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Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Page: 2836

Mr NEVILLE (6:04 PM) —I think this matter is one of the most important that has come before the parliament in my time, especially in terms of equity for country people. We get a lot of troubles in country areas with drought and floods and so on, but the one thing that we all pride ourselves in is seeing that our kids get a fair shake. I, for one, have a son who went to university and had to have four jobs to get himself through. So I know what it is like for young people to struggle to get that university degree.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why we would use a measure of medical availability as the basis for lines on maps around accessibility to a university. I just cannot see the connection. Perhaps it was just a lazy bit of work on the part of someone in the minister’s office or the bureaucracy who said: ‘We can’t quite find a map. This one is fairly close. We’ll do this.’ That decision excluded so many people that it is quite frightening. But I will acknowledge the clawing back of the young people who were excluded by retrospectivity. If that had been allowed to continue, it would have been a manifest injustice.

However, what we see now is a different form of injustice. In my electorate I have the university cities of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. They are two very good campuses and two different universities. I find it extraordinary that those two cities are excluded but Townsville and Cairns are included in the 15-hour measure. Why should the kids in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay have to do 30 hours? I put this to the minister: it is not just a mechanical thing of 50 or 30 hours that we are talking about. What it really comes down to is the availability of jobs in some of those towns.

If you are in a town like that—especially one that has been through drought recently—it is incredibly hard to get to 15 hours much less 30. So the move now to take this whole cohort of students from the 15-hour measure to the 30-hour measure will by its very nature exclude them. I think there is a lot of work still to be done. As I said, I have a son who went to university and had to maintain four jobs to get himself through. I am intensely proud of him.

I also want to stress the importance of education in country areas. I understand that the minister at the table is the Minister for Social Inclusion. If we are talking about social inclusion, it should be a constant source of anxiety to her—I do not say this with any sense of bitterness or vindictiveness—that only 30 per cent of country kids in this nation get to university. It is only 30 per cent.

Ms Gillard —That is the Howard government’s legacy.

Mr NEVILLE —You can say it was the last government’s legacy and we can say it was the Keating government’s legacy. You could run that argument for ever and ever amen. The point is, however, that you hold the reins at present and you have the ability to give more of those kids the opportunity. Not only have you not given more of those kids the opportunity; you have imposed harsh measures that will drive some of them out. I think that is something you should reflect on.

Also, we wring our hands and say we need people from country areas, especially doctors and pharmacists and so on, to go back and take up the cudgels and live and work in country areas. What we are going to do with this measure is make it all the harder to encourage students in country areas to take up those courses and in doing so take a burden from government and from the communities in which they serve—(Time expired)