Federal Parliament - Tertiary Education

June 18, 2020

Dr ALYIt's actually quite a pleasure to follow the Member for Curtin, given her contribution where she spoke so passionately about the transformative power of education, and I recognise the Member for Curtin's contributions to education in Western Australia over the past two decades. I also admire her call for bipartisanship towards better outcomes in our education system.

I'm not for one minute suggesting that the other side don't want that. I don't think we have to tell the members opposite here about the value of education, because many of them have benefited from a university education and from vocational education and training. But it takes a special kind of someone to use the system, take the opportunities that are given to them, and then turn around and whack the door closed to anyone else wanting to do the same. But that's what this government has done. I'm not saying this lightly, and I'm not saying this as a cheap shot at the government, either. I'm saying this as somebody who has also spent the last two decades in both the vocational education and training system and the university sector, as a junior and then as a senior academic, as a teacher and as a researcher.

I know what the cuts to TAFE and the cuts to universities have meant, not just for the sector but also for students. I am a product of a university education. I didn't go to any of the Group of Eight; I went to a small university that catered specifically for disadvantaged students, for women wanting to re-enter the workforce and for students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. And I'm proud to be the first graduate of Edith Cowan University to stand in this place.

This government hasn't just left young people out in the cold—those who want to go on and get a university education. They've actually shut the gate, locked the door and barricaded the windows for young people. Since the election of this government in 2013 universities and students have been under constant attack, and I want to go through a number of those instances. The 2017 MYEFO decision to cut $2.2 billion from universities, re-capped undergraduate places and their changes to the Higher Education Loan Program was one instance. We've got 200,000 students who are going to miss out on the opportunity of a university place over the decade because of the government's insistence on capping university places. That's 200,000 missed opportunities. That's 200,000 potential scientists, 200,000 potential creative artists, 200,000 potential teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers, and maybe even the next Prime Minister of Australia—maybe.

We know that if the Liberals had their way we would already be seeing $100,000 university degrees in this country. I also want to remind the House about the government's talk of charging for the university pathways program. I remember that quite distinctly. I remember standing in this House and talking about that program. That six-month pathway program doesn't even yield a qualification. But this government wanted to charge students $3,000. I know students who are in that program. I've referred students to that program, as I'm sure the member for Lalor has. We know the kids who use that program, don't we? We know the kids who do the six-month program with the hope of getting into university and getting a university degree.

Who are the kids, who are the young people—who are the people?—who are going to be affected by this? They're young people in rural and regional areas, women seeking to re-enter the workforce and disadvantaged young people. These cuts hit the most vulnerable, those who are the most aspirational and those we should be lifting up. We should be lifting up these young people.