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Tuesday, 26 May 1987
Page: 3366


Mr DONALD CAMERON(10.35) —On 30 April, the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) said:

In South Australia the age of consent is 17, while other states have generally put the age of consent at 16. Different treatment of a 16 year old in South Australia as compared to a 16 year old in the same circumstances but living in Victoria, for example, is seen as undesirable.

Payments to under-age de factos have highlighted the Government's hypocrisy in discriminating against Queensland school children in the payment of Austudy and is typical of the Government's distorted attitude to the needs of young people. The Australian Labor Party Government is trying to justify payment of social security benefits to de factos as if they were married even if they are under the age of consent on the basis that `Commonwealth payments be made equitably throughout Australia'. I quote again the Minister for Social Security.

The payment of Austudy is far from equitable and is discriminating against thousands of Queensland school children. Austudy pays benefits to students of 16 years and older, whereas previously the benefit was paid to students in years 11 and 12 even if they were only 15 years of age. I ask the two National Party members who are about to leave the chamber not to go. The scheme may well suit students in New South Wales and Victoria, where only 3 per cent to 4 per cent of year 11 students are still 15 years of age. In Queensland, however-my great State-a staggering 43 per cent of year 11 students are still 15 years of age at the start of the school year. This means that there are thousands of 15-year-old Queenslanders going into year 11 who will now not qualify for the benefit but who would have qualified under the old arrangement as put in place by the Liberal-National Party Government. It is not reasonable for children in New South Wales to qualify and for Queensland children to be penalised. So much for the Australian Labor Party's avowed `concern that Commonwealth payments be made equitably throughout Australia'.

If the Hawke Government can find justification for giving taxpayers' money to de factos regardless of their age, even if they are committing a criminal offence by being under the age of consent, it should be able to find reasons to pay study allowances to year 11 students regardless of their age. They have done nothing wrong. Even for those Queensland students lucky enough to qualify, the total shambles in the Austudy section of the Department of Education has meant that many have still not received any payment. This is despite the fact that people who qualified to receive Austudy had any other Commonwealth payment they might have been receiving stopped at the beginning of the year. Many, therefore, have had little or no income to live on for several months. In the remaining moments available, I want to repeat the final two sentences of the statement by the Minister for Social Security:

In South Australia the age of consent is 17, while other states have generally put the age of consent at 16.

In Queensland almost half the number of the students start year 11 at 15 years of age, whereas in other States most students start year 11 at 16 years of age. The Minister went on to say:

Different treatment of a 16-year-old in South Australia as compared to a 16-year-old in the same circumstances but living in Victoria, for example, is seen as undesirable.

It is totally unfair and discriminatory for the Government to have a policy which works against Queenslanders who start school at an early age.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.