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March 17, 2010

The Nationals Member for Gippsland Darren Chester says there is a lot of work to be done before regional students get a fair deal on student income support, despite a breakthrough in Youth Allowance negotiations.

Mr Chester said the Federal Minister for Education Julia Gillard had done a backflip on some of her proposed changes to Youth Allowance but hadn’t addressed the fundamental issue of equity for regional students required to leave home to study.

He has also criticised the new system which will discriminate against some regional students under a bureaucratic definition of ‘rural’ and ‘remote’.

Since May last year, Mr Chester has waged a public campaign, supported by more than 5000 students, teachers and parents who signed a petition against the Labor Party’s plans.

“There has been a breakthrough for gap year students who attended Year 12 in 2008,” Mr Chester said.

“The Minister has finally agreed not to punish students who were on their gap year when the changes were announced. The new legislation won’t come into effect until July this year, which means those students will not be adversely affected by the changes.”

Mr Chester said the government had also agreed to retain the original pathway to achieving Independent Youth Allowance for students living within defined boundaries. Under that scheme, students can qualify for independence by working 15 hours per week over two years, or earning $19,532 over an 18 month period.

“But the devil is in the detail and there are too many winners and losers in this complex scheme. Labor has split regional areas in half and students in towns like Sale, Maffra, Stratford, Yarram and Traralgon won’t have that pathway open to them,” Mr Chester said.

“Under the Labor Party’s legislation, those students will need to find 30 hours of work a week over two years to qualify for the Independent Youth Allowance. It is virtually impossible for young people in smaller regional centres to achieve that criteria and it remains a fundamental flaw in the government’s legislation.

“Some students in regional areas will get one deal, while others miss out.

“This whole debate demonstrates that city Labor MPs don’t fully understand the economic challenges faced by rural and regional students. These are students who, by the nature of their location, have to move away from home to pursue their university dreams.

“There is nothing revolutionary about the Rudd Government’s changes and they fail to address the fundamental inequity faced by regional students who are forced to move away from home to attend university.”

Mr Chester said he would continue to fight for a better deal for regional students.

“If Julia Gillard had her way – she would have ripped off every gap year student in Australia last year and with the support of local people, we managed to stop that rip-off and forced some changes to the Bill,” Mr Chester said.

“We have improved the Bill, but as far as regional students are concerned it doesn’t go far enough. There should be a complete overhaul of the student income support system starting now, not in two years as promised by the Minister.

“We’ve got a government that is wasting billions of dollars on home insulation and overly-expensive school halls but the Minister can’t find any new money to assist regional students going to university.”

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