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ABSTAINED – Business — Consideration of Legislation

Mehreen Faruqi

I seek leave to move a motion to provide for the consideration of the Education and Other Legislation Amendment (Abolishing Indexation and Raising the Minimum Repayment Income for Education and Training Loans) Bill 2022.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice standing in the name of the Leader of the Australian Greens in the Senate, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion relating to the conduct of business, namely a motion to provide for the consideration of the Education and Other Legislation Amendment (Abolishing Indexation and Raising the Minimum Repayment Income for Education and Training Loans) Bill 2022.

More than three million Australians will see their student debts swell by a staggering 7.1 per cent on 1 June, and 1 June is approaching fast. The clock is ticking. This parliament needs to act, and it needs to act now.

This matter is urgent because in a few short weeks people with an average debt of $24,000 will be hit with a $1,700 increase to their debt. For more than half a million people with debts of around $40,000 their debts will go up by $2,840, and it will be much higher for others. What's about to hit is nothing short of a student debt avalanche, and this is on top of the 3.9 per cent increase last June. The government know the avalanche is coming and know it will hit young people, women and those on lower incomes the hardest, yet they are doing absolutely nothing about it in the budget tonight, and the Greens won't let them get away with doing nothing. People deserve better than to be caught up in a student debt spiral that is out of control. That's why I'm seeking to have the Greens bill, which would abolish indexation and raise minimum repayment income to the median wage, brought on for consideration right now.

We can't wait any longer. The clock is ticking. People right now are struggling with the cost of living as it rages on. People right now are living in poverty. They are having to choose between heating and eating, between buying medicine or buying a train ticket, between paying rent or paying back their ballooning study debt. Their study debts are rising faster than they can pay them off. Something needs to be done, and it needs to be done right now. Students were out there in force today in a rally outside parliament demanding action. Some of them are in here right now. I applaud your activism and your courage to fight for the right thing.

We have the opportunity to act on student debt before indexation hits on 1 June, and this bill is a clear and immediate step to start tackling the student debt crisis while providing cost-of-living relief as we work towards wiping all student debt and making lifelong education fee-free for all. This bill immediately halts indexation of all study loans, effectively freezing debt levels and saving 3.2 million Australians from being hit by a deeply unfair 7.1 per cent rise in student debt. The bill lifts the current minimum repayment threshold of $48,361 to the median wage, which is $65,000. No-one with a study debt will have to repay a cent of that debt until they're earning above the median wage.

The system that asks people to start paying off student debt, which is unfair from the start, when they earn barely above minimum wage is a cruel, unfair and deeply cooked system. These measures are desperately and urgently needed to bring some fairness to this broken student loan system and to provide relief to millions of Australians struggling under the weight of ballooning student debt. Soaring student debt is already locking people out of the housing market and making it harder for them to get personal loans. It's crushing their dreams of further study and causing people to rethink starting a family. It is causing young people enormous financial and mental stress.

The growing burden of student debt is having an enormous impact every day on people's lives. It is actually making news every day. At a Senate committee inquiry, overwhelming evidence was heard of why student debt should be frozen, indexation scrapped and the minimum repayment income raised, and young people, students, graduates, women and unions all said that these measures should be taken, yet Labor refused to accept that evidence. Today we can choose to make life easier for millions of people, and senators today can actually show people that they care about changing a deeply unfair system, not just talk about it. Talk is cheap; action is what we need. Or, otherwise, they can be held accountable for their actions.

If the Labor government can afford to splurge hundreds of billions of dollars on war machines and stage 3 tax cuts for the billionaires, then these modest measures can surely be affordable. We need action on student debt, and we need that action urgently. So I urge the Senate to listen to the loud and desperate calls of the community, of students and of young people and support the motion so we can make a decision in the interests of the people we serve, not corporations and billionaires.

