On the campaign trail in Dunedin North with Victor Billot

Alliance Party blog

Speech at the Great Tertiary Education Debate

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The Alliance supports free education.

We stand for the following policies:

Removal of tuition fees.

Abolition of the Student Loans Scheme and the immediate writing off of all loans.

A living allowance for all students at the level of the Unemployment Benefit.

Increased funding for public tertiary institutions, especially regional polytechnics, and provide adequate funding for libraries.

Cutting funding to private, profit-making tertiary providers.

Prioritising New Zealand public tertiary institutions over multinational education providers.

The Alliance Party agrees with the policy of NZUSA.

Our policies, unlike National’s tax cuts for the rich, are affordable. They are realistic. They are fully costed.

Free education can be paid for by progressive taxation. Those on low incomes pay less tax. Those on above average incomes like myself pay a little more. Those on high incomes like John Key pay somewhat more. With Alliance, John will still be able to afford his holiday home in Hawaii, and the young people of New Zealand get a free education.

We are all supposed to swoon in gratitude that after nine years the Labour Government has cooked up a generous offer, five weeks out from a general election.

This is like being mugged by someone who steals your wallet but leaves you the bus fare home.

Now we have a thoroughly dishonest National Party pretending they can hand out free money to everyone on the wrong end of a global financial meltdown, and not charge more for education and health.

I am happy to answer questions on the details.

But I would like to make a personal case as to why I support free education.

My first year studying at the tertiary level was in 1990 so I feel I have grown up with user pays education. I was at the University Registry over the road here the day police batoned students who were peacefully gathered in front of the building to protest user pays.

My observation is the generations who grew up in times of war and depression created a society which despite many flaws attempted to provide security and stability.

But the generation who benefited from these policies, the post war generation, did not pass on what they had received.

The inter-generational contract was broken.

John Key and Helen Clark are both leaders of the privileged post war generation who have rewarded their own generation and class, at the expense of the next generation.

The Fourth Labour Government destroyed free education in New Zealand in 1989. The succeeding National and Labour Governments have left students, many of whom are young people, with a crushing mountain of debt.

This has impacted most severely on those from low income backgrounds, women and minority groups.

Many of my generation have found out the hard way what student debt means. The sad fact is most teenagers attending tertiary education for the first time do not understand the implications of debt. In many cases neither do their parents. Especially, once again, if they do not come from the privileged level of society.

Many young people today did not experience the economic troubles of the 1980s and 1990s. We are about to plunge into a history defining depression. What will happen when the jobs dry up and the debt is still there? We will see a convergence of debt, of student loans, private loans and credit card debt and unaffordable mortgages. We are heading for a crunch and there are going to be a lot of people badly hurt.

What have I noticed? People waiting to have families until they are financially secure, because that is what you are supposed to do. To pay off the debt. To buy the house.

Some wait too long and now they will never have families.

My wife, who comes from a provincial freezing works family, came to University in her late twenties. Her life savings went into paying for her education. Because she is a woman she is financially disadvantaged if she wishes to have a family which requires time away from the workforce. User pays education is especially unfair to women, who are expected to be both childbearers and workers in a society where the two income family is the norm.

In a few months I am going to become a parent for the first time. I would like to be part of a generation that reforges the contract we have with our society, with our next generation. I do not want my child to grow up in a selfish, harsh place. I believe my generation have been let down. I believe we have to do better for the next generation. That is the choice we have to make.

Some people seem to think that running a country is like running a business.

I believe that organizing a society, organizing a nation, is like having a family. You don’t do it make a profit.

In my family, my parents went the extra mile for me. Shouldn’t we be doing that as a society? Going the extra mile for our young people?

Aren’t we all part of a larger family, a larger community? When I look around here, I don’t see competitors or economic production units. I see my fellow citizens.

It seems to me as if there are two voices in this debate. There is the voice that says, what do I care about anyone else? It’s my money. I want to hide away and watch my thirty inch plasma TV behind locked doors. 

Then there is the other voice, the voice of our better selves, which quietly says why are we here? We are here to help one another.

This isn’t just a matter of maths. It’s also about listening to that better voice.

Free education, barrier fee education, is right. It is economically right, it is socially right, and it is morally right.

To achieve free education, we need to stop pretending that asking National or Labour nicely is going to work. It hasn’t worked in the last twenty years. Maybe it’s time we changed tactics and realized who our friends are.

I invite you to vote for the Alliance Party for free education. If everyone in New Zealand who agreed with our policies did this, we would be back in Parliament, and we would be making a difference. It’s time to support the people who will support you.

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Written by Victor

October 4, 2008 at 3:46 am

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