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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6383


Mr HAWKER (7:30 PM) —Tonight I want to bring to the attention of the House the really devastating effect the changes to Youth Allowance are going to have on students and potential students in my area and, I know, right across the nation, particularly in the country. The thing that is really making people in my area angry is the fact that the government is bringing in a retrospective change, so that those who started to take a gap year in anticipation of qualifying for Youth Allowance are now finding that under the change in rules they will not qualify. For many, it is quite devastating.

Just to give an idea of the anger that is around, there was a meeting held two weeks ago in Warrnambool to which 400 people turned up. Two petitions have been put around, and in a very short time nearly 2,000 signatures have been obtained—and I intend to table them next week. What this really highlights are the difficulties country students are facing in trying to go on to tertiary study.

We start with the obvious problem, which is that for most country students leaving home is not a question of choice; it is a necessity. That in itself is not easy, but it means of course that it costs them a lot more to continue studying. Then we have the problem with deferring starting, because, under the proposal the government is putting forward, that deferral will now have to be for two years while a student is working. But universities generally do not hold the places for that long; so, even if a student has been accepted, that does not mean that they will be able to get into that university after they have deferred. And, of course, as one of the local principals of a big high school in my area said, if a student defers for two years and starts earning an income, it is very, very difficult to go back to study. So, when we look at the impact of this measure, we can see clearly that it is very much disadvantaging country students—and, as I said, it is a retrospective change.

I can quote another principal from my area, who made the point:

The tighter eligibility criteria served as a “double disincentive” to pursue higher education.

That is what Hamilton and Alexandra College principal Bruce Simons said. He went on to say:

But if the changes were approved, parents of students starting secondary education now would have little choice but to discourage their plans to go to university …

Without income assistance, many Hamilton district families would be forced to move to Melbourne to support their child while they studied.

The article I am quoting from also says:

According to data published yesterday, Mr Simons’ school has the highest percentage of students across the state to defer their studies.

The On Track Survey shows 64 per cent of those surveyed at the college had deferred their tertiary place.

Clearly, not all those students are going to be able to go on and study under the changed rules. Another report, also in the Warrnambool Standard, said:

SOUTH-WEST families with three children at university in Melbourne could be forced to fork out as much as $200,000 to support their studies under the new Youth Allowance criteria, according to South West Local Learning and Employment Network’s (LLEN) chief executive officer.

The chief executive officer, Toni Hancock, said:

If you have three children at university, and I’m basing this on an actual case from the Warrnambool region, you will be paying about $60,000 a year for those three students to live outside this area to go to university …

Clearly, this is targeting country students and making sure that they just do not have that opportunity. A report in the Portland Observer pointed out:

RURAL students may be forced to put aside any plans to pursue tertiary studies as a result of changes to the youth allowance eligibility criteria announced in last week’s federal budget.

It goes on to give an example of a student who deferred and is currently working at Bakers Delight, but she is wondering what the point is.

The other statistic that I thought should be stated is this:

Warrnambool College careers advisor Peter Bollard said 39 per cent of the 2008 year 12 class deferred their university place to meet the eligibility requirements.

And, as the Warrnambool Standard said at the time, in its editorial:

The Federal Government’s changes to the Youth Allowance criteria, announced in the Federal Budget, are an insult to regional Australian students.

It concludes:

For the sake of regional students, the Government must think again.

The impact of this change is clearly disadvantaging people in the country. That is why I will be tabling those petitions and that is why the opposition is going to move to take out the retrospectivity of these changes to Youth Allowance. (Time expired)