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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 7094

Dr STONE (7:40 PM) —I rise tonight to present a petition which has been considered by a meeting of the Standing Committee on Petitions and has been certified as being in accordance with standing orders. This petition has been signed by 3,990 people from northern Victoria—men, women and students. I present the petition so that people understand why we have had 3,990 people sign this petition and more signatures are flooding into my office every day.

The petition read as follows—

To the Honourable The Speaker and members of the House of Representatives

This petition of certain citizens of Australia, draws the attention of the house to their opposition to the proposed changes to Youth Allowance criteria announced in the 2009 Federal Budget. These changes will mean country students cannot afford to live away from home to access Higher Education.

  • Students with no prior experience or qualifications will be forced into a difficult job market and many will simply not find work for a minimum 30 hours per week for at least I months in a two year period as proposed.
  • Most universities only allow students to defer for 12 months. Rural students needing youth allowance support through university, may be forced to reapply for their positions all over again as a mature age student. Universities only offer limited mature age places.
  • There are limited mid year intakes.

We therefore ask the House to review the proposed changes so that country students can access university.

From (3,889) citizens

Petition received.

Dr STONE —This is a deadly serious issue. Every parent hopes that their student who works hard at school and aspires to a university education will in fact be offered a place. They hope that they can afford to support their students at university or that there will be some way or means of government support or a scholarship that will mean their student does not have to forgo that opportunity for a higher education. Unfortunately, in rural and regional Australia, but particularly in southern Australia, we are facing our seventh year of drought. Families who once could support a student away from home—and it costs up to $20,000 a year extra in living costs—simply cannot now afford the extra $20,000. Likewise for small businesses and the professionals who offer service into those rural communities.

We have an extreme situation where we now face a income contraction and indeed unemployment in communities which once could boast of being the food bowl of Australia. These families deserve the right to have their students attend university if in fact those students have been offered a place. Already there is about a 20 per cent gap in the number of city-born-and-bred students compared with rural students accessing higher education. That gap is growing wider.

Who would have imagined that in Australia we had a two-speed economy and, at least, a two-tiered level of opportunity depending on where you were born. It simply is not fair that a student who is only two or three hours from Melbourne has to face the fact that they cannot afford to train as a doctor, dentist, lawyer, teacher, engineer or librarian. Those students do not have local access such courses, and with these new changes brought forward by the Rudd government they are facing the fact that they will never be eligible for the independent youth allowance. The problem is that under the new proposals they are required to work at least 30 hours for 18 months over a two-year period. What student in this environment and this economic context can guarantee or even be likely to get those 30 hours of work a week?

As an alternative, they are required to marry or to have a child. It is ridiculous to suggest a young person goes down that track. They are told that bringing the new age for independency down to 22 is a solution. No, it is not. That means a student has been out of school for at least four or five years, and the chances of them being able to return to studies as a mature age person are vastly reduced. This petition is from desperate and earnest young people. In particular, I want to name Samantha Threlfall, Talitha Golan, Hayley Swan, Jacqui Kitto, Gemma Doyle and Jessica Eddy, who did all of the hard work behind this petition. They are students in their gap years who deserve a university education. (Time expired)