Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright—Government Whip) (14:50): My question is to the Minister for Education. What benefits will flow to students as a result of the government's higher education reforms?
Mr PYNE (Sturt—Leader of the House and Minister for Education) (14:50): I thank the member for Wright for his question. I can tell him that the higher education budget is all about spreading opportunity to more students to get a higher education qualification. How are we doing that? We are doing it through the biggest Commonwealth scholarships fund in Australia's history, through the extension of the Commonwealth Grants Scheme to non-university higher education providers, through lifting the cap on diploma and associate degrees so that it is a demand-driven system so that tens of thousands more students will have the opportunity to go to university and do pathways programs, and through abolishing the loan fees for VET students and for students in non-university higher education providers to access the Higher Education Loan Program.
Through these measures we will create 80,000 more places at university, and most of those will be filled by low-socioeconomic status students, by students from disadvantaged backgrounds and by first-generation university goers. And, yes, we are also deregulating fees. Every single dollar of those deregulated fees will be able to be borrowed by the student from the Australian taxpayer at the same interest rate as the government borrows that money on behalf of the student; they can pay it back after they earn $50,000 a year and they cannot pay back more than two per cent of their income at the lowest threshold. Imagine going to the bank and saying to the bank manager, 'I'd like to borrow a credit card for $16,800'—which is the average HECS debt in 2012—'but there are a few conditions that I am going to put on this loan. I'm not going to pay it back at greater than the 10-year government bond rate, I'm not going to start paying it back until I earn over $50,000 a year, and I'm only going to pay back two per cent of my income.' The bank manager would look askance at the customer, but that is exactly what the taxpayer provides right now for students at universities around Australia. For the 750,000 students, that is the loan that the taxpayer gives students so that they can go on to higher education and so they can earn 75 per cent more than the 60 per cent of Australians without a university degree. It is the best loan that a student will ever get.
The Leader of the Opposition, in responding to this, reminds me of Thurston Howell III. He is wandering around Gilligan's Island offering champagne to all his friends and saying, 'We can provide champagne to everyone.'
Mr Shorten interjecting—
The SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition will desist.
Mr PYNE: But just like Thurston Howell III, he does not have champagne to give. He did not have it in government and he will not have it in the future. We are being honest with the Australian public and honest with students; whereas Thurston over there thinks that he can have his cake and eat it too—but, unfortunately, he cannot.