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Speech on scrapping student debt and pay students on placements

On Tuesday 25 March 2024, I made a speech in Federal Parliament about the need to scrap student debt and pay students on placements. You can watch the full speech here or read the transcript below.


Not only did many of the people in this place, including me, get their university degrees for free; they also had far better prospects for buying their own home, starting a family and living a good life. Now, if you went to uni to try and get a good job, as punishment you have a HECS debt that is growing faster than you can pay it off because of indexation. Last year the indexation rate was 7.1 per cent. That's almost double what it was the year before and almost 10 times the amount it was in 2021. It's more than a standard mortgage interest rate.

Let's look at that in numbers. If you have a debt of $40,000, that's almost $3,000 for indexation in one year. If you earn less than $62,000 a year, you wouldn't have even made a dent in your debt. In fact, you will have more debt now than when you finished your degree. Student debt rose by $4.5 billion last year and, instead of offering any relief, what did the government do? Shocker! They gave gas corporations, which make a collective $164 billion in profit, billions of dollars in tax handouts. Australia collects more in HECS than it does in taxing fossil fuel resources. Instead of tax breaks and subsidies for coal and gas corporations, the government should wipe HECS debt and make TAFE and university free and fund things that let people live a good life, like putting dental health and mental health into Medicare.

What about the rorts students experience when they are doing their degrees? They pay thousands of dollars and get stung by the indexation rate every year on their HECS debt while also paying for the pleasure of doing free labour for hundreds of hours across their degrees. For Australia to thrive, we need teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, midwives and early childhood educators, but young people are turning away from these important professions. Nursing enrolments have dropped by almost 30 per cent and teaching enrolments have dropped by almost 20 per cent. It's no surprise that people are looking elsewhere or leaving these degrees.

Unpaid placements are crushing students. They endure long hours and weeks without pay, with no appreciation. Some even have to pay out of pocket to get a placement. Young people are having to choose between attending placements or paying their rent. Some are working 12-hour days for free and not eating because they only have enough money for the bus fare that day. Youth allowance doesn't even cover the cost of rent in any capital city in Australia. So students are having to move back home or work dangerously long hours to keep a roof over their head.

The government is doing nothing to relieve the pressure crushing young people. Just today the Guardian reports on a generation left behind. In their words:
With rising house prices, a decade of wage stagnation and ballooning student debt, young people … are living through what—
the Guardian— describes as "a series of broken promises".

It reports on how millennials have become 'the first generation to be worse off than their parents'. Shame! Is this really the Australia we want? It doesn't have to be this way and it is up to the government to fix it. They could be getting rid of negative gearing and capital gains tax, making buying a house or renting more affordable. They could break up the supermarket duopoly, wipe student debt and tax the coal and gas companies that are burning up our future.

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