2015

Mr CHESTER  (Gippsland—Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (10:27): I rise to speak in relation to an issue which I know is dear to your heart, Deputy Speaker Broadbent, and that is the system of student income support, commonly referred to as Youth Allowance, and the impacts that it has on regional students and their families. 

This is one of the most significant and pressing issues for many families in Gippsland, particularly at this time of year as VCE students in our community approach their end-of-year exams and are very conscious of achieving the best possible result. There is still enormous uncertainty for those students, even if they achieve the results they desire, about whether their families can actually afford to send them away from home to attend the university of their choice.

Deputy Speaker, you, like many other regional members—I note the member for Capricornia, the member for Mallee, the member for Wannon, the member for Forrest, the member for Grey, Senator Bridget McKenzie, and many more; in fact, all of my regional colleagues in the coalition—are interested in this issue. We understand that the current system, a system we inherited from the previous government, is still too confusing and unnecessarily bureaucratic in its structure. 

This is an issue of significant social and economic consequence. From a social perspective, we have young people in regional communities not able to achieve their full potential because they simply cannot afford the costs of relocating to attend university. These are the same students who we expect will learn new skills and then return to those regions and fill the skills gap that we face in many of our communities. Our regional students are underrepresented at universities, and it is a challenge for this government, just as it has been a challenge for previous governments.

From an economic perspective, the other challenge is: we see a direct wealth transfer from the pockets of regional mums and dads into those of city based landlords. I do not begrudge the city based landlords—they have got investment properties and they are quite entitled to make a profit from them—but we are seeing a direct wealth transfer from the pockets of mums and dads in country communities to those of city based landlords who then achieve a tax advantage from having that property.

I believe we can do better. I am very heartened by the fact that the work by the responsible coalition ministers is underway. They have been working with regional MPs to develop a fairer system in the future. I am confident we will see changes to this system as a result of this week's renegotiated coalition agreement. I congratulate the new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, on their negotiations this week.

I am not in a position today to make announcements, in particular regarding specific measures around youth allowance, but I note the media coverage, which pointed out that one of the key points of the coalition agreement renegotiated this week was to implement a plan to overcome financial barriers in accessing higher education for rural, regional and remote students. This is not just an issue for National Party members; it is also an issue for Liberal Party members and, in fact, all regional members of parliament, who understand there is a significant barrier right now to our kids, our regional students, achieving their full potential. I am confident that this coalition government will work in a constructive way to achieve the best possible outcome for regional students to allow them to have the same opportunities as their city cousins.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER   ( Mr Broadbent ): Order! The time for constituency statements has concluded.

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