Higher Education, Parliament House

Mr PERRETT (MoretonOpposition Whip) (10:54): I rise to support the motion by the member for Sydney on behalf of all university students in all universities but particularly the more than 13,000 students who attend Griffith University, in my electorate of Moreton.

Today is their first day of lectures for 2017, apart from those hardworking souls who did the summer subjects. For many it will be their first ever day at university, the beginning of what we hope will be an amazing journey. I wish them all the best for their studies, especially my niece Erin Shearer and Ella Harrison from Warwick.

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of attending the O-Week Market Day at the Nathan Campus of Griffith University. I spoke with Lucas Kennedy, the president of the Student Representative Council, about campus life and what students are concerned about. Like many of his fellow students, Lucas said his family encouraged him to go to university so that he could launch himself into a good job and get ahead, but Lucas questions why he should be saddled with unreasonable debt when he graduates. Unlike my generation, many first year university students commencing today will graduate with a hefty debt. They will know the burden of debt before they have the satisfaction of starting their careers. We know how unaffordable housing is becoming, and these young Australians will be saddled with debt before they can even think about saving for a house. Universities should not only be for the elite. They should be the melting pots in our society, where our brightest come together, bringing all parts of our community together to learn, to research, to make discovers that will make all of our lives better and to develop the industries of the future and, more importantly, the jobs of the future. That is where the jobs and growth will come from.

It is critical that university education be accessible to all Australians who have the drive and the ability to learn. We do not want our tertiary education system to become Americanised. We need our best and brightest to be given opportunities, not constrained by their postcode. We do not want our children paying $100,000 degrees. I know $100,000 might not be much for those living in harbourside mansions, but it actually is a lot of money for most Australians. To a 17-year-old or an 18-year-old school leaver, it could be the factor that makes them decide to not continue their education—and what a terrible waste of human resources that would be. It should not be your parent's bank balance that determines whether you go to university.

Lucas is also worried about budget cuts at Griffith University. He says the cuts will see two staff per department cut. It will also mean that amenities will not be upgraded or new ones that are needed will not be installed. Lucas showed me a mother's room at the Nathan Campus that needs an upgrade. This space is for student mothers with children; it is a space for them to breastfeed their babies. It is a facility that is particularly important for women who are reskilling for the workforce. And Mr Turnbull has just made it a whole lot harder for university students to get through their university years. How? When we see the Fair Work Commission's decision to cut the penalty rates of some of Australia's lowest paid workers, who will this hit hardest? Women, especially, but also university students who find time to work on the weekend. I spoke to Lucas about this decision and asked him how it would affect students at Griffith uni. He told that me that he believes it will force more students to work more hours during the week, taking them out of classes and tutorials.

Could the Turnbull government make it any harder for our young Australians who are just trying to get ahead in life? Well, they are. This week they have introduced a bill that will have young people wait five weeks before they can access Newstart. The government want to push 22- to 24-year-olds onto the lower Youth Allowance, which will mean a cut of about $48 per week. It is easy to see where the priorities of this government are. They are giving a pay cut to young students and preventing them from accessing Newstart for five weeks; and they are intent on making them pay $100,000 for their degrees, all the while focusing on giving a tax break to big multinational companies, which will be a $50 billion tax give-away. What sort of skewed value system is that? There is a quote from Confucius, which says:

If your plan is for one year plant rice. If your plan is for ten years plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years educate children.

Sadly, Prime Minister Turnbull's only plan is to keep his own job—and that is deplorable.

Labor will fight for students to get a fair go, to be paid a fair return for their work on weekends, to get the help they need when they need it and to make sure they can get a university education if they have the ability, drive and talent. The future of Australia will be determined by the education we give our young Australians today. Sadly, the Turnbull government and the National Party are betraying the bush when it comes to education, and we see that in the front-page story of The Australian today. I am proud to commend this motion to the House.

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