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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 11935


Mr BROAD (Mallee) (10:16): It gives me great pleasure to talk about this particular bill, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (More Generous Means Testing for Youth Payments) Bill 2015, because it harks back to something that I raised in my maiden speech. We spend a lot of time talking about the economy and how the economy needs to balance the books—and we do need to spend less money than we get in taxpayer revenue, if we can. But the economy is simply the engine room for us to build the society that we want.

What constitutes a great society? A great society is one that rewards personal endeavour. A great society is one that rewards risk. A great society is one that looks after our senior Australians. A great society is one that looks after our health needs. But a great society is also one that invests significantly in our future and in our children, and if you look at regional Australians, there are some disadvantages to living in the regions. I would also argue there are some great advantages to living in the regions. Of course, the air is fresher, the food is better, the lifestyle is better and the houses are cheaper. So, if you are thinking about a great place to come and live, certainly consider regional Australia.

But one of the disadvantages is that there are sometimes limited opportunities for higher education for our children. People in my electorate do not have the advantage of being able to catch a tram to their university. They do not have the advantage of being able to go to a university which is close, because in a lot of cases they are required to travel to pursue the educational opportunities they want. This is always a challenge.

People talk about the impacts of the HELP loans scheme. They talk about what the impact of their student fees is going to be and how they are going to pay those back. But often the impact for regional Australians, and for their parents, when they are considering how they can access higher education is the living-away-from-home costs. They simply are substantially more costly than the HECS loans are.

I know examples of that. A farmer said to me once that it cost $20,000 a year for his son to be at university. I still remember him showing me something. It was something that we take a granted, that little white card that we all carry around: a business card. This farmer said to me, 'Look at this. My son has a business card. The first person in our family to have a university education. It came at a significant cost to us.' But he was so proud that his son had a business card. The farmer was a guy called Frank Padula, a wine grape grower in my area.

The issue was the substantial costs of a student, their child, having to live away from home. Even though they may not make much money, many of our farming families are not eligible for youth allowance on the grounds that they have too many assets. The very nature of agriculture is that you have to have assets. It is very hard to produce a crop if you do not have a paddock to produce a crop on. It is very hard to grow some vines if you do not have a vineyard.

The great saying always is that people involved in rural industries are often asset rich but cashflow poor. This becomes a real challenge for these people living in the regional areas because they are asset rich but cash flow poor. An asset is not something you can realise until you are actually exiting the industry. Through your agricultural career you are growing your business. But you are also trying to grow the educational opportunities for your children, you are trying to buy a new kitchen for your wife, if you can, and occasionally you get a new ute—and that is pretty much how it works.

What we have done here is address one of the things that I raised in my maiden speech: how we ensure that we create educational opportunities for our children. This bill will particularly benefit rural and regional families whose children continue to study beyond year 12 by removing the asset test and looking at their income. I think that is a very sound principle. What the family actually is getting in income gives them a definition of whether they can actually afford to support their child. The asset of the farm does not become income until the sale of the farm. This means that we can ensure that our farmers and other people with substantial assets that are not income earning are still able to provide educational opportunities for our children.

In the electorate of Mallee, the rate of university completion is only about 26 per cent. We need to get that number up—and we need to get it up not just for the children's benefit but for the growth of regional Australia. If anyone is travelling in the congestion in the cities and listening to this on the radio, they will know that our cities are becoming more congested. But our country towns also need to grow. If we can move people out to the regions, we will essentially make a better standard of living for every Australian.

But the challenge for growing regional Australia is to diversify our economy. If we can do more things in regional Australia, we can have a more vibrant regional Australia, we can have more jobs in regional Australia and we can have more people live in regional Australia. The only way we are really going to do that, if you look statistically, is to educate regional Australians, who will go to the cities, get their education and then come back and contribute to their community. There have been all the studies about how to attract rural doctors. The best way we actually did it was to train rural people, because, frankly, when you know what is out there and you have seen what is out there and you go to the smog-infested, congested, expensive city, you realise that it actually is better back where we live.

I look out my front door—and I know a few members here are from regional Australia, but I am just going to make the rest of you envious—and I look across four kilometres of vineyard, from a house that I bought for under $500,000, with nice green lawns, whilst you are in your little unit, breathing in the smog and having to try and work out how you are going to pay off your million-dollar mortgage. All you have got to do is come out to our place, sunshine, and you will see what living is really about! You can grab your boat and go fishing. You can enjoy life. But we want to attract people to regional Australia. We need health professionals, engineers and people who are going to do other things than just service industry and agriculture. We want to have high-end manufacturing. We want to have a real vision for regional Australia. It all starts with educating regional Australians. It all starts with small policy changes like this that translate to really beneficial outcomes.

There was a saying that you could give an Australian a piece of fencing wire and they could fix almost anything. That is probably an exaggeration, but it does recognise that we have got a long heritage in Australia of ingenuity, of 'can do' and of inventiveness about how we do things. In encouraging more people to have higher education, we can enhance our wealth and our manufacturing sector. I still have a strong belief that we have got a bright future in this country. Sure, the world is changing. Sure, we have got some challenges. But I still reckon Australians are pretty smart. I can see the kids in the gallery, and I reckon they are pretty smart and I hope they are learning about their Australian parliament. What I want to say to you is: we want to create for you an opportunity to become a great citizen. We want to create opportunities for you to pursue your hopes and dreams. Essentially, in doing that, you will then, in many ways, contribute to Australia being a great country.

The world has moved into high-end manufacturing. We may not be making cars as we have been in the past, but we are certainly making components. Look at the F35 fighter jets that are getting made. The tail assemblies of those are getting built in Melbourne. The opportunities for high-end manufacturing are going to be there. I still think if you can take country kids and help them get to education, they will go back to those regional areas and do start-ups and do some of those businesses. For example, I went to a business the other day in Mildura that is making spray units. 'How hard can it be?' you would think. You essentially put together water, chemical and jets of air and you spray it on horticultural products. But they have done all this aerodynamic testing and, out of that, they are now exporting all across the world—just from a little shed. I did not even know it was there. They said, 'Come and have a look at it.' I went in there, and they were employing a heap of people and they are exporting all across the world. But they need to be able to attract engineers, and they struggle to attract them. We have got to sell the story of why we can bring people out to regional Australia.

So this bill is particularly important. It all starts with education. It all starts with making education affordable. If we can do this, it will go towards lifting aspiration. I said to a few year 11s and year 12s at one of the schools I visited, 'Who wants to go and further yourself in higher education?' Only about half the hands went up. My fear is that, if we lower aspiration, people then will not aspire. So we need to make things more affordable. Children are very smart. They will know if it is unaffordable for the family to be able to do higher education. They will say to their parents, 'No, I don't really want to go,' when in fact they do not want to shame their parents into addressing the fact that it is something that the family cannot afford. I hope that this measure makes things more affordable, which then translates to lifting aspiration.

The bill will, from 1 January 2016, remove the family asset test and the family actual means test from the youth allowance parental means test arrangements. From 1 January 2016, it will align parental income tax exemptions for youth allowance with existing arrangements for family tax benefit part A. And, from 1 January 2016, it will remove maintenance income from the youth allowance parental income test assessment. This is a good bill. This is a bill that should be supported by all people in the parliament. Essentially, if we can create educational opportunities for our children, we can diversify the economy of regional Australia and we can grow our country into being a better country. This is a bill that I am very happy to talk about in this parliament.