In 1988, then federal education minister, John Dawkins, drew upon the politics of class privilege to justify rolling out HECS student loans. A university user-pays system was needed, he argued, because Labor was not in the business of funding “middle-class welfare”. At the time, one reason a neoliberal appeal by Labor to its base could deflate widespread public opposition was that just 7% of working-age Australians held a degree.
Three decades on, Education Minister Dan Tehan is also dog-whistling up the politics of class to cut off the loans system to first-year students who fail half their subjects, ramp up fees for many others, deny JobKeeper to workers in the sector and cut funding.
The government would save $1 billion a year with proposed university reforms — but that’s not what it’s telling us