In mid-1974, the Whitlam government abolished university fees in an attempt to make tertiary education more accessible for working & middle class Australians.
This initiative was replaced with the current HECS system by the Hawke/Labor government, as it was believed that free tertiary education was unsustainable, due to increasing participation rates.
This system was further reformed by the Howard/Liberal government, so that fees were charged on the basis of the perceived value of courses. This meant that courses considered to have most likelihood of generating higher income (e.g. Law, Medicine) were the most expensive.
In order to return the budget to surplus, the 2017 federal budget proposed that university funding will be reduced by 2.5% in 2018, with fees going up $2,000 - $3,600 for a 4-year course. This is expected to save $2.8 billion over 4 years.
Moreover, from 1 July 2018, the income level at which HECS debt repayments will be reduced from $55,000 to $42,000. The minimum wage in Australia is $36,000 per year.
Should Australia cut university
funding to solve its budget deficit?
Universities Australia; 'Universities Australia Paper: The Facts on University Funding'
The Australian; 'World university rankings under threat if unis take a cut'
The Australian; 'Funding cuts spell doom for the university sector as we know it'