PARLIAMENT HOUSE, Canberra:
Mr Speaker, may I congratulate you on your election to this high office. Labor are experts at peddling false information about the government’s policies. As we know, they will suggest that we have cut things when we have in fact increased the funding. They peddle misinformation in relation to our industrial relations policy. They have a shameless, if not racist attack, on our free trade agreement with China. But perhaps the greatest misinformation, which they have been peddling now for close to 18 months, is this idea that our higher education policy would lead to $100,000 degrees.
That is perhaps the greatest misinformation that they have been peddling, because the implications of what they are saying and what they have been telling the Australian people is that if this higher education package passes through the Senate, then every single degree would cost $100,000 or more. They also suggest that that would be an up-front cost to boot on top of that. Not only is that misleading, not only is that wrong and not only is that factually incorrect but it is actually sending a very poor message to those people who are thinking about wanting to go into higher education. It is destroying their hopes and their aspirations. They are starting to believe that they will no longer be able to afford to go to university. That is the damage that the Labor Party is doing by peddling this falsehood that university degrees are all going to be $100,000.
I would like to go through the facts of what we are actually proposing. What we are proposing—what we put forward through to this parliament—is to deregulate fees. As you probably know, Mr Deputy Speaker, at present there is a legal limit on what the universities can charge students. In essence, we were suggesting that we should remove that legal limit and leave it up to the university councils themselves as to what fee they should be charging university students. They would still be charging it completely through the HECS system—students would have no upfront costs, no fees that they would have to pay before they entered into that degree—but they would have the ability to set the fees, be it that they put them up or be it that they put them down. We would be entrusting the university councils, made up of the best and brightest minds in the nation, to set those fees.
The idea there was that we would get a differentiation amongst the university sector. Some universities which are striving to be the very best in the world, such as the University of Melbourne, or a university like Monash or UNSW, may indeed put up their fees for some courses so that they can offer something very unique in the world. Other universities, for particular courses, may indeed drop their fees under such a model.
But how do we know that Labor has in fact been telling falsehoods, and continues to tell falsehoods even to this very day about $100,000 degrees? How do we know this? We know this because we have been listening to what the universities themselves have been saying. I would actually like to go through this very slowly for the benefit of the opposition, so that they know what the universities themselves have been saying, given that it is the universities themselves who would be setting the fees.
Let’s take a look: Queensland University of Technology issued their fee guidelines under a deregulated model on 5 December last year. Let’s have a look at the proposed fees. A Bachelor of Nursing, which would be a three-year degree—how much do you think they would be suggesting for that? If you were listening to the member for Kingston and listening to the Labor Party, you would be thinking, ‘Jeez, a Bachelor of Nursing at QUT in a deregulated fee environment, oh my goodness!’ Let’s have a look. A three-year degree: $31,800 at the max, and potentially only $21,400 at the minimum for three years. At the very most, it is less than $10,000 per year.
Let’s have a look at the Bachelor of Business, where you are likely to earn more money: somewhere between $32,300 for a three-year degree, with a maximum of $41,400. The most expensive course which they tabled—and they have tabled every single course and every single bachelor degree—is a 5½-year course, which is a double degree for a Bachelor of Business and a Bachelor of Laws, which in total would be between $61,000 and $78,000 at the absolute max. Again, where is the $100,000 degree for any of those courses under this? I would like to table this for the benefit of the Labor Party so that they can see that.
Let me go to the University of La Trobe. It is a university in my great state of Victoria. The University of La Trobe said that in 2015 they are offering a guarantee that their fees will not increase by more than 10 per cent above the regulated student contribution each year of their degree—an increase of only 10 per cent.
You know what Open Universities Australia said? For the benefit of the gallery and of those people listening, they said:
we are confident that for numerous courses deregulation of fees will lead to—
wait for this—
a significant decrease in the cost of tuition.
Ms Rishworth: Show us your modelling! The department has done modelling and won’t release it!
Mr TUDGE: A significant decrease in the cost of tuition, say Open Universities Australia. That is what they have said.
Let’s have a look at this from the Australian Technology Network head, Vicki Thomson, who looks after, I think, about 10 universities in Australia. The headline here is, ‘Don’t be fooled by “$100,000 degrees’:
So let me repeat what has been said a million times: the university sector is not looking to introduce standard $100,000 degrees and deregulation won’t deliver them.
It is not only wrong, it is shameful for the fear such myths are creating in the community.
That is exactly right. It is shameful.
Ms Rishworth: Heaven forbid!
Mr TUDGE: The member for Kingston is interjecting over here, and it is difficult to hear with her interjections. Let me just go through it. If any university were going to increase their fees, you would think that it would be the Group of Eight universities—the so-called ‘sandstone’ universities. If anyone were going to increase their fees, you would think it would be them.
So let’s have a look at that. The University of Western Australia, as you know, says:
Based on current legislation before the Federal Senate, UWA proposes to set an annual fee of $16,000 for domestic full-time students enrolled in its five undergraduate degree courses.
UWA is offering future students the opportunity to obtain a three-year undergraduate degree from one of the world’s top 100 universities for less than $50,000.
Again, I still cannot find the $100,000 number.
I will go on. I will table here the Group of Eight universities. Again, they have their indicative fees for all of the Group of Eight universities—that includes the University of Adelaide—and again it gets nowhere near the $100,000 degree which Labor shamelessly prosecutes day in and day out everywhere they go. And they have been doing this for such a long time. That is an absolute disgrace.
Why does the Labor Party do this? Why does the Labor Party peddle these falsehoods day in, day out? Is it because they are just blind to hearing this information? Have they not read this information which I have been talking about today? It is all in the public domain. Do they not believe these statements from the university vice-chancellors themselves? Do they not believe these statements? What is it? We know what it is. It is just pure and unadulterated politics. It is the politics of fear the Labor Party is spreading which is having the effect of killing the aspirations and the hopes of so many people across the community. They should absolutely be ashamed of themselves, as Vicki Thomson outlined perfectly.
You know, the Labor Party used to be a reformist party. In the Hawke and Keating era, they were a reformist party. They introduced the HECS system. And we supported the introduction of the HECS system because it opened up so many more opportunities. And do you know what our package would do? It would do the same. It would open up 80,000 new opportunities for people, particularly at the associate degree level. It would open up so many more opportunities because we would be offering the biggest scholarship program in Australian history. That is what this package would do, and that is what the Labor Party are blocking. The Labor Party are peddling falsehoods and they should be ashamed of themselves. They are blocking opportunities for the Australian people.