Oct 19, 2020

BILLS – Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-Ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill 2020 – Consideration of Senate Message – Monday, 19 October 2020

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (12:10): One of the great divides in Australian politics is attitude towards education. We see education as being about creating opportunity; those opposite see it as entrenching privilege. That’s what we’re voting on here today, because it isn’t rich kids who’ll be discouraged from going to university. It’s not my son or the sons or daughters of other politicians. They can afford to go to university. It is those young people out there today who might be the first in their family to finish school and who are thinking about whether they will take up that opportunity—not whether they’re smart enough, because they’ve got the marks to get into university, but whether they will go or not. For a working-class young person out there in the suburbs and the regional cities, a $58,000 debt at the end of that process is a real penalty to them.


The member for Bradfield, who I was on Sydney uni SRC with—he had the same personality then as he has now—used to speak in those days about the importance of access to education, but he doesn’t anymore. All the children who get the opportunity—and good luck to them—to go to those GPS schools will be okay. It’s the kids in the local high school or the local systemic Catholic school who will be disadvantaged and discouraged from going to university.


We on this side of the House support university education. We support TAFE. We support schools. And—guess what, folks?—we support early childhood education too. That’s why that was at the centre of the budget reply just a week ago. We understand that, with education, you can begin at the beginning. What those opposite have done in ignoring child care and entrenching privilege in university is a double whammy at both ends of the spectrum. They’ve said, ‘We’re not going to give you the best start in life and we’ll keep you down later on in life as well.’


Dr Chalmers: ‘Know your place.’


Mr ALBANESE: They’ve said, ‘Know your place,’ as the shadow Treasurer says. That’s their view of the world. They think they’ve made it and there’s no need to allow access to anyone else. We think it should be on the basis of how smart you are. We already know that the truth is that, if you’re from a background whereby you get to go to what they regard as the best schools, you have the best tutors and you have all of those advantages in life over a kid from a disadvantaged background who hopes for something better.


Those opposite speak about aspiration, but in everything that they do they try to keep people in their place, to keep those chains of class attached to people, keeping them down, rather than giving them the opportunity to be raised up. The fact is that on the motion before the parliament now, the Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-Ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill 2020, have they advocated strongly here? Have you heard them? There’s been not a single word in support of crunching this change through. Everyone’s just kept quiet, because that’s what they want. When the Prime Minister spoke about appealing to the ‘quiet Australians’, what he was really saying was, ‘Everyone else should shut up and know their place.’ That’s what he said. And this legislation is about entrenching privilege and opposing the possibility that people might actually get access to a higher education based upon how smart they are, not based upon the accident of birth. This is consistent with the approach that they have to education all the way through, from early childhood through to schools, the $3 billion that’s been cut from TAFE, the 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees from when they were elected and, now, the ongoing attack on universities.


The fact is that an education doesn’t just benefit individuals; it benefits the entire society and our national economy, and we should be competing on the basis of how smart we are in the Asian century, not trying to compete, as they want, on the basis of the lowering of wages and conditions.