Students are losers under Morrison's Budget

May 24, 2021


I rise to speak on the motion submitted to the parliament by the member for Reid. In doing so, I want to note that I'm wearing my Griffith University tie, from a university that's in my electorate. It is perplexing that this motion notes that the government is 'supporting universities through the COVID-19 pandemic'. I thought the word 'not' might have been missing or was written in invisible ink or something, because nothing could be further from the truth.

Let's look at the facts. Firstly, the Morrison government changed the rules three times to stop universities getting JobKeeper during the pandemic. Already more than 17,000 jobs at universities have been lost. There was no mention of that from the member for Reid. The jobs include academics, cleaners, admin staff, tutors and everyone who keeps the university up and running. Our regional universities have been hit particularly hard, with some campuses already closed. I think the University of the Sunshine Coast or Central Queensland University had to close one.

Secondly, let's look at the budget handed down just recently, the 'MorrisonKeeper' budget. The Morrison government is happy to put billions of dollars on the nation's credit card for a political fix, but it will not lift a finger to help universities. The Nationals have been either muzzled, muted or missing when it comes to speaking up for bush universities. Rather than supporting our universities, which educate over one million Australians and employ over 100,000 more, the coalition have cut funding at a time when universities need it most. The member for Reid should turn to page 170 of Budget Paper No. 1 where it clearly says that funding will decrease by 9.3 per cent in real terms from to 2021-22 through to 2024-25. That's one university dollar ripped out of every 10 going to universities.

Last year in the face of international students being locked out of studying in Australia—remember where the Prime Minister said, 'Go home'—the government provided some extra funding for research. Obviously it would've made a lot of sense for that extra funding to be continued, particularly when the budget revealed borders are likely to remain shut until mid-2022. No international students can start another academic year. But instead the Morrison budget had nothing for universities. It's not only negligent but short-sighted to neglect our third largest export. Yes, I said that correctly: our third largest export.

New research from the Mitchell Institute has found that a third academic year of no international students would cost Australia about $20 billion a year, that's half of the pre-pandemic value of the sector. These losses might snowball beyond the forward estimates once Canada, the US, and the UK steal our students. This isn't just a problem for our universities. The economic value of international students is far wider than the university sector. Most of the economic value from these students is from them spending foreign money in the wider economy. They go on tourist trips. They bring their family over. Of course the international student sector would be healthier if the Morrison government had not failed in its responsibility to set-up successful quarantine for arrivals in Australia during the pandemic. Quarantine is clearly a federal responsibility. It actually says so in the Constitution.

There are still around 10,000 Australians stuck in India after dealing with the threat of jail just to come home. They now need flights. There are tens of thousands more Australians in other parts of the world wanting to come home but who are unable to. That's a massive failure from the Morrison government. For the international education sector—as I said Australia's third biggest export—the coalition's failure to set-up safe quarantine facilities is a disaster. Our nation risks losing the research sector as well—almost altogether. After the budget was handed down, the Vice-Chancellor of ANU, Brian Schmidt, reportedly said: 'I am worried that we are going to lose huge capacity in the research sector that will take decades to recover.' Professor Duncan Ivison, deputy vice chancellor for research at the University of Sydney, is concerned about 'the long-term viability of research endeavours as a sector because once it goes it's very hard to get back'.

The Morrison budget has nothing for students. The job-ready graduates program has already made it harder and more expensive for Australians to go to uni. Overall kids will be paying seven per cent more out of their own pockets to go to uni. A few people will be better off but overall seven per cent more will be coming out of Australians pockets. I don't want Australia to become the America of the south where kids end up with a lifetime of debt. For a basic degree young Australians will end up with a debt of around $60,000. How can they ever save for a deposit for a house with that debt before they even get a job?