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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7982

Mr TURNBULL (3:29 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Education. I refer the minister to the thousands of Australian students currently undertaking a gap year in a bid to achieve the independent rate of youth allowance, some of whom have come to the parliament today from their homes in rural and regional New South Wales and Victoria and have met with each of us and explained the real problems they are facing as a result of the government’s changes. Given these students have made their study and life choices based on the advice of career advisers at their school and Centrelink staff and other government information, does the minister believe it is fair to change the rules on them halfway through their gap year?

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question. At Senator Fielding’s invitation, I did meet earlier today with a number of young people who came to parliament from Shepparton and Warrnambool, in particular. They were actually sitting at the front of the gallery just over there until an earlier point in question time. I did have a good discussion with them about student financing and about aspirations for young people to go to university and we talked through some of their concerns. The Leader of the Opposition, having had a comparable discussion with them, would be aware of some of their concerns about the student financing package.

What we talked through in the meeting I had with them was that current student financing arrangements are flawed, and there was a general consensus about that. They, like me, were concerned by the evidence that there are higher income Australians with students living at home who have qualified for the full rate of student allowance, and the findings of the Bradley review are very, very clear on this. That is a concern, and they shared that concern. I think they shared that concern because, like me and the government, they want to see dollars spent on student financing going to make the best possible difference.

Our student financing package has been drawn up with those principles in mind. We believe that money should go to low- and middle-income families. The current means test is too low. It means that many lower- and middle-income families miss out. The received message has therefore been that the only way you can get student allowance is to defer for a year and to seek to qualify as independent. The great vice of that, of course, is that many people who do defer for a year actually do not ever come back into education. And we discussed that at our meeting today. We also discussed at our meeting the new scholarship arrangements, with gaps on scholarships under the current system—

Ms Marino —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The gap year students want to know how they will be affected by this and what the government will do for them.

The SPEAKER —The Deputy Prime Minister is responding to the question.

Ms GILLARD —I am talking precisely to that question and the features of the new arrangement. We talked about how the features of the new arrangement include all students who qualify for youth allowance getting access to a start-up scholarship and a relocation scholarship, where those things are capped now and there are students who miss out. And we talked about the ability under the new arrangements for students to earn more through part-time work when they are at university before student financing gets withdrawn.

We had a comprehensive discussion. I was pleased to have it. I will certainly be meeting with other young people to discuss these issues. I maintain my view that there is much misinformation and misrepresentation about the package. We want to keep talking it through with people. I was very pleased to meet with the young people today. It was in fact a great discussion. I conclude by suggesting that, in the course of the discussion today, I met a young woman who in her future I suspect may well be the next Laurie Oakes. She was very good at the questions.