Question Time: Budget

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (15:01): My question is to the Minister for Education. What is the Albanese Labor government doing to ease cost-of-living pressures on students and to make the education system fairer after a decade of cuts and neglect?

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (15:01): I thank my friend the magnificent member for Moreton for his question. The big hike in HECS indexation last year hit a lot of Australians hard—in particular, a lot of young Australians. They made their voice heard, and we’ve heard it. The budget tonight will wipe about $3 billion of HECS debt for more than three million Australians. As members know, I asked the Universities Accord team to look at this issue, and they recommended that we set indexation at either inflation or wages, whatever is the lowest. We’re doing that and we’re going further than that. We’re going to backdate this to last year. In other words, we’re going to wipe out what happened last year and make sure it never happens again. For someone with an average HECS debt of about 26 grand, it means their HECS debt will be cut by about $1,200. For someone with a HECS debt of 45 grand, it will mean their HECS debt is cut by about $2,000. It’s an important reform to make HECS fairer.

In the budget tonight, for the first time ever, the Commonwealth government will provide financial support to teaching, nursing and social work students to help them while they’re doing their prac. These are people who have signed up to do some of the most important jobs in this country—people who are going to help educate our kids, look after us when we’re sick or when we’re old, support women in domestic violence refuges—and a big part of becoming a teacher or a nurse or a social worker is practical training. They sometimes have to give up their part-time job to do it. So this is a bit of practical help for people while they’re doing their practical training.

To tell you what it means, I got an email from a nursing student from the member for Bendigo’s electorate last week. It said this: ‘I just saw your announcement about paid placement for nurses, and I’m crying. You’ve given me faith that the Labor government really cares about the growth of the whole community. I cannot even explain how much this announcement has benefited me mentally, let alone financially. Thank you for listening to the community.’

Paid pracs and making HECS fairer are just two parts of our response to the Universities Accord. They help with the cost of degrees and they help with the cost of living. But we’ve also got to do something about the cost of a lot of young people missing out on the chance to go to university altogether—in particular, young people from our outer suburbs and regional Australia. You’ll see what we do there tonight. Ten years ago, the Liberals cut the guts out of education in their 2014 budget. We’re building a better and fairer education system, and you’ll see that in the budget tonight.