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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 11927

Ms PRICE (Durack) (09:40): The Turnbull government understands the need for a simpler and fairer youth income support system that focuses on young Australians who need it most. I am pleased to rise today to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (More Generous Means Testing for Youth Payments) Bill 2015, which will ensure that those who really need the support will receive it.

This side of the chamber understands that low-income families were disadvantaged under the previous income means-testing arrangements, due to duplication and multiple tests being applied simultaneously. The measures that we are discussing today aim to more closely align the parental means-testing arrangements for youth allowance with the arrangements for family tax benefit A. Only the Turnbull government can drive growth and jobs creation while also building a strong, prosperous and innovative economy. Part of this commitment is to ensure that Australia has a simple and fairer youth income support system for the future leaders of tomorrow. But, most importantly, this bill improves access for regional students to higher education. These measures simplify and improve the complex parental means test for youth payments. This bill will reduce sudden drops in assistance when dependent children moved from family tax benefit A to the youth income support system. This bill will better align means test arrangements for children in school and postsecondary education. This bill will benefit families with dependent younger children and youth payment recipients.

Helping those in regional, rural and remote Australia is not just a Liberal Party value; it is in our DNA. The bill will assist regional students not just in my vast electorate of Durack but throughout regional Australia. I am pleased to say that families in Durack will be eligible for an increase in payment due to the removal of the family actual means test and that they are also expected to benefit from the removal of the family assets test, which is expected to assist around 1,200 families across Australia. Under this bill, farming families will not have farm assets counted towards testing for their children to access youth allowance. In many cases, and we hear this all the time, farming families are asset rich but, regrettably, they live off a modest income. So what we are discussing today is a much needed overhaul of the system. Students in both secondary and higher education who face higher costs of study, due to the need to move away from home most often, and more often in Western Australia, will benefit from an increase in the rate of youth allowance for the first time, with some accessing payments of more than $7,000 a year. This bill will benefit families with youth allowance children, who are currently penalised by double counting the contribution of non-resident parents through child support in some circumstances. Similar changes will be made to the ABSTUDY living allowance parental means test, and that also will be very welcome to many families in regional and remote Durack.

This bill encourages more young people not just to continue studying but to continue with their education. The relevant statistics, however, are alarming, and we see more and more young people from the bush deferring their university education. In most cases this is because of the added strain that further education would place on the purse strings of the family. Sadly, we know that once higher education is deferred it is a monumental effort to commence a tertiary education at a later stage.

The Turnbull government remains committed to higher education reform. Our proposal to expand the demand driven funding system allows universities to offer more subsidised places in higher education—diplomas, advanced diplomas and associate degrees—enabling more opportunities for kids from the bush. In addition to providing pathways to higher degrees, many sub-bachelor qualifications are a ticket to a job in their own right. They provide training for engineers, technologists, construction managers, aged-care professionals et cetera. The government already provides relocation and student start-up scholarships to eligible regional students in higher education to assist with the costs associated with moving away from home to attend university.

Being a born and bred proud country girl—and I see that the member for Indi is here; she is also a proud country girl—I am only too aware that students from regional and remote areas can face a range of additional barriers in accessing higher education. Children leaving regional, rural and remote areas face difficulties that are not experienced by those in the city who are embarking on higher education. Students in my electorate and their parents deserve a fair go and an equal opportunity. It is with sadness I say that many families choose to leave country WA to move to the city so that they can provide accommodation for their children to access higher education. Sadly, they are also leaving much sooner than at tertiary education level.

Yet we understand that one of the big problems in the bush is attracting qualified workers, including a range of professionals. These days professionals, in particular healthcare workers, such as nurses and doctors, are being sourced from agencies. They fly in and out of regional WA because we cannot attract the professionals to reside in regional areas. We note that those who are brought up in regional Australia love it—don't they, member for Indi? They know the bush and they are our best ambassadors. Yet they are the ones who are financially prevented from attending tertiary institutions, acquiring their professional qualifications and returning to their home.

The higher education forum I hosted in Moora in August with Senator Bridget McKenzie is yet another example of not just the government's but by my particular interest in getting more students from regional Australia into higher education. The Department of Education and Training and the Department of Social Services are co-chairing an interdepartmental committee that is looking at the barriers to accessing higher education for regional and remote students. The feedback from the forum plus similar forums that were held around Australia will be included in the final report of the interdepartmental committee. The government will consider how it responds to these issues once it receives this final report. My expectation is that the result will be a further overhaul of youth allowance. But, for now, this bill is a good step in the right direction and I know it will be welcomed by hundreds of Durack families.

We all know so well, as demonstrated by the Leader of the Opposition's appalling east-coast-centric and city-centric infrastructure announcement a fortnight ago, that only this side of the chamber knows and understands regional Australia. As I said at the beginning of this contribution, this bill will ensure those who need the support will receive it. This bill is about a key value of mine and I know of many other regional members in this House, and that is improving access to education for kids from the bush. It will improve access to education for regional students, especially higher education. I commend this bill to the House.