Higher Education Take Note of Answers

Our higher education reforms are to the advantage of Australia’s education sector. Not only do they help the tertiary education sector, the universities, but they also provide opportunities for students to get FEE-HELP in other areas—particularly trade areas and vocational education—where it is not currently available. In contrast to Labor’s claims, our reforms mean that there will be more pathway courses available to low-SES and first generation university students, enabling them to break into university training.

Labor are talking about $100,000 degrees, but I refer senators to an article written by Geoff Sharrock, program director of the LH Martin Institute at the University of Melbourne. He says that Labor’s $100,000 degree projections are misleading. He runs through, in some detail, how courses will be priced in a deregulated environment. He demonstrates that, with the three tiers of funding available for courses ranging from arts, nursing and education through to commerce, law and medicine, the cost of degrees comes nowhere near $100,000—while still providing significant funding increases for universities.

The claims by the Labor Party that the coalition is bad for education are hollow, especially when seen in the context of what they did while in government. Here is a coalition government providing pathways for people from low-SES backgrounds; providing FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP loans for people not currently entitled to them; and, importantly, providing funding for things like the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, which employees some 1,500 Australians. We heard Senator Carr decry the government’s management of NCRIS, but this rings hollow when, as Senator Wong, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, admitted today, NCRIS funding under Labor was a lapsing program. As of June this year, all the funding for that program which Senator Carr was getting so hysterical about was going to lapse—because his government, under his watch, set it up that way. What did he do when he was the minister, when Labor were in government, to prevent the program from lapsing? The lapsing of the program would have meant there would have been no funding for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy. This government, as the Minister for Finance highlighted today, made it very clear in Budget Paper No.2—page 88, I believe it was—that money had been allocated to provide certainty to this program going forward.

Let us compare the words—the hollow rhetoric—of the ALP today with their actions when in government. In the 2011-12 budget, they reduced the HECS-HELP discount for voluntary repayments, a saving of nearly $608 million to the government. They reinstated band 2 student contributions for mathematics, statistics and science students—over $1 billion ripped out of the system. This was in an environment where are looking to encourage young men and women to take up maths and science, the very things we need to grow the engineering capacity of this nation, to develop a sustainable, innovative and smart future for Australian and our young people. The Labor government ripped a billion dollars out of higher education from the very areas that are critical to achieving that future. All up, the previous government took some $6½ billion out of higher education. This government is looking to put in place reform measures that will make higher education more affordable, sustainable and, importantly, accessible to people who need it, but the best the ALP can do is come here and criticise it—while completely ignoring the fact that, when they were in government, they disadvantaged the very people they now claim to support and represent. The government stands by these measures. (Time expired)