Education minister Simon Birmingham can't recall how much student debt he graduated with, as the debate over university fee de-regulation has led to ugly scenes with students clashing with riot police.
Birmingham was visiting the University of Technology Sydney on Thursday, a day after new economic analysis revealed the government's mooted plan to de-regulate the university sector would lead to massive budget blow-outs.
The plan has long been predicted to see university's hike student fees, which would lead to higher levels of debt among Australian students.
But when confronted with a question about his own student debt level, Birmingham could not remember.
"I couldn't recall what the student debt level was now because it was a few years ago. I went through university with the HECS system," he said.
According to his website, the minister graduated from the University of South Australia with a Masters of Business Administration before becoming an industry lobbyist.
"That was quite a few years ago now. Exactly what the level was, was a bit of a distant memory."
Birmingham's press conference occurred less than 24 hours after violent clashes between police and student protestors nearby at the University of Sydney.
The university's newspaper Honi Soit captured video of riot police, pushing, dragging and frog-marching students from library where Birmingham was judging a debating competition for the campus' Young Liberal group.
"It is despicable that Birmingham thinks he can step onto campus after the announcement that the government's higher education policy remains to be deregulating fees," SRC education officer Liam Carrigan told Honi Soit.
One of the protestors, "Georgia" told BuzzFeed News she had her haird pulled and was violently pushed into the library's electronic gates... which snapped.
Birmingham joked on Thursday that he had a "fabulous reception" at the university and blamed the Socialist Alliance "who will protest anything".
The minister committed to revealing more on university funding before the upcoming election and would not rule out that de-regulation is back on the table - despite it being rejected by the senate.
The striking scenes are reminiscent of the protests that occurred when then-education minister Christopher Pyne first announced the policy back in 2014.
Here's a scenes from last night...
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Mark Di Stefano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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