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Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Page: 12905

Mr HAASE (6:40 PM) —I rise because I feel very strongly about this situation and I am offended by the legislation proposed by the minister. But that is not important. What is most important is that my constituents and their children are offended by this legislation, the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2009 [No. 2]. We have a minister who espouses ad nauseam that she is understanding of regional and remote Australia and the needs of its population, yet the very legislation that she proposes, to alter the status quo, will disadvantage children in my electorate. We have constantly agreed that one of the great problems in residing in rural and remote Australia is the lack of professional services, and we in the previous government certainly went to great lengths to access professionals from overseas, especially those in the field of medicine, to provide vital medical services, GP services, in rural and remote Australia. We went to great lengths to provide medical scholarships for those from the bush who would qualify for tertiary education and spend their time at university in the hope that, with their understanding of living in regional and remote Australia, they would be more likely to return so that we could ease the pressure we place on overseas countries in taking doctors from those countries where the ratio of doctors to population is often poorer than it is in our own nation.

Yet we have a minister who proposes in this place that we accept legislation that will cut off one of the main sources of potential professionals in the bush by preventing their access to tertiary education. I say ‘preventing’ because there is a lot of smoke and mirrors in this proposition and the minister makes much of the fact that she is providing an opportunity for many more Australians to access youth allowance and go to university. That may be so and I believe that a particular report tabled and made available to her indicated that there was a degree of unfortunate rorting by those families or individuals that lived in the city, lived within reasonable daily access of university and yet qualified for the independent youth allowance by the student working for about 18 months at about 15 hours a week. So they qualified and then they continued to live at home whilst accessing the independent youth allowance and catching public transport to attend the university of their choice. That is an undesirable situation for any government to provide support for. But there was no need for this minister to throw the baby out with the bathwater. All she needed to do was put in place checks and balances that would apply to those that lived at home, were not truly living an independent lifestyle and were getting all the luxuries of living within easy access of a tertiary institution. She could have separated those out of the mix very easily but chose not to do so.

I am left with no choice but to decide that, while this was not an act of retribution against the bush, either it was simply ignorance or incompetence or it was simply a city slicker’s fuzzy-headed lack of understanding. I do not know where this minister gets off in her lack of understanding of the reality. The reality is that if you are a city kid and you live at home and you qualify to attend a tertiary institution, and your parents are earning an income greater than that which would allow you to get the full youth allowance, you have two choices. You can get a small part-time job, stay with your peer group that you have attended secondary school with, go on to university and live a fairly reasonable life. You are with your peer group; it makes uni a lot easier. You are within cooee and public transport access of the institution of your choice. It makes it very easy. You live at home, off mum and dad very typically, and life is very easy. You work a few hours a week and you pick up some spending money.

Compare that situation to that of a child living in rural and remote Australia, where there is not the 30 hours work a week, there is not 30 hours work available to those students, so they cannot qualify for the independent youth allowance. This minister would have us believe that mum and dad will not have to provide now because she has extended the cap for obtaining youth allowance out to $44,000. I would love you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to show me a family living and surviving in rural and remote Australia, especially in my patch, where their family income is less than $44,000 per annum. Go to Karratha and a three-by-one accommodation will cost you between $1,600 and $2,000 a week. So to suggest that these incomes have been pushed out to a cap of $44,000 and that that will allow so many more people to get youth allowance is an absolute nonsense. It is irrelevant. It just proves the ignorance.

So we have to fall back on independent youth allowance, and for all of those students who in the last 12 or 18 months have taken a gap year from university and look forward to attending in the first semester of this coming year, the legislation proposed by this member will simply destroy their hopes. And if they have to take a second gap year between secondary college and tertiary education, those country kids will simply never attend tertiary education. The supply of ready graduates to come back and reside in rural and remote Australia with a profession, that opportunity, that conduit, has been trashed. It has been trashed either by the fuzzy, city slicker attitude of this minister or by total ignorance. And there I rest my case.