seek to deal with the fact that, for example, the lion's share of the national income goes to profits at the expense of wages, if we seek to deal with the fact that social mobility is at risk of lessening, if we seek to deal with the fact that wages growth is the slowest it's been since we started keeping the wages price index in 1997, if we seek to deal with the worsening inequality that our nation is currently facing, we know that one of the means, if not the best means, to deal with that inequality is education.

Education, as Thomas Piketty said in his book Capital, is a great force for convergence, rather than divergence, and it's important to us as a nation that we do take action in relation to that growing inequality. It's also important to recognise that universities and funding for education make a contribution to the question of inequality, which is deeply important because of the impacts that widening inequality have, not just on the lifestyles of the individuals concerned but on the economic life of the nation.

Education is also important because we are at a time of rapid change in relation to the nature of work. I'm not a pessimist about what that may mean, but if we want to be able to take advantage of the possibilities for the future and if we want young people to be able to have the skills and the knowledge that they will need for the jobs of the future, then that means a real focus on education, not exclusively on higher education, of course, but this motion is about higher education so I'll go to that.

There are good, sound, solid economic reasons to focus on having appropriate funding for higher education and for education generally. In addition to the domestic reasons, we should not forget the issue of trade. International education together with international tourism are our key services exports. They are incredibly important not just in terms of services exports but in terms of exports more broadly. We absolutely should be seeking to encourage our universities to strive to be world class. We should do that not only for the domestic benefits but for their assistance in attracting international students. We need to attract more international students. Our competitor countries in the region are funding their publicly funded universities to a greater degree. They're putting more public funding behind universities.

While this is happening—while we have increasing inequality, while we have some very concerning economic indicators and while our competitor nations are putting money into higher education—what's Australia doing? I'm sad to say that the Turnbull government are cutting funding to universities. It's their third chop at it. When they were first elected it was a 20 per cent cut and full fee-deregulation, which would have seen $100,000 degrees. Happily, we were able to stop that. Then in their next iteration, last year, they wanted to hike up fees by 7.5 per cent, have a commensurate cut in university funding, have a further cut to university funding and then drop the HECS repayment threshold down to about $45,000. We saw that one off as well, not just us, of course, but the community, stakeholders, students, families—just people who were worried about whether their kids would be able to get a higher education. This idea of increasing university fees at a time when Australian households are facing record household debt and so loading them up with more debt is a very silly one. It's not just silly for those individuals. What will be the affect on national consumption if we are asking people to carry more debt into their 20s and 30s and beyond? It's a bad idea, it was bad policy and I'm glad we were able to see it off.

I do regret to say that the government are now cutting $2.2 billion from higher education. They're freezing levels for 2018 and 2019.

Mr Wallace interjecting

Ms BUTLER:  I hear the member for Fisher saying, 'Rubbish.' It's not rubbish. Maybe he ought to go and crack a book some time and see what's being said by the sector and by families in his electorate who are worried about whether their children will be able to get a university degree. Universities Australia have estimated that 9½ thousand people this year and 9½ thousand people next year will be affected by these cuts. It's only the beginning and the government should be ashamed.

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