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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10155

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (19:51): I rise tonight to congratulate the students of south-west Victoria and western Victoria for the campaign they have led to get the unfair changes that were made to the independent youth allowance in 2009 overturned. It is a fantastic day today for those students because Minister Evans has finally taken the action which Prime Minister Gillard would not do, admitted that the government got this wrong, and has gone back to the old policy.

I still remember clearly attending a function in 2009 which had been organised by the South West Local Learning and Employment Network in Warrnambool in my electorate to oppose the changes which Prime Minister Gillard, as the then education minister, was putting through the House. Everyone who spoke that day at that meeting knew what was happening: the government was making budget savings at the expense of regional students. And oh, how this proved to be true; sadly, it proved to be true. Based on the figures that we have today, it would seem that, sadly, of the 2009 and 2010 cohorts, who missed out on being able to access independent youth allowance in regional areas, there are some 3,000 students who have been disadvantaged, who have been left in limbo and who have not been given the opportunity to afford a tertiary education.

I would like to say to Senator Evans: congratulations on doing what the Prime Minister was not able to do, which is to admit that there was an injustice, admit that young country students were suffering as a result of the changes and go back to the system as it was in 2009. Senator Evans is to be applauded for having done that. I hope also that the government in time will recognise the damage that has been done to over 3,000 students in that period and recognise that something needs to be done to help those students access a tertiary education, because they were not able to afford to do it in 2009 and 2010.

I would now also like to lay down a challenge for the government and for all of us in this House, because we have wasted two years in having to debate and get overturned a policy decision which was made and which was palpably wrong. But we now have some real work to do, because in country areas, for students accessing tertiary education, the gap between them and their city cousins is still continuing to grow, and we collectively need to do something about it. This is a problem that we all need to put our heads together on to come up with some policies which will not only reverse the trend but take some action and work to see the gap decrease. What we should have is a number of people from regional and country areas accessing tertiary education similar to the number in the city areas. If we can achieve that, we will have achieved something.

The changes which were made by Prime Minister Gillard as Minister for Education in 2009 did not do that, and the announcement made today by Senator Evans acknowledges that. He has come in and cleaned up the mess that was made in 2009. With that behind us, I am hoping that we can all now put our heads together and work to have policies which will in a meaningful way start to address the gap. I applaud Toni Jenkins from the South West Local Learning and Employment Network, who has been fighting to see this happen. I hope that the coalition will be able to take a policy to the next election which will see this happen, and I hope that everyone on the other side of the chamber will be able to do the same. We have taken one small step to reverse a wrong. Let us now make sure that we go ahead and address the real problem. (Time expired)