Questions Without Notice - Higher Education

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Senator RUSTON (South Australia) (14:53): My question is to the Minister for Human Services, Senator Payne, in her capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Education. Can the minister inform the Senate of the effects that a $2,000 cap on self-education expenses would have on nurses, teachers and other front-line workers? Is it a fact that many of these people would have struggled to afford professional accreditation? What has the government done to address this situation?

Senator PAYNE (New South Wales—Minister for Human Services) (14:54): I thank Senator Ruston very much for her question and her interest in this area. As senators would be aware, the previous Labor government announced a very mean-spirited cap of $2,000 on tax deductions for self-education expenses as a part of their $2.8 billion cuts to higher-education funding. That would have had a disastrous flow-on effect for individuals, and would have also greatly reduced the uptake of professional development courses at our universities and at our TAFE colleges across the nation.

I am very pleased to advise—understandably, given the sensible approach being taken by Treasurer Hockey and Education Minister Pyne—that common sense has ultimately prevailed, and on 6 November this year the Treasurer announced that the coalition government would not be proceeding with Labor's mean-spirited cap on self-education expenses. This government, in particular, is concerned with improving productivity, not with introducing measures which are simply going to destroy it, and that is why we have reversed their decision.

This is good news for universities, it is good news for TAFEs and it is particularly good news for the thousands of people who are considering upgrading their skills and qualifications. We have all spoken to them—whether they are in the professions, whether they are in the trades—and no matter what area of work they were pursuing, they were very concerned about a cap of that level, given the cost of the sorts of courses that are required to be taken.

This is even better news for Australians, who will benefit overall from having a much better skilled population. In fact, it is a win-win all around. As the Minister for Education said, Australians should have access to the often necessary training they require to maintain their professional accreditation and skills, as well as upgrading their qualifications.

Senator RUSTON (South Australia) (14:56): I thank the minister for her response and I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister further outline to the Senate the wide range of people who will benefit from the coalition's decision to abolish the cap on self-education expenses?

Senator PAYNE (New South Wales—Minister for Human Services) (14:56): I thank the senator for her supplementary question. As I began to indicate in my previous answer, the decision of the coalition government is great news for anyone who is seeking to upgrade their qualifications either in professional careers or in the skilled trades. The sorts of people that we are talking about—thousands of nurses, teachers and doctors, along with builders, plumbers and electricians, and other hardworking Australians—are the ones who will be the big winners from this government's decision to get rid of Labor's cap on tax deductions for self-education expenses.

The vast bulk of claims for self-education expenses comes from those who earn less than $80,000, so what that was going to be was a cap on the front line of the health and education sector—and those opposite apparently thought that was a good idea. Our decision will ensure that workers who are making their own personal investment in their future, at a time when money can be very tight, are not disadvantaged. It is great news for those people.

Senator RUSTON (South Australia) (14:57): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Could the minister further outline what other measures the coalition is pursuing to strengthen higher education generally?

Senator PAYNE (New South Wales—Minister for Human Services) (14:57): Thank you again to Senator Ruston. There are a number of initiatives that the Minister for Education and the government have already announced in the relatively short period of time since the government took office. We have commenced with simplification of the assessment level framework and have extended the scope of streamlined visa processing for international students, which is very much welcomed by the sector. We have announced $522 million in grants and fellowships, which will support 1,177 research projects which are recommended by the Australian Research Council. We are working very hard to reduce the heavy burden of compliance and regulation on our universities, an issue which was raised regularly with those of us who had any contact with those institutions under the previous government. We are committed to creating an advisory council which will help to deregulate the industry and report on cost savings to universities and other achievements resulting from that deregulation. As senators may have become aware, we are also taking stock— (Time expired)


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