Monday, 15 March 2010
Higher Education Support Amendment (Fee-Help Loan Fee) Bill 2010
My apologies, Mr Deputy Speaker. As I was saying, the changes to FEE-HELP loans will affect students who are paying full fees for undergraduate courses. For example, Bond University, which is a private university, offers 100 per cent of courses as full-fee-paying courses. I do not think that many of my rural constituency will be going to Bond University. Out of the 100 per cent, 70 per cent will be affected by this bill. To go further, around 75 per cent of students who enrol with private providers for undergraduate courses access FEE-HELP to pay their tuition fees.
This is one of those issues that go to the heart of the difference between the government and the opposition, the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. I am very proud to be a member of a Labor government that has a terrific record with regard to higher education. The Whitlam government brought in free higher education in about 1974, as we all know. This is a great example of a Labor government giving opportunities to all people to attend university on merit. That was a fantastic decision made by that government. Unfortunately, at the first opportunity that the Liberal Party had in government under Malcolm Fraser, they started to erode those provisions.
This is an example of the Liberal Party believing that higher education is for those who can afford it, not for those who merit it. It was left to another Labor government to bring in a new scheme. That scheme was HECS. It was a wonderful day for higher education policy in this country when that scheme was brought in. It meant that many people were able to access university education based on merit. HECS was essentially based on progressive taxation. The fees for university courses would be deferred and paid off over time when that student earned a reasonable income per year after finishing that course.
Then the Howard government came along. That government set about destroying higher education. The Howard government took money away from all levels at universities. I will not mention all of the previous government’s slashing of the system but there are a few examples that I must raise. Money was taken away from student associations, associations representing the interests of students. The Howard government raised HECS fees to a level unaffordable by many people. They brought in large numbers of full-fee-paying positions for undergraduate courses, eroding the merit based selection process.
The previous Liberal government did not believe that all people should have the opportunity, based on merit, to attend university. That is why this government has had to bring in so many reforms through the last two years: to address this concern. This government is abolishing full-fee-paying undergraduate courses. This government has tried to provide student income support for those who need it most, particularly in electorates such as Corangamite and your electorate of Braddon, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Liberal Party is again opposing these reforms to higher education and is again trying to establish a system where wealth, not merit, determines access to education. We believe in higher education and that is why this bill must not be opposed. The Liberal Party must get out of our way in the Senate. I commend the bill to the House.