Questions without Notice: Student Debt

Ms TINK (North Sydney) (14:49): My question is to the Minister for Education. Tomorrow more than three million Australians will see their student debt rise in line with inflation, adding more than $1,000 to the average loan, the highest increase in more than three decades and nearly double the rate of wages growth this year. So far, the minister has not acted to freeze debts ahead of the 1 June deadline. In this time of ongoing high inflation and economic uncertainty, the need for reform seems clear. What plans does the minister have to provide some relief to the millions of hardworking Australians copping this smackdown tomorrow?

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (14:49): I thank the member for North Sydney for her question. I also recognise my friend the great Mem Fox, who’s in the gallery today. She has enriched the lives of millions of children here in Australia and right around the world.

The short answer to your question is that there are no changes to HECS or the indexation process in the budget. The changes we’ve made and the relief we’re providing are helping students with the cost of living by increasing youth allowance, Austudy and rent assistance. There are a couple of important points to make here. Changing the way HECS is indexed doesn’t put an extra dollar in the pocket of a university student today. That’s not the way that HECS works; it’s not like a mortgage. The amount that you pay back every year is based on your income. Now, I get that affordability is an issue, and that’s why I’ve asked the Universities Accord team to look at this, along with a whole bunch of other serious issues in our higher education system. I can advise the member that Professor Bruce Chapman, the architect of HECS, has been engaged by the accord team to work with them on this.

Going to university is important. Going to university is your ticket to the show. Nine out of 10 new jobs created today require you to go to TAFE or university, and going to university makes you money. The average income of someone with a university degree is about 94 grand. The average income today of somebody whose last year of education was year 12 is 68 grand. That’s a big difference. That’s a life-changing difference, and HECS has made it possible for millions and millions of Australians to go to university, to get that degree and to change their lives—but not everyone.

In the member for Wentworth’s electorate, 67 per cent of young people aged 24 to 34 have a uni degree. But in the member for Rankin’s electorate, it’s only 19 per cent. In the member for Melbourne’s electorate, 69 per cent of young adults have a university degree. But in the member for Longman’s electorate, it’s only 16 per cent. And in the member for North Sydney’s electorate, 71.3 per cent of young adults have a university degree. But in the member for Spence’s electorate, it’s only 15 per cent. There is a cost to going to university, but what is the cost of those kids missing out?

I don’t want us to be a country where your chances in life depend on how rich your parents are, where you live or the colour of your skin, but these statistics tell us that that is where we are today, and that, at its core, is what the Universities Accord is all about.