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Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Page: 12912

Mr OAKESHOTT (7:16 PM) —In my view the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2009 [No. 2] must be passed. We are at a time right now when we have two options in the raw politics of it: this either flies or dies. If it dies, that is at the expense of many students around Australia who do not deserve to be the victims of a poor first lesson in civics from this place and from the other place. My message in raw politics tonight is not necessarily to other members of this chamber; it is to someone who is just sitting up there and watching: it is to Senator Fielding in the other place. He has a critical role to play in the future payments for students wanting to go to university next year. I ask him to look deep into his soul and think very deeply about what decisions he makes on this legislation when it is next presented.

This is not perfect legislation. There are still issues around the ability of regional students to get access to university in Australia, but the targets are good. The broad target from this government—about 20 per cent of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds accessing university in the future—is a good, noble target that I hope has the support of everyone. The target of 40 per cent of students aged between 25 and 34 years having a bachelor’s degree or higher by the year 2025 is a good, noble target. The spin that this legislation is somehow putting a knife through the want for education and the aspiration for education in this country is wrong. This is a reform package that, on merit and on balance, we should support as a parliament. It is not perfect. There are still issues around retrospectivity with regard to current university students who chose to go to university in 2009 and are still trying to apply for youth allowance. They are collateral damage in this. No-one can say there has been a 100 per cent end to issues around retrospectivity. There is still the issue of people who are being left behind.

But, like the member for Braddon, many members in this place fought the good fight. To the Deputy Prime Minister’s credit, she listened to concerns about the 150,000 students who took a gap year and were potentially going to be collateral damage in this as well. To everyone’s credit, and as a good first lesson in civics, it was a successful exercise for some very engaging 18- and 19-year-olds who came down to this place, presented their message, had the minister listen and saw changes made. That affects 150,000 students around this country for the better. So the majority of the retrospectivity issues are resolved. There still is that issue of those who did go to university this year and are applying for youth allowance now. I hope that can be considered moving forward.

Having gone through this place a couple of times now, this legislation has added benefits for those who are still opposing it to consider. There is the review that was picked up in the Senate. That was a good review and a good initiative, and I hope everyone engages in it and tries to get better reforms in the future. Also, the averaging out of the 30 hours, rather than there being a blanket cut-off at 30 hours, is a small win for regional areas—it is not the whole win. I do pick up the comments from the member for Riverina. It is an issue that is a burner and I hope the minister keeps an eye on it and, if it is creating problems, that she can address those problems. But on balance this is good reform. It is not an exercise of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. For regional areas such as mine—predominantly lower socioeconomic regions—this overall package is one that deserves support. I ask the coalition to consider their position on that and, in particular, I ask Senator Fielding to reconsider his position.

Yes, we can do better. No, it is not perfect. But it is an improvement on where we have been. Representing an area where one in six school leavers go on to university, I think we can do a lot better than we have been doing. From my perspective, in my region we have got absolutely nothing to lose in a reform program. I want it to be better. It looks as if it can be better. I hope it can be better. I hope the minister and the government stay engaged if issues do emerge once this reform package is on the ground. But I say to all the members in this place who are taking a position of opposition on this: it is now down to the raw politics of the next 48 hours. There are two choices: you support this and we get it through this place and we get people getting paid and going to university next year, or we do not. I do not want to be part of a parliament that makes many people change their decisions for next year about going to university. I hope everyone thinks about that when they vote; and if they are going to oppose this then it is on their head.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Pyne’s amendment) stand part of the question.