With all the scare-mongering surrounding HECS debt, I hope that senior secondary school students aren't dissuaded from undertaking higher education. The view that tertiary study has both a private and public benefit (so the costs are shared by the state and the individual) has enjoyed broad bipartisan support for decades. Undermining this position with hysterical demands for "free" (ie fully subsidised) education merely polarises the community and allows the government of the day to shift the burden further from its shoulders. It is to our great shame and disadvantage if hyperbole about tens of thousands of dollars of debt means capable students reject university.
Practically, we already have "free" education: the HECS debt is repaid through a slightly (up to 6%) higher marginal tax rate while you earn a graduate's salary. Growing at the inflation rate and unsecured, it is the most benign debt imaginable and nearly everyone would benefit from this offer. There is a great irony here. In my discussions with student politicians about HECS and "free" education, when pushed for solutions rather than ideology they invariably say "tax the rich". Well, guess what: five years after graduation you are the rich and HECS is just another tax!