From July 1, students will be forced to start paying back their higher education loans much earlier, after the federal government found a way of getting part of its stalled education attacks through the Senate.
From the images doing the rounds, education minister Simon Birmingham had the crossbench senators right where he wanted them: in the palm of his hand.
These reactionaries voted, on June 26, to support the government’s latest attack on young people by lowering the threshold at which students have to pay back their Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) loan. The change — from $56,000 to $44,999 — will bring in a measly $245.2 million over four years. This is a paltry sum, especially when you consider the government is shelling out $7 billion on long-range surveillance drones to menace the skies over the South China Sea.
Lowering the threshold will mean a lot of hardship for 185,000 more people, the majority of whom are women.
A $45,000 wage works out at about $700 a week after tax: it’s not a lot of money. For those trying to study while paying exorbitant rents, utility bills, data bills and trying to put something away for some sort of social life, life is going to be a lot more stressful.
Young people are already stressed: balancing insecure work, with study and the rest is difficult. Making it even tougher, most students rely on penalty rates which have been cut in the hospitality and retail sectors.
Clearly, this government wants to punish the young and the poor.
We should also be concerned that the Coalition has found some willing crossbenchers to support its education attacks (and other regressive policies).
The Coalition spent five years pushing its education deregulation agenda, first with the crash-though Christopher Pyne, who even wanted to collect HECs debts from the dead; and now with the urbane Birmingham.
The push back to this deregulation from students, supported by many academics and parents, thwarted various attempts to deregulate fees and cut course subsidies by about 20%. Now, it seems, the Coalition has found some compliant senators, and they want to make up for lost time.
HECS was first introduced in 1989 by the Bob Hawke Labor government (after education had been made free by the Whitlam government in 1974). It heralded the beginning of the push to commodify education and persuade people that the “users” of education should pay for it.
The sole purpose of HECS is to shift the cost of maintaining a public education system from government and business (through the taxation system) on to individual students and their families. It was always a tax on those who cannot afford to pay education fees up front — the working class. Those who can afford to pay upfront incur no tax.
Societies that value education as a precious resource strive to make it either free or easily accessible for all. But, as in so many other countries, there is a disconnect between those who value education and those who make policy.
The reason education has become so commodified is because of the major parties’ embrace of neoliberalism — the political project that benefits the rich at the expense of the poor.
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