Universities Accord speeches – HECS, Student Ombudsman

This speech was given on 3 June 2024 in response to the announcement of the Universities Accord report and response.

Summary

In 2023, I called on the Minister for Education to recognise the difficulties that high inflation creates for students and recent graduates, by reforming the indexation formula for HECS-HELP debts.

I suggested that the formula be determined based on whatever was lower: the consumer price index or the wage price index.

It took a year, but the minister added it to the work program for the Universities Accord review, which accepted and recommended the change in this year’s budget, helped along by a massive petition launched by the member of Kooyong.

HECS indexation changes

The government announcement — by backdating the change to last year, when HECS indexation was pledged to an inflation figure of 7.1 per cent—is wiping out around $3 billion in student debt for more than three million Australians.

Those with an average debt will see their liability cut by $1,200.

There is more that the government should be doing.

It should alter the timing of indexation until after compulsory repayments made over the year have been calculated, not before. This step would save debtors hundreds of dollars annually. One option would be to move the indexation date from late in the tax year until after the tax return due date of 31 October.

The minister has also approached banks to encourage them not to consider HECS-HELP debt when calculating eligibility for a home loan, and I welcome that approach. 

80 per cent of the workforce will need a tertiary qualification by 2050. We must remove the roadblocks to study. Sorting out HECS and HELP is a critical piece of this.

Tackling gender-based violence at universities

I also raised the issue of sexual assault on campus. I pointed out the horrendous statistic that one in 20 students had been sexually assaulted since starting uni.

Along with other members of the crossbench, I introduced him to students from Fair Agenda. They have been advocating for years for an ombudsman to tackle gender based violence at universities.

This is also being delivered, and I’m very pleased that the minister has done so.

Quotes by Zoe Daniel

“Young people are under cost of living pressure in ways that most of us were not.

With no real wage growth, rising inflation and more expensive university fees, the indexation changes to HECS debts are an important step, reducing some of the roadblocks they face … 

I will continue to fight for a tertiary education sector that is safe and fair.

Having a National Student Ombudsman to tackle gender-based violence is a huge step forward.

And it also shows what can be achieved when we listen to students and survivors.”

Link to Hansard 

See/listen to the full speech here:

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