Questions without Notice: Student Debt

Mr BATES (Brisbane) (14:56): My question is to the Prime Minister. Student debt was indexed today at 7.1 per cent, adding thousands of dollars to the already giant debts from uni fees. Prime Minister, you got to go to university for free, so why did your government do nothing to stop this indexation and even go so far as to block the Greens’ bill to free student debt and abolish indexation?

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (14:56): I refer you to the answers I gave to the member for Clark last week as well as to the member for North Sydney yesterday, where I directly answered that question. The fact is that there is a cost to getting a university degree, but there is also a value. The average income of somebody with a university degree today is about a hundred grand, and the average income of somebody whose last year of education was year 12 is 70 grand, so that’s a $30,000 difference each and every year. The average amount of HECS debt amongst people who have a HECS debt today is $24,000.

People’s repayments today don’t change. It’s important to make this point. This is not the way HECS works. It’s not like a loan from a bank, where when interest rates go up your repayments go up. Repayments don’t go up unless your salary goes up.

Mr Bandt interjecting—

The SPEAKER: The Leader of the Australian Greens will cease interjecting.

Mr CLARE: Another point to make here is this: HECS is an interest-free loan. It’s not like a bank, where they lend you money and then they charge you interest and make a profit. The taxpayer doesn’t make a profit here. The taxpayer lends a dollar and they get that dollar back in real terms. That’s it—no profit. If we make a change here, what this means is that taxpayers, in all of our electorates, have to pay more. If we do what the Greens are suggesting, that’s taxpayers paying $9 billion more.

Mr Bandt interjecting—

Mr CLARE: But, more than that, it means that fewer people go to university, not more—just a lucky few, a privileged few. I want more people to go to university. I said yesterday that there are some parts of the country where 70 per cent of young adults have got a university degree.

Ms Watson-Brown interjecting—

The SPEAKER: The member for Ryan will cease interjecting.

Mr CLARE: There are some places, like Elizabeth in South Australia, where it’s seven per cent. I want young people in Elizabeth to have the same shot at going to university as the young people at Elizabeth Bay. I do.

The SPEAKER: The minister will pause. I want to hear from the member for North Sydney on a point of order.

Ms Tink: Thank you, Mr Speaker. It goes to direct relevance. I would suggest to the minister: if you don’t have the answer, please feel free to take it on notice and feed back to us later.

The SPEAKER: Resume your seat. Order! The question was about student debt and about who got to go to university and whether people got to go to university for free, so that was an abuse of a point of order, so the member for North Sydney is warned.

Honourable members interjectin g—

The SPEAKER: Order! We don’t need commentary when I make a ruling for anyone in the House. I’m just going to allow the minister to continue in silence.

Mr CLARE: I want more people from poor backgrounds to go to university. I want more people from the regions to go to university. I want more people from the bush to go to university. I want more Indigenous Australians to go to university. And I have to tell you, if we’re going to use taxpayers’ money to invest in our universities to help more people to go to university, then I make no apologies in saying I want it to be them.