Question Time: Education

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (14:45): I thank the member for Fowler for her question. She has the privilege of representing one of the best places in Australia, if not the world. It just happens to be the place that I grew up in, Cabramatta. She also represents my mum and dad, who still live there. I went to Cabramatta Primary School and Canley Vale High School. I was the first person in my family to finish Year 10. A lot of kids I went to school with never got a chance to go to university. For them it seemed like it was somewhere else for someone else. It was just too far away. That’s why the Fairfield Connect University Hub that the Minister for Climate Change and Energy and I opened in Fairfield the other day is really important. It’s about breaking down that invisible barrier and helping kids from the communities that we represent in Western Sydney to get a crack at university. I can anticipate your points of order that says what are we doing about HECS and HELP?

The SPEAKER: The member for Fowler on a point of order?

Ms Le: Relevance. When will the government take action to freeze the HECS debt, especially for those struggling in Western Sydney?

The SPEAKER: The minister has had one minute 10 seconds and provided some context, but he’ll have to return to the question.

Mr CLARE: Like a modern-day Nostradamus, I thought you were going to take me there.

Mr Dutton interjecting

Mr CLARE: Are you smiling? I’ve never seen you so happy. Come on, smile a bit more.

The SPEAKER: The minister will return to the question and the Leader of the Opposition will pause.

Mr CLARE: Now he’s angry, like a try-hard Tony Abbott: all the anger without the onion. Come on, hurry up, Mr Smiles.

The SPEAKER: The Minister will pause. The Leader of the Opposition will pause. The member has asked the question. I appreciate the back and forth that’s happening at the front table, but I’m asking you to refer to the member for Fowler’s question.

Mr CLARE: Back to the best place in Australia: Fowler. We want to make sure more Australians get a crack at going to university. That’s what the Universities Accord is all about. One of the set of recommendations in that report, as I said in answer to the member for Ryan’s question last week, was about how we make HECS, what we now call HELP, fairer and simpler. We’re considering those recommendations at the moment and we’ll respond in the next few months. What that report told us is that we need more people to be able to get a crack at going to TAFE or university in the years ahead. More jobs will require more skills. In the days when we were growing up, when Hawke and Keating were prime ministers, the percentage of people who finished school jumped from 40 per cent to almost 80 per cent. That was nation-changing stuff. That was big economic reform that created businesses and jobs that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. The accord says that in the decades ahead, we won’t just need 80 per cent of people to finish school, we’ll need 80 per cent of people to be able to finish school and then go on to TAFE or university. A lot of those people grow up in Fowler and Blaxland and McMahon in the western suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and in regional Australia too. If we don’t make sure we give them a crack at going to universities, we won’t have the economic firepower to be everything this country can be in the years ahead. At its core, that’s what the accord is all about.