Furious student activists briefly interrupted Monday night’s first post-budget episode of Q&A, with protests over the unfair treatment of young people.
Students are facing higher university fees and a lower HECS repayment threshold as a result of last Tuesday’s budget.
Angry students shouted down Education Minister Simon Birmingham during the live panel discussion program, claiming the proposed education changes are completely unfair.
At least two protesters were removed from the Gold Coast Arts Centre as Senator Birmingham was left to defend the changes alone, while his fellow panellists overwhelmingly agreed with the students.
“Thank you for bringing that to our attention and the protesters who raised a crucial issue about the fact there are $65 billion worth of corporate tax cuts, $24 billion worth of free handouts to the big mining companies and yet they are ripping $4 billion out of universities and trying to convince us that’s a good idea,” Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said.
“Higher education is an investment in our future, it will help all of us.
“And it predisposes young people who actually have a job to pay it back while this lot got it for free. There’s no redeeming features of this.”
Labor shadow treasurer Chris Bowen agreed with Senator Waters and even went a step further, saying that this government had “abandoned young people”.
“I went to university and paid for HECS. I thought it was appropriate to pay it. But when you’re making $42,000, that’s obscenely low to require people to pay extra tax,” Mr Bowen said.
“How is a young graduate meant to save for a [house] deposit when they’re paying more for their university degree and paying a Medicare levy? This government has abandoned young people frankly.
“Young people trying to get into the housing market and trying to get a university degree, utterly abandoned. Nobody is looking out for them. This is an issue which young people have every right to be very angry about.”
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox echoed the statements, saying Australia’s future is dependent on the prosperity of its youth.
“Housing affordability is a big issue. Where the jobs are coming from is a big issue. These are sort of real concerns that young people have and completely justifiably so,” Mr Willox said.
“Our young people are our future. Our most optimistic, forward-looking, courageous people. My kids do things I would never dream of and I’m immensely proud of them. That’s what gives me hope for the future, [that] our young people will adapt to the changing circumstances. These are tough times.”
Senator Birmingham – who paid HECS and worked at a pizza shop while completing his university degree – said the changes for young people are to guarantee university students are never forced to pay upfront.
“In Australia, we have many opportunities and the opportunity for people to go to university without paying a dollar upfront, to pursue their dreams is something that’s not afforded to many people around the world. It’s something that our policies in this budget will look to guarantee for the future.”