Penny Wong

I rise to respond to this because I want to put some facts on the table about what is actually driving this. The Greens are moving this motion, a procedural motion to up-end the Senate's procedures, so that they can continue with blocking billions of dollars being invested into Australian housing. That is why they are doing this. They've had this private senators' bill in this parliament since November. They have chosen not to bring it on for debate at the appropriate time. They've chosen this. They had times when they could have debated this bill if they cared about it so much, but no—they want to use it as cover for not debating a $10 billion investment in Australian housing. They are trying to continue to block more investment in affordable housing in this country, and this is cover for it.

The government wants to debate the housing bill. We want to debate the housing bill because (a) it was an election commitment and (b) we actually want more affordable housing in this country. But we have the Greens and the Liberals teaming up to oppose more investment in housing. Who would have thought the Greens party would be lining up with the Liberals to oppose more investment in housing? We on this side of the chamber know too many Australians hit by growing rents, too many Australians struggling to buy a home and too many Australians experiencing homelessness.

Their solution is to block investment in supply. That's their solution: 'Let's not add to supply.' That's because they want a political stunt. It is so cynical. It is so cynical to pretend you care about people who are struggling with rent and struggling with homelessness and then turn up and vote with the Tories against more investment in housing.

Paul Scarr

We're not in London!

Penny Wong

Sorry, we are not in London. They vote with the coalition—with the Liberals and the Nationals—against public investment in housing.

Let me say this. This government understands what is happening in housing in this country and the way in which it is turning, frankly, into an intergenerational disadvantage. It is turning into an intergenerational injustice. It is. That is why, after 10 years of inaction by those on that side, we have $575 million from the National Housing Infrastructure Facility, with houses already under construction and a housing accord with the states.

They don't like it, do they? You can keep pointing and yelling, but everybody knows you are fighting against money for housing. That's what you're doing, Senator Shoebridge, and no amount of yelling is going to distract from the fact you are voting with the Liberals against more investment in affordable housing.

Sue Lines

Senator Wong, please resume your seat. Senator Hanson-Young, on a point of order?

Sarah Hanson-Young

I would just like to remind the minister to speak through the chair and not to individual senators.

Sue Lines

Thank you, Senator Hanson-Young. I will also—

Honourable senators interjecting—

Order! I will also remind all senators in this chamber that, when Senator Faruqi was on her feet, every single senator in this chamber listened in respectful silence. I expect the same for every other speaker that follows after.

Penny Wong

One of the ways in which the federal government, particularly after 10 years of inaction by those opposite, can improve access to housing is to work to improve supply, and that is what we are seeking to do with $575 million from the National Housing Infrastructure Facility, a housing accord which includes federal funding to deliver 10,000 affordable homes; the Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee, which is helping thousands of Australians into homeownership; a budget which will deliver billions of dollars; $2 million for financing more social and affordable rental housing through the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation, and significant expansion of eligibility criteria for the Home Guarantee Scheme, as well as a boost to homelessness funding to states and territories. So the Housing Australia Future Fund is not all we are doing. It is one aspect of a multipronged plan and substantial investment to try to deal with this. We actually understand that the Commonwealth can do more to put more supply on the table, and that will have an effect on affordability.

I have watched over the years the Greens and the Liberals team up on some things. We watched them previously team up against the carbon price. But this stunt today is to try to give themselves cover for not debating a bill. I mean, really—at least have the courage of your convictions. We keep hearing, 'Oh, they just want to make sure they don't have to vote for it.' If you really believe that this is so bad, if you really think $10 billion of taxpayer funds to provide more housing supply in this country is not worthy, then stand up and have the guts to argue it. But no, what you're trying to do—and I heard Senator McKim today on the radio—is you're trying to find a way to not actually have the argument.

We're for more investment in public, social and affordable housing. You're with the Libs, against it. End of story.

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 12:49 PM on 2023-05-09
Senator Pocock's vote: Abstained
Total number of "aye" votes: 11
Total number of "no" votes: 28
Total number of abstentions: 37

Adapted from information made available by