HECS, HELP: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese plans to cancel student debt for doctors and nurses


Why some of Australia’s top earning professionals will have their university debts CANCELLED – but there are some conditions

  • Doctors and nurses will have student debt wiped under new Labor legislation
  • This policy would benefit highly paid medical professionals and low-paid nurses
  • Australia has a severe shortage of medical professionals in many regional areas 

Some of Australians highest paid professionals typically earning six-figure salaries could have their student debt eliminated under a Labor proposal. 

Doctors and nurses living in remote areas will have their loans reduced to zero in a bid to address a severe shortage of medical professionals in rural Australia.

While most nurses earn below-averages salaries, GPs typically earn more than $130,000 a year while medical specialists are getting at least $200,000.  

Health Minister Mark Butler has announced Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor government will be introducing legislation to eliminate or reduce what is owed on commonwealth student loans.

‘We recognise the challenge of recruiting and retaining primary health care workers in rural and remote communities,’ he said.

‘These measures will make country practice a more attractive long-term career option for doctors and nurse practitioners.’

Doctors and nurses living in remote areas will have their student debt wiped in a bid to address a severe shortage of medical professionals in rural Australia (pictured are doctors outside Leeton District Hospital in southern New South Wales)

Who would benefit from wiping student debt?

GENERAL PRACTITIONERS: Average income of $133,375

REGISTERED NURSES: Average income of $67,703 

GYNAECOLOGISTS: Average income of $207,887

ANAESTHETISTS: Average income of $247,409 

Source: Australian Taxation Office data for 2019-20 

Labor’s policy would see doctors and nurse practitioners have their entire student debt wiped if they live in a remote or very remote town for a period of time, or a large, medium or small town.

Education Minister Jason Clare argued eliminating Higher Education Contribution Scheme debt would help address the skills shortage in regional areas.

‘Rural and remote Australia is experiencing skills shortages in many key professions,’ he said.

‘One of these is in doctors and nurse practitioners.

‘Zero HECS debt is a great incentive for young graduates to live and work and build their careers in rural and remote communities.’

The plan to forgive student debt would benefit some of the highest paid medical professionals with gynaecologists having an average income of $207,887 in 2019-20 compared with $247,409 for anaesthetists and $258,641 for intensive care specialists, Australian Taxation Office data showed.

General practitioners by comparison earn a more modest salary of $133,375 as more Australians with degrees in medicine do extra study to become a specialist, leaving regional areas very short of doctors.

Labor's policy would see doctors and nurse practitioners have their entire student debt wiped if they live in a remote or very remote town for a period of time, or a large, medium or small town (pictured is a doctor in regional New South Wales)

Labor’s policy would see doctors and nurse practitioners have their entire student debt wiped if they live in a remote or very remote town for a period of time, or a large, medium or small town (pictured is a doctor in regional New South Wales)

Registered nurses, however, only have an average taxable salary of $67,703, a level well below Australia’s average, full-time salary of $92,030.

Most university students doing a degree, who can’t afford upfront fees, repay a student loan when their get a full-time job.

Bob Hawke’s Labor government in 1989 introduced a Higher Education Contribution Scheme, known as HECS, that replaced a system of free education that Gough Whitlam’s Labor government had introduced in 1974. 

Mr Albanese, as a Young Labor activist from the party’s Left faction, had opposed the introduction of HECS.

Nonetheless, he is keeping the HECS-Higher Education Loan Program of deferred payments in place for other degrees.

Health Minister Mark Butler (pictured) has announced Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor government will be introducing legislation to eliminate or reduce what is owed on commonwealth student loans

Australia’s proposal is targeted at the medical profession and is far less wide-ranging than US President Joe Biden’s program of eliminating $US10,000 ($A15,000) of student debt for low to middle-income borrowers.

The Coalition holds more electorates covering the most sparsely populated parts of Australia but Labor holds the vast Northern Territory outback seat of Lingiari along with Hunter in New South Wales, the regional Victorian seats of Bendigo and Ballarat and the electorates covering the provincial regional cities of Newcastle and Wollongong.

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