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It is concerning that the Government is making it easy for students to abuse its $2.8 billion fees-free tertiary education policy by softening the penalties for those who are caught lying on their statutory declaration, National's Tertiary Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“At the moment as many as half of the prospective students must sign a statutory declaration to say they have done less than half a fulltime year of tertiary study, and that requires a witness to back up the applicant’s declaration. The penalty for anyone caught lying is up to three years in prison.

“This is by no means a rigorous enough system to ensure that the fees-free policy is not abused, yet instead of toughening up the system, the Government is now making it easier for those few unscrupulous people to not only lie in their applications, but to get away with a lighter penalty if caught.

“The Government now plans to allow future prospective students to simply sign an ordinary declaration which will not require a witness. And if they are caught, the maximum penalty is a $5000 fine.

“It’s not only the maths students who can work out that the fine is less than the value of many university fees.

“It is simply extraordinary that the Government is prepared to put millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money at stake like this.

“The Government has not given any thought to how it will maintain the integrity of the system. It would have been much more sensible if it had taken its time, considered the policy carefully and designed a system that wasn’t open to such rorts.”

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