Question Time – Cost-of-living relief to teaching, nursing and social work students

Mr JOSH WILSON (Fremantle) (15:00): My question is to the Minister for Education. What is Albanese Labor government doing to provide cost-of-living relief to teaching, nursing and social work students?

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (15:01): I thank the fantastic member for Fremantle for his question. The budget wipes about $3 billion of HECS debt for more than three million Australians. That includes more than 21,000 people in the member for Fremantle’s electorate. What this means is that, if you’ve got an average HECS debt of 26 grand, then your debt will be cut by about $1,200. If you’ve got a debt of $45,000, it will be cut by $2,000. If you’ve got a HECS debt of $60,000, it will be cut by around $2,700.

The member for Fremantle asks me about cost-of-living relief for teaching, nursing and social work students. The budget includes for the first time ever financial support for those students to help them while they do their prac, the practical part of their degree. A lot of students have told me that, when they do their prac, they’ve often got to give up their part-time job. Sometimes they’ve got to move away from home. For a lot of people, that can mean delaying finishing their degree or not finishing it at all.

We need more teachers, we need more nurses, we need more midwives and we need more social workers. These are people who’ve signed up to do the most important jobs in this country: to educate our kids, to look after us when we’re ill or when we’re old, to help women during childbirth, to help support women in domestic violence refuges. That’s why this is important. It’s a bit of practical support for people while they do their practical training.

I was at a hospital not far from here with the member for Canberra last week, and we met a nursing student named Anne. She told us that she has to move to regional New South Wales to do her prac. It means she has to move away from her family and she has to pay rent at two places at once. She broke it down like this: ‘Placements are an expensive cost to students. Sometimes you have to travel to rural placements, and we’re out of pocket. So we’re effectively paying for placement and, unfortunately, that invaluable experience doesn’t pay our bills. So our bills don’t stop. So this is a fabulous incentive.’ I got this email the other day from Natalie, a teaching student at Western Sydney University: ‘I didn’t actually think the government would make major changes in the way that they have with HECS and paid prac. This will be incredibly helpful for me, my levels of stress and my bank account.’

These are important reforms. The changes to HECS will help with the cost of degrees. The new paid prac will help with the cost of living. They’ll help to train more teachers, nurses, midwives and social workers. It’s all a fundamental part of building a future made right here in Australia.