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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4143

Mrs HULL (8:19 PM) —It is a sad case when you sit here and listen to the ramblings of new members of the government when they have been running out opening Investing in Our Schools projects and taking all of the credit for those great projects. They have been running around opening up new projects and new roads and taking all of the credit. I stood on the Sheahan Bridge today after the duplication of that bridge and I watched a wonderful speech by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. He took all the credit for the $78 million for the Sheahan Bridge that most certainly came from the coalition.

I quite enjoyed my day today on the Sheahan Bridge, because it was a great day. It was a great day for Gundagai and it was a great day for the people of Australia. You give some; you take some. I stood there and I listened to Senator Arbib, who came into my schools and opened a project last Friday. He has opened projects on many occasions in my electorate and he has talked about the Rudd government’s infrastructure program—and not $1 of this project on Friday, by the way, was funded by the Rudd government’s programs. It was funded by the last coalition government. But I enjoy those days. I enjoyed having Senator Arbib come and join me to open this great project and take the credit for it, because you know what? It actually happened. When I sit and listen to the amount of almost garbage that is being fired across the chamber day after day saying, ‘You go out there, you put your foot on the shovel and you say how great it is to have your foot on the shovel of this shovel-ready project,’ we seem to be maligned, all day every day, for the number of feet we have on shovels in our electorates.

On the other hand, I have been welcoming Labor to my electorate to open up projects which were funded by the Howard government and for which I fought so hard. I have shown strong advocacy and support for my electorate in getting those projects up and running. In a so-called safe seat, I have fought very hard for that funding, so to be constantly maligned in this place is almost laughable. ‘Ending the blame game’ is all we ever hear about, but the member for Blair has just said that we absolutely destroyed the dental program. But the dental program had not one dollar in the forward estimates. It was a sunset program initiated by former Prime Minister Paul Keating. He said that that program was just an assistance program and would end in four years. By the way, when the Commonwealth dumped their money into the states, the states just withdrew their money, went home and said, ‘Thank you very much’—so we did not actually achieve very much. I get a great kick from being on this side; it is fun to listen to all the groaning and moaning about us having a say. It is as if the government, when they were in opposition just 18 short months ago, sat on the other side of the House and said absolutely zero—accepted everything and voted for everything and never complained about a thing. But now the shoe is on the other foot, so it feels a bit funny.

But I want to talk about the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2009-2010. There are some good things and some bad things in everything we do, but I want to talk about the changes to the student income support workplace participation criteria—that is, Youth Allowance. It is a major issue for rural and regional students. I have sat in this chamber and listened to the lack of understanding about country kids who have no choice but to leave home to further their education at university. When I hear about the so-called packages that these kids get once they get to university, it is enough to make me very angry on this issue. Our rural and regional kids have as much right to an education as any city kid. We should not be penalised because some city kids, and kids in regional cities where there are universities, are able to access youth allowance and go and live in a flat when their parents earn so much so-called income. My issue is about those kids who sincerely have no choice about living at home and have to leave home.

I was shocked and in disbelief when I read an article in the Australian—I think it was a week before the budget was handed down—which outlined the supposed changes to the student income support criteria. It is now apparent that the information that was in the Australian was a leak and is actually factual. It was a true and factual story but, at the time, I could not believe it. I thought, no, it could not happen; no-one would discriminate against rural students in this way. But it is true. The Rudd government has discriminated against rural students in a way which I think is an absolute disgrace. I could not believe that the government would contemplate making changes which will without doubt inhibit many potential students from accessing the vital support of youth allowance so that they can study at university. A student cannot travel four hours backward and forward every day from Hay to study at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga; they have to live in Wagga Wagga. So they leave home. Accommodation is expensive and paying for it is quite a difficult task for any student.

Since the budget was handed down last week, I have received many calls. I have brought into the chamber with me just a few of the many emails and letters of concern I have received from voters in my electorate who are absolutely stunned that this action is taking place. It has been extremely difficult, though, to pinpoint the finer details of all of the government’s proposed changes. We just have not been able to get enough information to make it really clear exactly what is happening. But the one thing I am most anxious to be told about is how a potential student can access student income support. I have written to the Minister for Education, asking her to outline exactly how a potential student from rural and regional Australia who leaves home can access youth allowance. As I see it, there are two options. They must either come under the family tax benefit A combined income test for both parents or they must establish financial independence in the eyes of Centrelink by gaining at least 30 hours of employment per week for at least 18 months during any period of two years.

But how does a student with no experience in the workforce and no understanding of work initiatives go out and get themselves a basically full-time job when unemployment is skyrocketing? How does that student access 30 hours of work a week, almost full-time employment, for at least 18 months during any period of two years when we have skyrocketing unemployment? My understanding is that you can get it by being married, or if you were previously married, or by living in a marriage-like relationship for at least 12 months. So do we say to the kids, ‘Off you go; go out and get married’? Do you have to live in a marriage-like relationship when you are just 17 or 18 to ensure that you are able to get youth allowance so that you can study and get an education at university if you want to? One of the other ways you can get it is by having a dependent child. So do we say to our kids, ‘Go out and have a child and maybe you can get Youth Allowance’?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—Order! It being 8.30 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 34. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.