Last night, in the Federation Chamber's grievance debate, I spoke about the radical and retrograde higher education policies that are contained in the Abbott government's budget of broken promises. I spoke about how they will deter disadvantaged and low-income Australians from attending university.
Today I am inspired to return to this topic after the National Tertiary Education Union released modelling that demonstrates that it is women who will be most disadvantaged by these changes. We already know that women shoulder the majority of the caring burden in Australia, which means time away from their careers, whether it is taking time off after the birth of a child or to care for sick and ageing relatives. This already financially disadvantages women, especially when it comes to superannuation.
Under the changes to higher education proposed by the Abbott government, a female accounting graduate who takes a three-year break from her career could still be paying back a student debt well into her 50s, with about $45,000 in interest. During that period when she is not earning, she is accumulating debt on which interest is compounding. By contrast, an accounting graduate with the same debt who does not take time out from their career would repay it in 23 years, with only $24,000 in interest.
We already have a gender pay gap that sees women paid less than men, even from the graduate level. These changes will shoulder women with even more debt and further entrench the fact that women are less financially secure than men in this country.