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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 14779


Mr WILSON (O'Connor) (10:04): As 2015 draws to a close, it is timely for me to acknowledge the young people in O'Connor whose school year is coming to an end. For many of them, their secondary schooling is about to end forever. For those students, it represents the end of 12 long years of schooling and the beginning of a new and exciting phase of their lives. It is their turn to take that leap of faith into the unknown and into their futures. Most of them probably already have an idea of what comes next: taking a gap year, going straight to university or TAFE, starting an apprenticeship or starting a new job. I wish each and every one of them great success as they start their post-secondary education journey.

What I wish more than anything else is that they are able to pursue further studies on a level playing field with their city cousins. The undeniable fact is that most country kids have no choice but to move to the city for some if not all of their tertiary studies. It puts country students at an enormous disadvantage. Slowly we are closing that gap. Recent budget changes to remove the family assets test and the family actual means test and allow all family tax benefit children to be considered for eligibility will make it easier for a subset of country students who were previously ineligible for youth allowance.

It is a first step, but we have more to do to level the playing field. I continue to work closely with the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, and the Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, to explore ways to make it easier for country students to access higher education. Some time soon I hope we will stop being the country cousins when it comes to education. Country cousins of course punch way above their weight when it comes to education. Despite the difficulties of remoteness and lack of opportunities, many of them grasp every opportunity they can, and the results they consistently achieve are a tribute to them and their communities and their commitment to doing the very best they can under any circumstances.

I want to make special mention of two young men who have made their mark on the sporting field and have been recognised at a national level. Kade Stewart of Katanning, from my old football club of the Wanderers, has been drafted to Hawthorn. I know that his teammates and particularly his mum and dad, Brenton and Anne-Marie, will be very proud. Also, Declan Mountford of North Albany has been drafted to North Melbourne. I know his grandfather Fred and father, Ray, will also be very, very proud.

To all the students of O'Connor, I say well done on completing yet another year. To those of them who are graduating from high school this year: my very best wishes for the future. I also want to take this opportunity to thank my staff for their dedication not just to me but to the people of O'Connor and for their hard work. I also want to acknowledge the sacrifices that my wife, Tanya, and my children—Emma, Annalise, Phillippa and Archie—make to allow me to do this job. Thank you very much.