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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 11922


Mr PASIN (Barker) (09:21): Prior to the adjournment yesterday evening, I was indicating that the proposed changes in the Social Services Legislation Amendment (More Generous Means Testing for Youth Payments) Bill mean that farming families will not have farm assets included when eligibility for youth allowance is being assessed. This brings the means test into line with the reality facing rural families. Rural families often struggle with cash flow, especially when facing drought—as they are in much of Australia today. I am glad to see this bill moves us to a fairer position regarding the assessment of eligibility for youth allowance.

All families currently subject to the family assets test and the family actual means test will benefit from a reduced regulatory burden. This government is delivering on its commitment to reduce that regulatory burden on families. The changes will also reduce sudden drops in family assistance as young people move from family tax benefit part A to youth allowance, Abstudy or the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme additional boarding allowance. In addition, children from rural, regional and remote areas often face higher costs of further study due to the need to move away from home. These students will benefit through increases in their rate of youth allowance, while others will qualify for youth allowance for the first time, meaning that they may be able to access payments of more than $7,000 a year.

This government is committed to giving young people from rural, regional and remote Australia a hand up and to unlocking their potential. This bill delivers on that commitment. Whilst we acknowledge that all additional government expenditure must be carefully considered, it is our position that the current arrangement did not adequately deliver on the original policy intent. The youth allowance parental income-testing arrangements will also be changed to include all family tax benefit children in the family pool. The current test only includes children over 16 years of age. Counting all children will soften reductions in the youth allowance as family income increases.

The bill was introduced following the examination of these issues by an interdepartmental committee on access to higher education for rural, regional and remote students. This was done at the urging of Senator Bridget McKenzie, Chief Government Whip Nola Marino and backbench colleagues from across the width and breadth of regional Australian who have been pressing this government to do more to improve access to education for rural students. This is a government which understands the pressures facing rural families and the challenges facing country kids. I myself grew up in regional South Australia and completed my secondary studies in Mount Gambier. I unfortunately had to travel to pursue my tertiary studies, so I have personal experience of how hard it is to do that. Whilst I acknowledge that that avenue was not then—and is not now—open to every individual, what I welcome is that these changes open up this option for a wider cohort of young Australians.

Removing complex and unnecessary means tests and improving the operation of the parental income test is a first and good step in responding to the concerns with parental means testing and with the level of the student assistance available that were identified as part of the interdepartmental committee's interim advice.

These changes are great news for rural, remote and regional families. These measures will boost the number of families the government provides assistance to, and will lift the level of that assistance. Therefore, these reforms will encourage more young people to access the transformative effect of tertiary education. This will help develop economic opportunities for our nation and strengthen our economy. Tertiary education of course is so often a gateway to long-term rewarding and prosperous careers.

On this side of the House, we continue to champion the cause of rural, regional and remote Australians. This bill is evidence of that and I commend the bill to the House.