MPI – Higher Education

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

This is a matter of importance to people in my electorate, because regional students have been disadvantaged for a long time. Before I get to that, I must point out the great injustice done by the member for Gellibrand. Hot Chocolate fans all over the world are right now picking up the phone, getting on their computers, sending emails because it is not ‘Everyone’s a winner, baby, that’s no lie’. The great line is: ‘Everyone’s a winner, baby, that’s the truth.’ Yes, that is the truth, which is exactly the opposite to what the member for Gellibrand said. As much as I would like to sing in this place, I am sure it would be inappropriate.

This is a serious matter. The people in my electorate are a lot like me. I was born in Bundaberg and had similar opportunities to them. I finished high school in 1986; I graduated with a score which was good enough to get me into university. I had an offer for university, but for me to attend university at that time meant moving to a capital city, and that was an expensive move. Students from regional areas have to travel, pay accommodation, feed themselves. They move away from home; they do not have mum there any more to help them out. They have difficult social challenges. If I had taken that opportunity at that time, the financial disadvantage for my family and my younger brothers would have been far too high, and it was not a price I was willing to pay. So I took a job as an apprentice electrician, and it was a wonderful time. Those four years were absolutely fantastic; I worked with some great people in an industrial workplace—a highly unionised workplace—and they were good, honest, hard-working people. They did their best every single day. I loved being an electrician—getting out and doing that work was absolutely great.

However, one of those chardonnay drinking engineers who came from somewhere else suggested that I was not smart enough to attend university. So “that” was the reason I did not go—I was not smart enough?! I accepted the challenge in 1992 and went to the Queensland University of Technology as an adult student. I used the money I had saved for four years to attend university. If I had gone in 1987, how much HECS would I have paid? Absolutely none! But in 1992 I had to pay HECS.

An honourable member: How much?

Quite a lot, but I tell you now, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I had the chance to talk to my skinnier, younger and less grey self, the advice that I would give is very straightforward: take the loan. At that time 10 per cent was the return on money deposited in banks. I should have put my money somewhere else and taken the cheap loan that was provided by taxpayers; the benefits would have been much greater. Instead, I used my own savings. I paid all those fees and got them out of the way.

Going to university is an opportunity that is not afforded to many regional students, because they simply cannot afford to go. Our policy provides scholarship opportunities for regional students—students from low socio-economic backgrounds, students who would otherwise never get the opportunity to go to university. There are now some universities in my electorate—the University of Southern Queensland’s Fraser Coast campus. For first semester 2014 there are 743 students in Hervey Bay. What is the gender split? Seventy-eight per cent are female; 22 per cent male. It is fantastic. There are 29 Indigenous students on campus and 23 external; there are only 11 international students. Of those 743, 367 are mature age and only 187 are school leavers. For a very long time the absolute best export from my electorate was our young talent: they travel to the city, do university and do not come back.

These policies will give opportunities to people in regional areas, make our universities stronger and our regional universities more viable. And that will mean more students. I look forward to the day when our local universities triple in size—not 700, but 2000 in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay—providing opportunities for our local kids so they can stay at home, attend university—opportunities that city kids have had for many years. I am not talking about opportunities provided by the taxpayer, but things they can do for themselves. In regional areas that is what regional kids are about: they do not want a handout, they just want opportunity and they will seize that opportunity with both hands. With that opportunity they will make this a better country and they will certainly be great for my electorate.

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