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Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (15:36): It is a great pleasure to participate in this debate in our usual engaging but respectful manner from this side of the chamber. We have come to almost the final business of the House this week. I am looking at how things have developed since we have returned in 2015 and reflect on how we started the week. It started with a fairly significant activity on the other side of the chamber around the leadership of the party.
A government member interjecting—
Ms BIRD: The member is quite right, I well remember the issues for any party dealing with leadership. The interesting thing out of the whole process was that we ended up with the same Prime Minister; however, what was significant and important was that we were told we had had pretty poor quality government up to that point in time, but good government was about to start.
I thought, 'This'll be interesting!' On Monday the higher education bill was on the Notice Paper to be debated. I thought, 'Clearly, that's going. Clearly, that bill is about to be pulled because we have now been told that we're going to have good government.' Sadly, on Thursday afternoon it is still there. Mind you, they keep pushing back the debate on it, but it is still there. Why is it still there? Obviously, the government has not realised yet—although it baffles me why it would be the case—that the potential for students to have significant increases in the cost of their university education is roundly rejected by the community.
The member who spoke previously in this debate spoke about the sector. She said that the sector supports the decision; the sector has expressed support for deregulation of fees. What she failed to mention is that by 'sector', she means a range of vice-chancellors. I do not think she is talking about the people who will carry that lifetime debt—the students.
I attended in Albury, only last week, a fabulous forum for regional universities organised by the member for Indi, who has a direct interest and profound concern for regional universities. Representatives of students there were expressing their absolute objection to the fact that these reforms will see them carry a lifetime of debt, well beyond what was envisaged by any of us who have the privilege of sitting in this place. It is the wrong way to go.
The reality, as the shadow minister outlined, was that in any other—
Government members interjecting—
Ms BIRD: Let's just look at the evidence. Let's just stick to the facts. First of all, there are universities who have put out the actual amounts that they will be charging under the deregulated scheme for a range of courses, and the shadow minister gave just one example from Western Australia. To become a lawyer and get legal qualifications at university will cost $95,000. That is a fact for you. Here is another fact. In the UK, where they deregulated, they put a cap of £9,000 on fees. Out of 123 universities there, how many universities charged less than the maximum cap?—two. So, given an opportunity, when they had a 20 per cent cut to make up, the university sector has not shown, historically, any inclination to lower their prices. In fact, in our current scheme, the universities are deregulated to some extent in that they can charge less than the maximum that is set. They could actually decreased their fees now, if they would like to. I would invite members opposite to come to their dispatch box and describe to me the rush of universities who have decreased their fees below the maximum. Since Brendan Nelson brought that deregulation in, where is the rush of universities charging less? It is a furphy, and this bill should be pulled. New government, good government— (Time expired)