February 12, 2018

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (12:44): As many students are returning to university or embarking on their first experience in higher education, the member for Griffith is right in that we should reflect on this government's $2.2 billion cuts to universities, cuts which this government is now implementing through a two-year freeze on Commonwealth grant funding for teaching and learning. Put these cuts in perspective. They're the equivalent of 9,500 young Australians missing out on university placements during 2018-19. Adding to this far-reaching impact on our universities is the government's mid-year budget announcement, which is set to cost the Western Sydney University an estimated $5.7 million this year alone. This means they'll have very little left to continue their longstanding support for business and start-ups across Western Sydney. These cuts leave many students with uncertainty. Professor Margaret Gardner, the chair of Universities Australia, correctly described the cuts as:

… a “double whammy” on students—both by lifting fees and eroding funding for courses, student learning and student support.

Nonetheless, we have the Turnbull government claiming that these cuts are 'sustainable' and 'student focused'. By the way, this is the same rhetoric that this government tried to have us believe when it attempted to legislate the original cuts to universities. Those measures, as we all know, were rejected by the Senate, and rejected for good reason: it's bad policy. The government is relentless in its attack on universities and continues the attack now through the back door. Professor Barney Glover, the vice-chancellor and president of Western Sydney University, succinctly summed up the ramifications by stating that these changes the government is proposing constitute a significant risk to the sustainability, quality and competitiveness of Australian universities.

Of course, you can't expect those opposite to understand the impact of these cuts. After all, they're the same bunch who cut $17 billion from our schools and almost $650 million from our TAFE colleges, and now they're doing the same to our universities. All the while, they're so committed to handing out $65 billion in tax cuts to millionaires, big business and the top end of town. I have a piece of advice for those opposite: if you can't afford the tax cuts, don't do it. And don't do it at the expense of our future generations. The unfairness of these cuts is plain. The government keeps proving that they can't be trusted when it comes to important investments for our nation. An investment in education is an investment for our future. It's an investment in the nation's future. There is probably no greater investment that could be made by government.

The government says universities understand and are compliant with their approach. Just for the record, they're not terribly impressed. Peter Hoj, chair of the Group of Eight, said they've now reached a tipping point. He said the government was treating the sector like a 'cash cow to be milked for budget cuts' rather than a means to improve the career opportunities of young people. These measures will no doubt have a significant impact on the most disadvantaged in our society. For many in my electorate of Fowler, these cuts will be critical. As Professor Barney Glover noted, the cuts may have an unintended impost on, for example, mature age students, Indigenous students, and individuals with interrupted career paths or reduced employment due to childminding and other life events.

I know what tertiary education means to communities like mine. My electorate in Western Sydney, as you know, is not a rich community. As a matter of fact, it has significant pockets of disadvantage. My electorate is made up disproportionately of migrants and refugees. Tertiary education to them is very important. They see its value not just as a source of knowledge but as a pathway to changing their lives for the better. These cuts are unfair. They are not good for our universities. They're not good for our students. They're not good for our economy and they're certainly not good for the future prosperity of our nation.