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Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Page: 12909

Mrs HULL (6:57 PM) —I rise to speak on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2009 [No. 2] with sadness at the way in which politics has been significantly played on this issue and the way in which insults and disgraceful comments have been made in this chamber about people. It is terribly distressing when there is a true intent on this issue by me and those who represent the students who will not qualify for the start-up scholarship, who will not qualify for the relocation scholarship of $4,000 and who will not qualify for the $1,000 each year following. These students are not able to get two years full-time work to be able to qualify for what is on offer here. I have never said and never put a position that many of these measures are not good measures. That has never been stated by me. I can stand in this House and honestly say, with my hand on my heart, that I have not had any contact with anybody who has indicated they are distraught because of my feelings or because of what the opposition is doing. Nobody has contacted me and said, ‘Please don’t do this,’ or, ‘Please see our side,’ or, ‘I am distraught because I’m not going to get this scholarship’. It is the biggest issue I have ever had through my electorate office. Not only is it the biggest issue I have ever had but it is the biggest issue that I continue to have—it is an ongoing issue.

The students are not stupid. We have some comments and political jargon exchanged across the House—you understand that, you accept that and that is what you are here for. Sometimes it is good-natured and sometimes it is just banter, and there will be disagreements. But it is sad to think that all of those kids who came and explained their position before the Senate committee are being categorised in this bundle of so-called ‘idiots’ on this side of the House who do not understand. These kids out there and their families who are contacting us do understand. They have everything in front of them to understand. They have nothing hidden.

This is a public place. Everything that the minister says at the dispatch box and everything that the minister has set out in the legislation is available for all to see. This is not a conspiracy that has happened on the opposition side where we are keeping everyone in the dark and only feeding them certain amounts of information. In fact, until the last week or two, I have provided no information. I have just made representations on behalf of these people. But now I keep the people who have contacted me on a database and I keep them apprised of every single thing that happens. On the minister’s side, I keep them apprised and say, ‘This is what the minister has offered, this is what she has discussed and this is the state of play.’ I keep them apprised of what is happening in the Senate. But they come back and they are still of the same mind. They are not stupid. You can call us stupid; you can call me stupid; you can make out that we have no idea what we are doing and we have it all wrong. But these people have all of the information that the minister has made available and they are still there. They are still coming back and it has not satisfied them.

One of the young girls who appeared before the inquiry sent a letter to members of parliament. I will not mention the young girl’s name, but I will read the letter.

Dear Members of Parliament,

I am extremely disappointed with the decision of the Parliament to refuse to adopt the Senate Amendments to the Government’s Youth Allowance legislation. I and my friends appeared before the Senate Review Committee and were very hopeful that the concerns we had were adopted in the amendments. It has been difficult to get our message across as we have been studying and doing exams at this time.

As an HSC Student I appreciate the Government’s efforts in altering the criteria and extending the allowance to more people but believe this has also disadvantaged students such as myself who have to leave home to study and are ineligible for the full youth allowance because my parents earn more than $32,800 per annum.

I strongly believe that working 30 hours a week in a two year period to become an independent student is detrimental to regional and remote students being able to attend university.

As a student from a regional area I will have to move to a larger centre at least three hours away to attend university. I intend to study as an early childhood or primary school teacher.

I have a job for nine months next year as a governess in the Northern Territory. Under the proposed legislation I would not qualify as an independent student, although for nine months, I will be 3,000 Kilometers from home and working more than 30 hours a week.

Unfortunately there is no employment for 30 hours a week in my small home town, I will have to move to a larger centre and will find it difficult to get a position with the few qualifications and skills that I have. I have been working casually, waitressing, teaching swimming and babysitting but this would not qualify as 30 hours a week employment.

My parents have supported me during my schooling and will continue to support me with car fuel, registration and maintenance as well as help with my accommodation fees as they have with my two older sisters. I will continue to work casually as well. Living away from home to study is expensive and many of my rural friends struggle to do this, it will be even harder for us all without the support of Youth Allowance.

I repeat: it is fantastic that there are start-up scholarships. It is great to see changes made to youth allowance—and, yes, criteria needed to be tightened. There is no doubt about that, but what we are asking for is as simple as this: to give another option to those students who cannot find 30 hours a week of full-time work for 18 months in their town. For example, they may do three harvests if they are from a rural community with no shops or businesses in the town that they can find employment at, which applies to many students in my electorate. They may do three different harvests, but that is not counted as full-time work. That may have been what they were doing before that enabled them to earn that amount of money, but they were still able to live at home in order to do this or they could travel and perhaps stay with friends or something.

This is not the time for name-calling and accusations across the House. It is the time for sensible understanding of what we are saying. I do not dispute that what other people are suggesting in this House are good measures. For the people who currently qualify for the youth allowance, it is great—they have a grand future—but, for the people who do not qualify and cannot qualify because of the restrictions that the bill places on them, I have major concerns. I should not have to be blackmailed in this place and I should not have to be exposed to ridiculous propaganda poked into my electorate—which of course gives me no pain because the editors do not even run it. I should not have to be subjected to that when all I am asking for is a reality check. All I am asking for is that, in the interests of the kids I represent, I have their voices heard. It should not come down to the ridiculous measure that is being undertaken at this moment. There should be a way in which we can work our way through it, so that we can be heard and there can be some understanding.

When I looked the comments that the so-called amendments that were put up by the coalition and which were supported in the Senate would blow a billion-dollar hole in the budget, I felt revoltingly sick. We have got a billion-dollar blow-out—hello—in the budget as a result of a whole host of measures that I could stand here and fire across, which seems to be pointless for me to do. We are investing in our children’s future. We are asking for an investment in the future of all children, not just some. We are asking for you to pick up the forgotten students in rural and regional Australia who also have an entitlement to an education. We are asking about an investment. If it did cost $1 billion, I believe that investment would be a sensational investment in the future youth of Australia.

Ms Gillard interjecting

Mrs HULL —Minister, you carp enough, thanks. It is my chance. You stood at that dispatch box—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—Order! The member for Riverina and the Deputy Prime Minister need to understand that we adjourn at 7.30.

Mrs HULL —The minister stood at the dispatch box. She has her say on this all of the time, and I am comfortable with that, but I am entitled to have a say for the people I represent as well. I intend to have that say. I am asking for some sensibility in this. I am asking that the young people who do not qualify for youth allowance, do not qualify for the relocation scholarship, do not qualify for the start-up scholarship et cetera be given thought and consideration because they are the ones who will be relegated to no-man’s land through this. We should sincerely understand how this has impacted.