FURIOUS protesters interrupted Q&A as they screamed in anger during an emotional debate on whether young people had been left behind by the Budget.

As Education Minister Simon Birmingham spoke about increases to university fees, several people began shouting at him from the audience watching live on the Gold Coast.

Host Tony Jones pointed out the "passion here in the audience", but the Liberal MP didn't seem to get it.

"Students have been protesting for generations," he said.

"It's a shame they're not being listened to," shot back Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters.

Soon after, Jones noted that people in the crowd were shaking their heads at many of the answers. "I'm wondering whether you think there might be a backlash from young people at some point?" he asked.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen seemed to think so, taking the side of the protesters.

"How is a young graduate meant to save deposit when they're paying more for their university degree, paying a Medicare levy?" he asked.

"This Government has abandoned young people, frankly. Young people trying to get into the housing market and trying to get a university degree, utterly abandoned them. Nobody is looking out for them. This is an issue which young people have every right to be very angry about.

"Young people are targeted by this Government, there are real issues of intergenerational equity.

"Young people are being locked out of the housing market. And young women in particular are losing big time. Absolutely. And it's got to stop."

Greens Senator Larissa Waters
Greens Senator Larissa Waters

And even big business seemed to - sort of - see their point. Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox admitted: "I have three kids. I'd rather be 53 than 23. I wouldn't want to gothrough that again."

Asked if he was saying things were worse now, he replied: "It is tough. Housing affordability is a huge issue. The issue for me, when I was young, I could get a deposit up for a house and get started. Then I was paying 20 per cent interest and it about killed me.

"Now it's not being able to get the foot in the door, that's the big issue. That's changed around. Housing affordability is a big issue. Where the jobs are coming from is a big issue. These are sort of real concerns that young people have and completely justifiably so.

"Our young people are our future, our most optimistic, forward-looking courageous people. My kids do things I would never dream of and I'm immensely proud of them. That's what gives me hope for the future, is our young people will adapt to the changing circumstances.

"These are tough times. We've had low wage growth for a long time, but we always find a way through, but we have to make some choices. At times our higher education system is among the world's best. It is going to have to change."


But when Jones asked questioner Josh if he felt the panel had answered his question, he responded: "No. I don't know what century you think you live in. I think you're totally out of touch.

"I would really love to know how much you paid for your degree.

"Somehow none of you own how much you earn or how much you had to pay for the struggles that we are currently enduring. I have not seen a single politician come out and say what they're earning ... and it's unrealistic to represent people like ourselves that are struggling so much."

Senator Birmingham answered: "Like Chris, like most of the panel, I went through HECS and worked at a service station, did part-time jobs to help myself to be able to afford the bills and try to get ahead. Yes, it's tough today. In some ways the same debate was probably had 20 or 30 years ago as to whether it was tough then."

Jones interjected: "A Liberal PM once said life wasn't meant to be easy - is that what you're saying?"

Senator Birmingham replied: "Life throws up its many different challenges."

Senator Birmingham
Senator Birmingham


But other questioners throughout the evening echoed Josh's frustration, with one saying: "This budget has turned Australia into the reverse Robin Hood by removing the two per cent Budget deficit levy, stealing from the poor by increasing the Medicare levy and giving it to the rich. I'd like to know how this is fair?"

Another said she was a single mother and student, and wanted her three children to go to university too.

"Higher utility costs, more tax, higher health costs, low wage growth and a low exchange rate will ultimately affect everybody," she said. "The cost of a degree and lowering the wage level at which it has to be paid back will make the attractiveness of higher education a little lower in a competitive world job market. As a single mum of four children, who I'm trying to encourage to go to university and with me starting university next year, how does this make our already becoming outdated degree seem like a great pathway?"

Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox admitted he’d ‘rather be 53 than 23’.
Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox admitted he’d ‘rather be 53 than 23’.



It seems that nothing in the Budget did quite enough. From the NDIS to Medicare to the much-maligned new savings account for first home buyers, it just didn't stack up for this audience.

Even the Government's theoretically crowd-pleasing measure to introduce a levy on the four big banks caused a fight.

Asked if bank customers would simply end up paying for the levy, Senator Birmingham responded: "They shouldn't. We're providing around $1.2 million in additional funding to the ACCC. We're also putting in place new powers and accountability regimes around banking executives. This is a levy that largely mirrors something that applies in countries like the UK, Germany, the Netherlands. There's no reason why it can't work in Australia."

But Jones pointed out that even if they "shouldn't", Malcolm Turnbull said today there was no way he could actually stop them.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen
Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen

Mr Bowen said Labor would support the levy, despite the fact that when he introduced one ten times smaller "the Liberals said it would end Western civilisation, there would be locusts."

Senator Waters - who had already mocked how the big parties "squabble in Question Time for the theatrics of it" - raised the "obscene" salaries paid to senior banking personnel.

"The hide of them to even think about passing this on to consumers when they're paying their own folk obscene amounts of money," she said. "It would be a brave bank that tries to do that.

"We would like to see it to be made easier for people to switch bank accounts. The Parliament can facilitate that and make it easier so if banks do try and it and try to pass on some of that levy, then customers can more easily say, "Stuff you, I'm out of here to a smaller bank that doesn't fund fossil fuels."

Mr Willox had the last, ominous word, however. "As sure as night follows day this will be passed on, it will be passed on to shareholders, customers, be they households or businesses," he said.

News Corp Australia

‘Very best’: Exclusive coastal home with underground bunker

Premium Content ‘Very best’: Exclusive coastal home with underground bunker

This luxury Lennox Head property is a family sanctuary, with five bedrooms and a...

How a Ballina business is helping to fight COVID-19

Premium Content How a Ballina business is helping to fight COVID-19

The Byron-based founder has had his creation fast tracked for approval by the...

School of Rock: Rolling Stone’s $15K scholarship for teen

Premium Content School of Rock: Rolling Stone’s $15K scholarship for teen

It is a life-changing opportunity for this talented SCU music student.