Skip to content

Afternoon Briefing, Sky News, 6 May 2024

TopicsHECS, paid placements, Job-Ready Graduates, university anti-Israel protests, Jason Clare’s failure to act on hate speech

Tom Connell: We’ve got the pre-Budget drops taking shape – among them, there’s going to be more money for prac’ – if you like – in-job payments, particularly for nurses and teachers who do quite lengthy ones. Also, a reduction in HELP debt as well. Joining me now is Shadow Education Minister Sarah Henderson. Thanks very much for your time. So, this is about, says the government, reducing some of these big increases in HELP debts because of inflation and also getting more frontline workers into the system in Australia. Are these good moves?

Senator Henderson: Well, Tom, good afternoon and great to join you. Firstly on the changes to HECS. This has been made necessary because of Labor’s shockingly high inflation, which has meant very high HECS indexation. In fact, it was tracking to 16 per cent increases in student debt for three million Australians. So, while this provides some moderate relief, it is a mess of Labor’s own making because of the government’s homegrown inflation which is driven very high HECS indexation. Students are really suffering and even after the government’s changes, Tom, the average loan of about $26,000 will still cost students some $2,800 since Labor was elected. So frankly, this is HECS debt chaos under this government, in contrast to when the Coalition was in government and indexation was 1.7 per cent on average.

Tom Connell: Right but that’s, as well, because a lot of things were lower back then. What this does is tie to wage growth, or inflation – whatever is in fact lower. That’s going to make a real difference, isn’t it? Because, at the moment, the last few months at least we’ve actually had real wage growth.

Senator Henderson: In fact, this is an admission that wages are declining, real wages are declining when they fall below CPI, and that’s exactly what happened last year. And even with these changes, Tom, we are seeing a forecast indexation rate this year of 4 per cent. So, this is not going to provide students very much relief at all and they are still facing very high increases in their student debt. And as we know the higher the student debt, the more difficult it is for students not just to repay that debt but to even to get a loan for their first home. So, when you think about students battling the cost-of-living, putting food on the table, power bills, the housing crisis, it has not been a good few years for young Australians under this government.

Tom Connell: We did return to real wages, at the start of this year but nonetheless, can I get a short version? Are you saying you’d back this change, but you would pledge to do more?

Senator Henderson: Tom we will look at the detail. We will go through our normal processes through Shadow Cabinet and through the party room. But as I say, this is a mess of Labor’s on making – that’s the bottom line and this is a mess that Labor has to fix.

Tom Connell: Well, I mean, we had inflation around the world spike and that was already tied, to CPI, I should make clear to our viewers, it was tied to CPI before Labor came in, that particular HELP element. What about the other aspects, giving payments to people? They might, you know, be having a pretty long placement where they’re doing nursing or teaching is that a good shift?

Senator Henderson: Well, again, we will look at the detail. We haven’t seen any of the detail. The legislation will come into the parliament, it will go through our ordinary processes. I mean, this does look positive because students are really suffering, the cost-of-living crisis as we know, as I just mentioned, and of course placement poverty is a real issue. But we are concerned about a range of matters, so far as what we know including who will be eligible. And, also the minister did actually say the states would be paying for this because the states are the actual primary employers of student teachers and student nurses. So where are the states in all of this? Or has Jason Clare been rolled once again by the states?

Tom Connell: We will get their response on that. Just jumping in because there are a couple of things I want to get to. The other interesting thing, the change during the Coalition, the so-called Job-Ready program, which changed the price of degrees. The review that Labor’s using to make some of these changes actually found, that didn’t work. The aim was to have fewer people studying things such as arts and more job shortages are addressed for us. Are you going to review that yourself given it was a Coalition change and whether you’d stick to it?

Senator Henderson: Well, let me just say, Tom, on the Job-Ready Graduate program – we rolled out a whole range of very important initiatives, including for rural and regional students, and the government has accepted a number of those. But on the cost of degrees – we dramatically lowered the cost of degrees for engineers, for scientists for those studying maths, for nurses and teachers. So, is the government saying that they are going to increase the cost of those degrees? Because it did say it would overturn the Job-Ready Graduates program. Now we see that it’s kicking the can down the road with no commitment to change anything. So clearly, that is a tacit endorsement of the Job-Ready Graduates program.

Tom Connell: We’ll see apparently the minister responds on that soon, so we will get his response to that. You just put out a release, actually, that Jason Clare must ban hate speech at universities. We’re nearly out of time so I’ll just get this in if I can. So, this includes the use of so-called anti-Jewish terrorist slogans. You’ve included in this `Intifada’ and obviously, `From the River to the Sea’. What’s should he actually do here? Banning hate speech, does that mean for all sides on university campuses?

Senator Henderson: Absolutely. The minister has shown a complete lack of leadership. It’s appalling that he is saying that these terrorist slogans could mean different things to different people. These slogans, the use of the word `Intifada’ in this context, is calling for a violent uprising or terrorism against Israel. The use of `River to the Sea’ means the destruction of Israel. It is appalling that he is seeking to defend these terms. They must be banned. I’ve had a roundtable of Jewish students and staff this morning in Sydney, my second one. The horror stories we are hearing on the lack of safety for Jewish students and staff. It is absolutely appalling. This Minister has been weak. If he will ban hate speech, if the Prime Minister won’t step in, he should resign.

Share this