OPINION

Uncle Scott's HECS shift represents elitist hypocrisy

The Reserve Bank has told Australians that we need to spend more money to keep the economy going. In fact, key to this is putting disposable income into the hands of lower income earners, as they are more likely to spend it in local economies.

John Howard agrees. So does the Business Council. So what happened? Tax cuts for the wealthy were approved, an increase in the Newstart Allowance was voted down and the threshold for higher education debt repayments was lowered to a little more than $45,000.

Makes total sense. After all, "you have to have a go to get a go" in this country, right?

I understand that many of you are not against the HECS debt threshold being lowered: it's a debt that needs to be paid.

However, when viewed within the grand scheme of recent government policy, it becomes just the latest sacrifice low-wage earners are expected to make for "the good of the country" and the impact of this can be quite significant on these families.

Those of us wealthy enough to pay for our degrees up front and then forge a career in our chosen profession are not asked to contribute to this "national cause".

But those of us who were not sufficiently affluent to pay up front and are already struggling on low incomes are asked to stretch their budgets even further, while Uncle Scott points his finger declaring "your country needs you!"

When you look at the maths of the situation, it becomes more baffling.

Now, I am no economist (just ask any of my high school maths teachers), but attempting to stimulate the economy by reducing taxes and then increasing the HECS fee repayments - so that what you gained in a cut, you give back in repayments - seems to me to be shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

Let's look at an example. Prior to July 1, the HECs threshold for repayments was $52,000 a year. If you earned $50,000 a year, you were already going to receive an annual tax cut of $530.

With the new tax cuts, you would get an additional $550, so a total annual tax cut of $1080.

But with the new HECS repayment threshold, you have to pay $500 of that tax cut back to the government in HECS repayments, essentially, wiping the benefit of the new tax cuts out entirely. I'm sure the Reserve Bank of Australia is facepalming.

Last year, when the bill to lower the threshold was passed in the Senate 34-33, Nationals Senator Steve Martin crossed the floor to try and vote down the legislation.

Those of us who were not sufficiently affluent to pay up front and are already struggling on low incomes are asked to stretch their budgets even further, while Uncle Scott points his finger declaring 'your country needs you!'

He said he was concerned that reducing the threshold will disincentivise students from attending university, especially those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

"Students are one of Australia's most precious resources and we should invest in them," he said.

I was one of the lucky ones. My parents saved to cover my HECS fees for my undergraduate studies.

But I have accrued a HECS debt for my postgraduate studies and, having just enrolled in a Juris Doctor degree, I hesitated over whether or not to continue my education before hitting "submit."

It's a daunting task to go into significant debt to attain a degree, especially when there is no guarantee of a job at the end of it.

When we know our nation's political parties are capable of putting forward amendments that demand the threshold be lowered to $30,000 a year - which is less than the minimum wage - our trepidation in enrolling in these courses is not just about today's challenges, but the unknown challenges we are anticipating in our future.

When we can't trust our government to have our best interests at heart; when we see them give themselves a $12k per year payrise in the same week that they cut penalty rates; when we see them give high-income earners significant tax cuts that equate to up to $10,000 a year while refusing to increase the Newstart Allowance for the first time in 25 years so our most vulnerable members of our communities can survive; when they target the aged pension while they are safe in the knowledge they'll retire in luxury; I can't help but wonder at the elitist hypocrisy of it all.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer and coach at impressability.com.au