There is no doubt that students across this country are hurting, and they are hurting because of the cost-of-living crisis caused by the Albanese government. As the opposition leader has told the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, the one issue that Australians are raising with us again and again is the cost of living. Inflation has lifted from 6.3 per cent to 6.8 per cent. We know that interest rate rise after interest rate rise is impacting on the cost of mortgages, rents and groceries, and of course there is the hideous broken promise: $275 a year, Labor promised 97 times before the election. That’s how much Labor said Australians’ electricity bills would be reduced by, and what a laughing stock this government is.
We have never seen a more crippling rise in the cost of living, including in electricity and gas bills, than under this government. And as Senator Faruqi has correctly said, students are suffering, and this is caused absolutely front and centre by Labor’s crippling inflation rate, which has driven up HECS debts by a crippling 7.1 per cent. So, on 1 June, just over three million Australians were hit with a crippling 7.1 per cent increase in their student loans, fuelled by Labor’s high inflation. This is the highest HECS indexation rate in more than 30 years. The indexation hike linked to the CPI will drive up the average HECS loan of $23,685 by $1,700. And, as we know, this additional liability, this massive increase in student debt—affecting literally millions of Australians—is even affecting the ability of Australians to borrow, because HECS debt is taken into account when you apply to borrow money from the bank to buy a home.
After so many bad decisions and broken promises from this government, it is clear that the Albanese government is tone deaf to the cost-of-living crisis that so many students are facing. It is astonishing that the education minister, Mr Clare, rather than be empathetic to the situation that so many students are in, made a blanket statement that he saw no case to change the HECS payment system—until he realised that people were paying down their HECS debt and those payments were not being recognised in real time. People are being indexed on the higher rate which applies at the beginning of the financial year. I have called for the HECS payment system, which is antiquated, to be reformed. I am now pleased the education minister is looking at this. But, frankly, he was asleep at the wheel.
This comes at a time when the government is proposing the Startup Year loan scheme, which is nonsense. The Startup Year loan scheme will give full fee paying students funding, imposing this hideous cost of up to $23,600, to do accelerator courses. It’s for student entrepreneurs but under circumstances where students can currently do these courses for free. What a complete nonsense! As I have announced, on behalf of the opposition, we are opposing the Startup Year loan scheme. It is a defective bill, it is unfit for purpose, and it potentially puts several thousand students a year at risk of having this horrendous debt imposed on them with very, very little benefit. This bill is so bad that it doesn’t even protect student’s intellectual property and doesn’t do things like giving them the rights for a refund if these courses don’t stack up. So this is nonsense and, frankly, a demonstration that the government, as I say, is tone deaf to the cost-of-living crisis that Australians are encountering—particularly students, many of whom are struggling to put food on the table and to pay the rent. For the government to put forward this loan scheme is reckless, irresponsible and will place students in a further debt trap.