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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6790

Mr COULTON (9:30 PM) —I rise tonight to address a burning issue that has been evident in my electorate for some time and to indicate that tomorrow I will be presenting to the Petitions Committee some 2,006 signatures that I have collected so far concerning the proposed youth allowance changes. I know there has been much discussion and many members have raised this issue in this House. To be honest, it is the biggest issue that I have confronted since I came into this place 18 months ago. It is quite interesting to look at the names and addresses on this petition, which I have here, and to find that people from every town and village in my electorate have signed it. These people are from all sorts of family backgrounds. Indeed, in Moree three weeks ago there were a couple of young Aboriginal lads manning a table in the main street collecting signatures on this issue.

The point I would like to raise is that many people are going to be disadvantaged by these changes. To give the minister credit, I believe they are the result of an oversight more than an intention. But she has had an opportunity to indicate that she might change the situation but as yet has failed to do so. I certainly hope that before the bill comes into the House in the next session the minister will reconsider her position. No-one in my electorate more epitomises the people who are caught up in this than a girl from Warialda, Ellen Smith. Ellen did her HSC last year and got an exceptionally good UAI and plans to do either medicine or physiotherapy next year. Since she finished school last year Ellen has undertaken a variety of tasks. She has been to Queensland and picked grapes through the summer in excessive heat. At the moment she is working several days a week at the KFC store in Inverell and the rest of the time she is doing station work such as mustering cattle and drenching sheep. That is the nature of employment that such kids can find in a rural area.

The proposal is that, instead of earning the required $19,000 or so over an 18-month period but with the ability to do it in 12 months, they now have to work an average of 30 hours a week for 18 months, which means that in actual fact they will have to take two years out of their studies. This presents a whole range of problems. One is that two years out of the education system is a long time. I worry that after they have been out of the system for that long many children that do have the ability to take up a tertiary education will probably opt out of the system. Another problem is that universities will only defer a place for one year. If you have been out of the system for two years, you need to apply for mature-age entry, so you have to reapply to go to university and there is no guarantee of saving a place.

I know that amendments will be suggested when the bill comes into the House. I certainly hope that the minister will take them on board, because this is by no means about middle-class welfare. Both of the parents of the young lass that I have just mentioned work and she has an elder brother who is at university and a younger brother following and there is the potential for her parents to have three kids in tertiary education at once, an enormous burden on any family. Without a lot of prompting many people have signed this petition via the internet and in shopping centres around the place and this matter has been carried very much by the people. I thank the people in my electorate who have signed this petition. I will submit it to the Petitions Committee this week. I trust that the minister will reconsider her position.