09 November 2020


I'm very happy to speak to this amendment moved by the member for Sydney. What a contest of ideas there is on education policy! Lately the Labor leader, the member for Grayndler, spent nearly a whole day at an early childhood education centre discussing Labor's promise to make child care universally affordable. Meanwhile, the Liberals have spent their days passing their awful job-ready graduates legislation, which, in summary, says to kids from less privileged backgrounds, 'Uni is not for you.' Labor has fought tooth and nail to kill off this legislation. We heard from the member for Grayndler who said: 'We see education as being about creating opportunity. Those opposite see it as entrenching privilege.' And now this: another piece of legislation which is just a tweak to a system—a tweak which Labor had to demand after it was introduced half baked last time.


Labor will not oppose these bills. From 1 January 2020, tuition protection scheme arrangements were expanded to cover students accessing VET student loans, FEE-HELP and HECS-HELP assistance at private education providers through the Education Legislation Amendment (Tuition Protection and Other Measures) Act, which Labor supported through parliament. At the time, Labor voiced our concerns that exclusion of domestic up-front fee-paying students from the tuition protection scheme would create a complex situation where different students had different rights and protections. The shadow minister for education and training wrote to the minister asking him to consider exactly these changes. I was proud to support the member for Sydney in this work. I spoke to many stakeholders at the time who were also concerned about the lack of coverage for fee-paying students. We welcome these bills which provide new tuition protection arrangements for domestic up-front fee-paying students. It may have taken nearly 10 months, but we're pleased that the government has come around to legislating to tie up these loose ends.


More broadly, while we welcome this tweak to the tuition protection scheme, we must consider this in light of this government's attacks on Australia's higher education system. We on this side of the House support university education, we support TAFE, we support schools and we support early education. The same cannot be said for those who sit opposite. The Liberal government is systematically dismantling the choice that Australian kids should be able to make to decide between going to TAFE, getting a university degree or entering the workforce. The Liberals have decided that only rich kids should go to uni, and they refuse to fund our public provider, TAFE. They ignore the incredibly weak job prospects that 2020 has delivered to our youngsters. Now, rather than choosing between earning or learning, many will just enter the dole queue.


The year 12s in my electorate have had such a tough year, persevering through incredible uncertainty this year. Year 12 kids sitting their exams are thinking about the fact that the degree that they set their heart on years ago may well be out of reach. I've had so many emails and calls from students who had planned to study humanities, law, economics, commerce, communications or visual arts, and now they see those degrees as being out of reach. Fees for humanities and communications subjects will rise by 113 per cent. Law, commerce and economics will increase by 28 per cent. A full four-year program in these disciplines will cost students about $58,000. As the Labor leader said this morning, those who sit opposite have said, 'Know your place.' That's their view of the world; it makes me furious.


Despite the hubris, the Liberals are making it harder and more expensive to go to university and not only are they closing the doors on a uni education but they are refusing to value a vocational education and training sector, particularly by the public provider. There was not a cent in this budget for TAFE. The government has spent seven years neglecting TAFE and training systems at a time when we as a nation are screaming out for skilled workers. It's a travesty that this government has neglected the VET sector and our youth.


Labor has a vision. A vision for TAFEs and the VET sector. It's one where it is vital, robust and valued. We have a vision for the uni sector where every kid who excels at school can go to uni. Labor doesn't want Australia to be like America, where our kids have to get a life time of debt to get a good education. It's only ever Labor that makes good education possible for all Australians. Labor wants uni to be affordable and available to all students who work hard, and we want that for kids who want vocational training as well.


We have a vision for early education to be universally affordable and high quality. This government does not. It gives lip-service but does nothing useful. Yes, we will support this legislation—there's nothing wrong with this piece of legislation—but please get your act together and actually open up pathways for young people to study and work.