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Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Page: 4277

Mr BROADBENT (3:35 PM) —My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister in her capacity as the Minister for Education and it is particularly relevant to regional members like me and to my seat of McMillan. What advice has the minister received from her department as to how many young Australians currently in their gap year will be penalised by the government’s changes to the eligibility criteria for the independent youth allowance?

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the member for his question and I can tell him very clearly what advice I have received. I have received advice that over 100,000 students will be better off—that is, 68,000 students will receive income support for the first time and 35,000 students will receive higher payments. What the changes to the parental income test mean is that parents can earn more before their children start to lose income support—and I think that, as a regional member, the regional member will be very interested in these statistics. The way the scheme currently works is that, for a student to receive the maximum away-from-home payment of $371.40 a fortnight, the income of their family has to be $32,800 or less. Under the new scheme, that threshold will increase to $42,559. And then we have changed the taper rate. The current taper rate is 25 per cent. The taper now will be 20 per cent.

For the regional member—and I know he will be concerned about this because he will know about incomes in his electorate—I point out that, under the Rudd government scheme, that means a family with university-age kids of 17 years and 21 years living away from home can receive support up to a family income of $139,388. That is compared with a family income of $75,324 now. He would know, as a regional member, that the average annual household wage and salary index study shows us that in regional and rural areas we are talking on average about household incomes of $54,500—that is, on average the constituents in his electorate fit into this scheme and will get student income support. That is before we moved to the question of the scholarships that we are having under our scheme.

Ms Julie Bishop —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The question specifically asked for a figure, the number of students currently in their gap year who will in fact be disqualified—

The SPEAKER —The deputy leader will resume her seat.

Ms Julie Bishop —from attending university as a result of—

The SPEAKER —The deputy leader will resume her seat. I refer members to page 552 of House of Representatives Practice, which indicates that, no matter how specific members think that the question is, the Deputy Prime Minister is being relevant in some way or in part to the question and that is being held to be relevant under the standing orders.

Ms GILLARD —Thank you, Mr Speaker, as this is a serious topic and I am treating the answer seriously. The Rudd government is also introducing student start-up scholarships. Some 146,000 students will get these. That is a major increase from the 12,900 scholarships available now. And we are introducing 14,200 new relocation scholarships. That is also a major increase on the number of relocation scholarships available now.

The member also asked me about the characterisation of who is ‘independent’ for student income support. This goes to the question of the gap year, which was just raised with me. I can say to the member this on the question of the gap year that he has raised and on the independence test for student income support: the Bradley review found that, in relation to that test, income support was poorly targeted. The Bradley review found that 36 per cent of independent students living at home were from families with incomes over $100,000, 10 per cent in that situation were from families earning more than $150,000 and 10 per cent came from families earning over $200,000. When I received that information from the Bradley review, I was concerned about poor targeting. But I was not the only one. Let me quote something to the member which I think he will find very relevant. Let me quote the following advice I got along the way:

If the government is serious about reform, then come Budget time we should see some consideration given to reforms suggested by Bradley in student income support—to ensure that sufficient support is going to those who need it.

I accepted that advice. It came from the shadow minister for education.

Mr Ruddock —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have sought your call to ask whether or not the minister would table the advice, which I found very valuable.

The SPEAKER —Was the Deputy Prime Minister quoting a document?

Ms GILLARD —Yes, I was.

The SPEAKER —Was the document confidential?

Ms GILLARD —It is confidential.