Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (12:59): I second the amendment. It's an honour to follow the member for Sydney. I think everyone in this place understands that she has a total commitment to education in this country. She is a person that fully understands that education is a great enabler for Australian children and also that the most essential investment a country can make is in human resources through education. In saying that, we will be supporting the passage of this bill. Nevertheless, I don't intend to let the government get away with fooling everyday Australians or let people believe that this government actually cares about what's happening in our schools, universities and TAFE colleges.
Essentially, what this bill does is it introduces two fundamental changes. Firstly, the bill makes sensible changes to cover the costs of training for licences and rating required by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority for the most practical commercial aviation requirements. The bill increases the combined Higher Education Loan Program, the HELP scheme, for students undertaking eligible aviation courses from 1 January 2020 from $104,440 to $152,700. Essentially, if we are going to have the pilots that we need for tomorrow, we need to invest in those aviation students today, and the cost of aviation education, as most people in this place would understand, is very high and is continually impacted by the various requirements of the air safety authority for commercial pilots. So reducing the barrier to enrol in aviation education, I think, is a good thing, and we fully support that.
Secondly, the bill also introduces remission of an individual's HELP debt relating to their recognised initial teacher training qualification after four years of teaching in remote schools. I've got to say that this is a very good thing. This is about trying to get new graduates to actually commit to teaching in remote and regional areas. For the purpose of this, schools will be defined as early childhood education and care services providing a preschool education program as well as preschools themselves and schools providing primary or secondary education. The measure also waives indexation of a teacher's accumulated HELP debt on the years they are teaching at such schools. Again, that's a good thing. It's something positive we can do to encourage people to consider not only education in the first instance but also committing to teaching in remote areas. So that is a welcome addition and something which should be supported.
As a parliament, we must be working to ensure that every child in every classroom in every school gets the same first-class education. That's always been the desire of Labor. It's the position we've taken to a number of elections. We believe first and foremost in education.
I certainly won't be opposing any of the sensible changes brought in by this legislation, but I do want to draw attention to the relentless attacks that have been made by this government and its predecessor Liberal governments particularly on higher education areas and vocational and technical education. After the election of Tony Abbott, followed by Mr Turnbull and then Prime Minister Morrison, we have seen attack after attack on our universities. We have seen them cut $2.2 billion in funding from our universities, which has certainly impacted tertiary education for Australian students. Since the election of Mr Abbott in 2013, where he promised no cuts to education, universities have had fee deregulation, policy chaos and, from a university administrator's point of view, an overlay of uncertainty.
The government used the 2017 MYEFO report as a back-door way of cutting $2.2 billion off universities, effectively re-capping undergraduate places and changing the higher education program. They were reckless and unfair. They ensured up to 200,000 Australian students would effectively miss out on the opportunity to attend university. That government, simply by capping those places, not only devastated the aims and aspirations of many families and their children but it also had a devastating impact on our society and particularly on our economy. Professor Margaret Gardner, the chair of Universities Australia, correctly described as a double-whammy on students to lift fees and erode funds for courses and support.
The government tried to talk up the support for rural, regional and remote students yet it continued to ignore the recommendations that came out of the Napthine review. By the way, its very first recommendation was to reintroduce Labor's demand driven system for regional universities. The member for Sydney has just very eloquently explained the significance of not getting regional children tertiary education through regional universities but also what it meant for those universities to not be able to attract additional tertiary students and what it meant to the economy of remote and regional areas.
Of the extra 213,064 additional students between 2009 and 2017 who got a university education because of Labor's policies, you realise that 25 per cent of those, quite frankly, came from the lowest socioeconomic quartiles in our society. This actually made a difference. People could be educated and then use that education to lift themselves out of the low socio-economic status that many of them came from. In saying that, I particularly refer to the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. Their representation in universities nearly doubled from 7,391 in 2009 to 14,429 in 2017.
If the Liberals had their way, they would have also introduced $100,000 degrees. They have forced students to start paying off their HELP debts when they earn $45,000, which is only $9,000 above the minimum wage. On this side of the House, we know that debt is a significant barrier to study, particularly for those from low-income families. I want to see a greater participation rate of Australian students, particularly from areas represented by me and the member for Blaxland and the member for Werriwa, areas which have a significantly high proportion of disadvantage. We see the opportunity of a university education as what can lift people out of poverty to fulfil their aims and aspirations in life. We think that's a good thing. Professor Barney Glover, Vice-Chancellor and President of Western Sydney University, succinctly summed up the ramifications of this government's savage cuts to our universities, stating:
The changes the Government is proposing constitute a significant risk to the sustainability, quality and competitiveness of Australia's universities.
When leaders of universities are speaking like that, I think the government should be taking note. We want to make sure that our universities are competitive, can deliver courses and can support the demand that is out there for tertiary education.
No wonder the Prime Minister is conducting a series of seminars saying, 'Well, you don't need to go to university; you could actually become a tradesperson.' That could be true, until you look at what the government has done to TAFE colleges and vocational education. The $3 billion cuts to TAFE don't bear out his proposition that, instead of a tertiary education at a university, 'maybe you should think about going to TAFE'. I think it is time that the government put their money where their mouth is. If you believe in education, make the investment—don't be mealy-mouthed and go around using MyInfo to justify cuts to universities or TAFE colleges.
Quite frankly, we need a government that is prepared to invest in the future of our nation. An investment in education is the biggest and most effective investment a government can make in the future of a nation. Yet this government looks at ways to cut that investment and make it more difficult for those who educate our students—whether it be at a university level or at a vocational education level—to go about their job of ensuring that we have the talents and skills that we need for the future of this country.
In speaking about education, I would also like to talk about our teachers. We should be looking at what occurs in other countries, particularly countries in Europe. We need to have a system where we have the top achievers in universities seeking to compete for the opportunity to become teachers. We believe that those who teach should be treated and seen with the same degree of respect as any professional, whether they be in medicine, law or any of the other professions. We need to ensure that we have the best and brightest people committing to educate our children. After all, they are the ones who are going to be developing people for the future. We want them to help develop in our young people a lifelong thirst for education. It does not help when we see the rankings required to qualify for teaching degrees going lower and lower. As I said, we need to ensure that we have the best and brightest people committed to education and remaining in that profession doing what this nation needs them to do—developing our human resources.
In closing, I will just make a few comments on TAFE. This government has to acknowledge that, over the course of their term, we've lost 150,000 apprentices and trainees—and that was before their $3 billion of cuts to the TAFE sector. Two of my sons are tradesmen. They both went through Miller TAFE. One is a builder and one is an electrician. They both do very well and we are very proud of what they do. But courses like that have been cut back. A young person in Western Sydney now has to find a TAFE—not where the people are; you've got to go somewhere else now—to try to get educated and skilled in the most basic aspects of building, electrical, mechanical and other trades like that. We need TAFE colleges applying their training to where the people are—to where the buildings are being constructed and where they can work in partnership with employers. But the government just closes their eyes to that and say that it is a state matter. Education is not something that we can just kick around on some geographical map or some constitutional requirement to say whether this is or a state or federal issue.
If we are serious about developing this country, if we are serious about having the skills sets that we need for the future, we must be determined to invest in the resources we need. This government should be condemned for their lack of attention to and investment in both higher education and TAFE and vocational training.