The QUT Student Guild governance team spoke as witnesses during a public hearing in Sydney last week in front of the Education and Employment Legislation Committee.
President Zoe Davidson, Secretary Aamna Asif and Treasurer Usama Shafiq were invited to speak at the event after the QUT Student Guild submitted their response to the Education and Other Legislation Amendment (Abolishing Indexation and Raising the Minimum Repayment Income for Education and Training Loans) Bill 2022.
The bill was sponsored by New South Wales Senator Mehreen Faruqi, deputy leader of the Australian Greens party and self-proclaimed fighter for public education.
In a tweet on 17 March 2023, the Senator called on the government to take action on the student debt crisis. “We need to freeze student debt now, provide relief for young people, and take this important step on the road to free higher education for all.”
The Committee heard from spokespeople from various submissions, representatives from the Department of Education, the Australian tax Office, and Universities Australia, as well as hearing statements from several individuals with lived experience.
Davidson said the experience of being the only Queensland university presenting at the hearing was bittersweet.
“Whilst I am so proud, there’s another part of me that wishes that advocation for this amendment was also happening at other universities – not just by their respective unions, but also by university staff,” she said.
“This amendment needs support of every single student union in Australia. Fighting for this systemic change to the faulted repayment system we suffer with is invaluable.”
In a joint statement from the Guild Treasurer and Secretary, they said they were heartened to see the passion and dedication of the committee members, who are committed to abolishing indexation and making positive changes to the future of higher education in Australia.
“Their enthusiasm and interest in hearing from us made us feel heard and acknowledged, and gave us a sense of hope that real change can be achieved,” they said.
“It was a privilege to have the opportunity to advocate for students, and to share our perspectives and insights with the committee.
“We felt empowered by the experience and grateful for the chance to be a voice for students who may not have had the opportunity to speak up.”
Davidson began working of the submission in early December of last year, and received nearly 200 responses from students, alumni and staff.
By speaking to students directly, Davidson was able to gain a clear picture of what sacrifices students have been forced to make to obtain their education, and how they have been affected by the cost-of-living crisis.
“[The responses] took me weeks to read through because of the emotional toll it took on me to understand what students are going through. I used this data to influence our response and provided this as evidence to the Education & Employment Committee.”
In their statement to Glass, the Treasurer and Secretary said they believe students should take responsibility to be informed and engaged citizens, and use their voices to fight for causes they believe.
“By taking an interest in this bill and speaking out in support of policies that benefit students, we can help to shape the future of education in our country and create a better world for ourselves and future generations.”
“We believe that student unions have a responsibility to fight for systemic change that goes beyond individual universities or even individual states.
“By working together and sharing their insights and expertise, student unions can help to create a national dialogue around issues related to education and student welfare.”
The Guild governance team’s visit to Sydney was funded by the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF).