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May 30, 2011

Mr PYNE (Sturt—Manager of Opposition Business) (20:06) – It is kind of so many of my colleagues to come into the House to listen to this debate tonight on the youth allowance. They have had many opportunities to be part of debates on the youth allowance, and it is nice that they are now finally taking the youth allowance issue seriously and coming into the parliament in such large numbers in order to find out why they should support the coalition’s motion to extend the eligibility requirements for youth allowance for young people in inner regional Australia. I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that the Government has:
    (a) admitted there is a problem with the criteria for independent youth allowance for inner regional students;
    (b) committed to bringing forward its review of the matter with the broad purpose of finding a permanent solution to address the disadvantages that currently exist for rural and regional students in qualifying for financial assistance; and
    (c) indicated it will remove the difference between the inner regional areas and the other regional zones for the eligibility criteria for independent youth allowance; and

(2) calls on the Government to bring forward its timetable for resolving the matter, and in particular ensure that:
    (a) the review is completed and funds to pay for the measure are secured by l July 2011;
    (b) the current eligibility criteria for independent youth allowance for persons whose homes are located in Outer Regional Australia, Remote Australia, and Very Remote Australia according to the Remoteness Structure defined in subsection 1067A(10F) of the Social Security Act 1991 also apply to those with homes in Inner Regional Australia from 1 July 2011; and
    (c) all students who had a gap year in 2010 (ie, 2009 Year 12 school leavers) and who meet the relevant criteria qualify for the payment.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (20:46) – In joining the debate I want to pay tribute in particular to the regional MPs on this side of the House, who have pursued the issue of student income support with such vigour over the past three years. I want to thank the shadow minister for education for his tireless pursuit of this on behalf of regional students and I also thank Senator Fiona Nash, who has been a great champion in the other place for regional students. I also recognise the members for Forrest and Barker, who have already spoken here tonight. I also thank every regional MP on this side of the House who has been prepared to stand up for rural and regional Australian students. If the time was not so limited for this debate tonight I am sure there would be a line-up at the door of regional MPs, like the member for Dawson, who is in this place, and Deputy Speaker Scott, the member for Maranoa, and my good friend the member for Wannon, who I know is very passionate about getting a fair go for students in his electorate.

That is the bottom line in this debate. It is about getting a fair go and abolishing the discriminatory system that was introduced by this Prime Minister when she was the Minister for Education. The motion specifically refers to the issue of independent youth allowance. I take up the comments from the member for Braddon, when he described this motion as a stunt. He knows it is not a stunt, because he knows there is a problem with the independent youth allowance system and these discriminatory boundaries, these lines on a map, between inner regional and outer regional. I also take up his comments in relation to the income thresholds for dependent youth allowance. No-one on this side that I am aware of has had a problem with the revised income thresholds. We are specifically talking about the independent youth allowance and the inner regional and outer regional boundaries.

This is Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s mess. From the day the former education minister started amending the system of student income support, she talked big and she delivered a mess. Even the government has admitted that the system of discriminating against students, with definitions of ‘inner regional’ and ‘outer regional’ for the purpose of calculating the independent youth allowance, is a complete mess. We have these ridiculous lines on a map, which other members have already spoken about here tonight. The workforce criterion for achieving independent youth allowance in inner regional areas of 30 hours per week over a two-year period is almost impossible in many parts of regional Australia and completely impossible in all the rest. It is a very difficult criterion for students in small regional towns to meet.

The other problem we have, and the reason this motion is so important, is that the students from the 2009 and 2010 academic years will be treated inconsistently compared to their brothers and sisters or cousins from other towns who may have gone through year 12 at a previous time. So we have students from different years being treated inconsistently with their cohorts.

This motion gives the government a clear way forward. This government is always complaining that the opposition is too negative. Well, we are putting forward a positive solution here tonight to remove the discriminatory criteria by 1 July this year and to start fixing the mess. Many on this side of the House understand the problems with the current system of student income support and the impact it has on regional students. Some on the other side, including the member for Braddon, claimed to also understand the issues, which left me wondering why this government refused to act. Then it dawned on me. Regional Australia does not have a voice in the Gillard government cabinet. It is the most city-centric ministerial list you will ever see. I invite anyone to have a look. The minister for regional development, the member for Hotham, has his electorate office in Clayton. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, a Queensland senator, has his electorate office in Brisbane. The Minister for Resources and Energy, the member for Batman, has his office in Preston. The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the member for Grayndler, has his office in Marrickville. I could go on, but the bottom line is that none of the senior ministers with carriage of issues that are critical to the future of rural and regional Australia actually lives in regional Australia. The minister for tertiary education is a senator for Western Australia, whose electorate office is in Perth.

These people simply do not understand the cost barriers faced by regional families in sending their children to university. They do not live and work in regional communities and they do not understand the hopes and aspirations of regional families. It is an absolute disgrace that we would have such a city-centric cabinet table that fails to stand up for the interests of regional people.

Finally, let me quote from someone who does get it, a concerned parent, Mr Rob Oliver from Sale, who made a submission to the government’s current review. He submitted the following in a letter:

In summary the outcome of your review needs to be immediate action to fix this mess and give all regional students the same access to independent youth allowance. The entire community does not want to hear hollow rhetoric about an education revolution when the government’s own actions with respect to youth allowance are inhibiting the education of our country students.

That says it all. This government cannot keep hiding behind its slogan of ‘the education revolution’. It has to deliver a fairer deal for regional families. It has to fix the mess that Julia Gillard created.

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