It is against the public interest to drop study loans to journalism students, according to one of Australia’s top investigative journalists.
Hedley Thomas has strongly condemned government removal of journalism from the list of courses eligible for loan support.
In a hard-hitting submission to an Education Department review, Mr Thomas pointed to the role of journalism in exposing the frauds behind the failed fee-help scheme.
‘The decision is, in my view, shortsighted and damaging, particularly in the circumstances of vocational education in Australia. Please give serious consideration to reversing the decision,’ he said.
‘It is a matter of public record that recent scrutiny, investigations and reporting by a number of journalists have highlighted major fraud and other criminal and unethical conduct by privately-owned groups in the vocational education and training sector.
‘The waste of taxpayers’ funds as a result of unscrupulous operators identified by my journalist colleagues runs into the tens, and perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars.
Mr Thomas pointed to the role of journalists in bringing to public attention the abuse of government funding.
‘Many of the nefarious activities would not have been exposed without the work of journalists,’ he said.
‘It is clearly contrary to the public interest, in my view, to now curtail and potentially prevent future journalistic investigation in this area by ceasing loans to students of journalism.
‘Unless the department and the minister are seeking to avoid scrutiny, the decision is difficult to understand.
‘The public purse can bear short-term loans to young journalists. The public purse should not bear rorts and frauds which will continue in the absence of unflinching journalism.’
Hedley Thomas has won three Walkley awards and broken many investigative stories. He wrote the book ‘Sick to Death’ and has won the Sir Keith Murdoch Award for most outstanding news-breaking.