Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 4 Hansard (31 March) . . Page.. 1398..
MS MacDONALD (continuing):
what we can to fix the problem. We are not ignoring it and we are not sweeping it under the carpet. We are trying to do what we can.
Finally, Mrs Burke made the comment-I thought that this was a real pearl-that under the Labor Party everybody knew that students would be better off on the dole. I was a student under the Hawke/Keating Labor government and I did face a situation where I needed to get some financial help. I admit that there were problems with it and not all of my colleagues within the Labor Party, even today, agree with me on the issue of the higher education contribution scheme, but I would say in terms of HECS, which we introduced, that it was actually affordable under the previous federal Labor government. The threshold for the higher education contribution scheme has been lowered to such a level that you could be earning a minuscule amount of money and have to start paying back your HECS debt.
Mrs Burke said that there was student debt back then. There was student debt back then, but what I am saying in this motion, what the students who are sitting in the gallery today are saying and what the student who will be attending the rally today are saying is that it has come to the point where they are being forced out of their study, that they can no longer afford to study. That is not a situation that I want to see happen. It is not a situation that any of us in this place would wish to see happen. It is certainly not a situation that the people up on the hill should wish to see happen because, when we lose students from courses, when they do not complete their courses, we lose the skills that otherwise they would be gaining and contributing to a better society within the country.
I found it quite interesting that Mrs Burke raised the issue of interest free loans under the current federal government. (Extension of time granted.) Under that government there really is no such thing as an interest free loan. In order to obtain a loan of $10,000, students must assume a debt in excess of $12,000. They are borrowing $10,000, but they have to pay back $12,000. I would like to know how that $2,000 on top of the $10,000 originally borrowed is actually interest free. The difference is a loan establishment fee of over 20 per cent. It is just a joke to call it an interest free loan. It is not an interest free loan.
The other thing I would say about the members opposite who have spoken on this issue today is that they just seem to have been spinning Minister Brendan Nelson's media releases backwards. I have to say that Minister Nelson has an interesting spin on the issue. I would not necessarily say that it is a realistic spin, but it is his spin and, no doubt, that is the line that the Liberal opposition in this place need to run.
Just before I close, I would like to thank members for the support that they are giving to the motion. In terms of Ms Tucker's proposed amendment, I would be happy to talk to her at some stage about having a separate motion as some way of actually gaining the information she is seeking. I know what Ms Tucker was trying to do in terms of vocational courses through the CIT.
There really is a difference between unmet need and unmet demand. In looking at unmet need, are we talking about community need, are we talking about student need or are we talking about the unmet need of the trainers at the CIT? Which need are we talking about in that regard? I think that issue could stand alone in a motion. Ms Tucker and I will talk