Tue, 04 Jun 2024 - 18:55

Consideration In Detail - Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2024-2025

I begin by expressing my dismay that the Minister for Education could not be bothered to attend this important consideration-in-detail process. We heard all kinds of rhetoric from Labor before they came to government about their commitment to parliamentary accountability and scrutiny, but, yet again, the minister is treating this process with contempt, as we have seen done by a number of other ministers during this consideration-in-detail process.

Perhaps the Minister for Education is embarrassed about attending—to speak, for example, about the challenge of rising student debt levels. The fact is that Australian students are facing a HECS debt crisis under the Albanese Labor government. For three million Australians with a student debt, HELP loans have escalated by almost 16 per cent since the Albanese government was elected. Under the former coalition government, the average indexation rate was just 1.7 per cent, compared to that 16 per cent increase we've seen under the Albanese Labor government.

Now, the minister announced on 5 May that, in response to the Australian Universities Accord, the government will cap the HELP indexation rate. Labor said it would 'cut the student debt of more than three million Australians' in this month's budget. However, just two days later, on 7 May, the Australian Taxation Office confirmed that student loans would be indexed at the higher rate of 4.7 per cent from 1 June 2024, making a mockery of Labor's announcement.

Labor has treated the university research sector with disdain. The government has cut $102 million from university research programs delivered by the coalition, and, with research currently sitting at 1.7.9 per cent of GDP, this government is on track to break its pre-election promise that it would increase research funding to three per cent of GDP. Labor's budget also confirmed that the proposed Australian Tertiary Education Commission, due to start on 1 January 2025, has not been funded, which makes any rational observer really doubt the depth of Labor's commitment and the commitment that it's made to overturn the Job-ready Graduates program. In breach of its election commitment, Labor has simply delivered a school funding war by failing to provide on its commitment to so-called full and fair funding for public schools in the budget.

With one in three students failing NAPLAN, it's critical that the government delivers the reforms required to raise academic standards so that every child can reach his or her potential. This requires an unwavering commitment to evidence based teaching methods.

Of course, one other issue which is of significant concern under this government is the issue of student safety on university campuses. There's been an alarming rise in antisemitism since the appalling Hamas terrorist attack in Israel on 7 October 2023, and yet what we have seen is a distinct failure of leadership from the government and from some vice-chancellors, including the tacit acceptance of encampments and other protest activity, which is fuelling incitement and hate. There must be zero tolerance of antisemitism, which is why the coalition is calling on the Prime Minister to back a judicial inquiry into antisemitism on university campuses. I urge the government to support the private member's bill introduced by the member for Berowra which aims to establish just such a judicial inquiry.

I turn to questions for the minister. My first question is: given the right of everybody to be safe on a university campus, why has the minister failed to adopt a zero tolerance approach to antisemitism, including not speaking out in relation to encampments which are fuelling incitement and hate on a number of university campuses? On 5 May, why did the minister promise to lower HELP indexation on 1 June, when he knew this could not be delivered? Where is the legislation to enact these changes? And why did the minister not act earlier? In the face of Labor's 'big Australia' policy, what does the minister say to regional and smaller universities and private higher education providers, which have been hit hard by this government's discriminatory international student visa policies and now face a very uncertain future? Can the minister explain how payments for mandatory student prac placements will be delivered and why so many students are missing out, including those who are studying speech pathology, veterinary science, medicine, engineering and clinical psychology? With the next National School Reform Agreement in limbo, where are the school reforms that the member for Blaxland promised? I hope he answers these questions.