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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10408


Ms MARINO (ForrestOpposition Whip) (16:33): It is very interesting to listen to the members opposite talk about giving opportunity to the next generation. This is the same group who sat here and voted for this government to rip money out of education for rural and regional students through youth allowance. I did not see you lining up and saying, 'Oh, how dreadful it is for rural and regional students,' at all. For two years you have ripped away opportunity for young people in rural and regional areas because you changed the criteria for youth allowance.

For the other side of politics and, even more hypocritically, the member for Lyne, who voted with this government for those changes, to come into this place today and talk about disadvantage for rural and regional students in education is rank hypocrisy. I sat here because it was our students who were affected by this dreadful decision by this government, supported and encouraged by the member for Lyne. I was in this chamber, as were many of the members here. I live with the families and the students that this did so much damage to. I have listened to all sorts of waffle today about disadvantage, but how many of them stood up for rural and regional students then? Not one. What rank hypocrisy.

The member for Lyne, who brought this matter of public importance today, should hang his head in shame because he voted with the government. Where is he? Where was he when this was announced? Maybe when this was announced by the government and he supported them he was hiding under the desk. Maybe that is where he is now. Maybe he is hiding under the desk because he does not want to front up in this place and say he was complicit in taking money and opportunity away from rural and regional students. There were young people in my electorate and in his electorate who were affected, and yet he supported the government in this action.

In 2009, over and over again, we brought motions and amendments into this House. What did the member for Lyne do? He supported the government and voted against those motions. He voted against us considering them. Yet he has, as I say, the utter cheek and the gall to come in here today and lecture us about opportunity. How about those young people in my electorate? I had to deal with those young people, Member for Lyne and members on the opposite side. To this day I have those young people and their families saying to me that, as a result of the Labor government cutting their opportunity to access youth allowance, their whole future has changed.

At that time, there were students who knew their families could not afford to send them to university. They could not afford to send them without the support they would get from youth allowance. But that was supported by the member for Lyne and the members opposite. They were fine at the time with ripping money away from rural and regional students and their families. They were fine with the fact that some families, as they said to me, had to make those very tough decisions: 'Which one of our children will we allow to go to university? We can only afford to send one because of the government's changes.'

What do the member for Lyne and the members opposite say to those families now? What do the members opposite and the member for Lyne say to the people who, when these changes happened, actually changed the decisions they made about the pathways they would take in education? They knew their families could not afford to send them on to university, because they have to move, because of the extra costs and because the Labor government said, 'Equity of opportunity for you young people in rural and regional areas is not an issue that we focus on.'

I have heard this today and it really makes me cross. Two years it took. We gave the members opposite and the member for Lyne opportunity after opportunity to address this inequity. What did they do? We never heard from them. Every time we brought that type of opportunity to this place, in a motion or amendment, the members opposite were silent. It did not bother them that young people in my electorate and even in the member for Lyne's electorate did not have the opportunity to take up tertiary education. The government expected them to work two full years before they were eligible for youth allowance.

We know that there is already disadvantage in rural and regional areas. We know there are fewer students coming through the system because of the disadvantage they face in rural and regional areas. But this government made it worse, aided and abetted by the member for Lyne, who brought this matter into this place today. I am appalled by that. He should stand accountable for the actions he took during that debate, and he is not even here. As I said, he is hiding under the desk. Some of my young people did not get a chance to hide underneath the desk at a university because of the actions of the member for Lyne and the members opposite—this government. The government ripped away the opportunities. There are families affected by this constantly. It took two years to change. Then, to add insult to injury, the government include a means test for those families even now. Where is the opportunity in that?

We have to look at the issue for rural and regional families. It costs anything from $15,000 to $30,000 more a year. If you are a young person from a regional area, you have to leave home. You have to find somewhere to live. You have to pay for all of the things that young people who are able to live with their families take for granted. The other thing is that you are away from your family. You are away from your support base. You are away from the people who love and care for you and support you, particularly when you are going through a tough time, as you do, whether it is in exams, whether you have an assignment due, whether you just need to come home some days and blow off a bit of steam. You need people around you who love and care about you who are not going to respond to that. They are going to say, 'Okay, you must have had a bad day, but let's all get together and have a chat.'

That is what these young people face. They have to move away from home. They have additional costs, whether it is telephone costs to ring home to stay in touch or transport to get home. You try paying for an extra tank of fuel to get home when you are from a rural or regional area. My young people can be anything from two to three hours at least away from the university. Perhaps if they were not more than 90 minutes away then that would not be such an issue. You try driving every day. Yet that is what this government did, with the help of the member for Lyne.

I remember this process, but I also remember the fact that no member opposite stood up for their young people in this place. I find it appalling. Now we are being lectured, in a sense, by the member for Lyne and the members opposite when for two years they were quite happy to sit back and let young people who could not qualify for independent youth allowance either not go on to higher education or have their dreams completely dashed. It put so much pressure on them.

I had mums saying in the supermarket: 'My husband and I both work. We know we have to work to send our children to university, but we were relying on youth allowance. Now I have to find a second job.' I thought the most tragic ones were those who said to me: 'We have to choose which one of our children we can send to university.' I will repeat that: as a result of that decision, supported by the member for Lyne and the other side, parents had to choose which child they could send to university. I cannot get over the hypocrisy of this debate today. As I said, there were those who sat back and watched this happen, because there was a group of young people in rural and regional areas—

Mr Tehan: They knew it was wrong.

Ms MARINO: I would say yes, it was wrong.

Where were you then? Why weren't you standing up for your young people the way that members on this side stood up for our young people? It took two years to drag you kicking and screaming, until there was enough shame. We kept at it and at it, and we had to, because that is what it took to get any form of an opportunity for those young people to access youth allowance. For them, the damage is done. They have changed their pathway. They have not gone on to university. That is the tragedy. It is only two weeks ago that I met a friend of one of those young people who said that that young person is now almost a lost soul. I hope she gets another opportunity, but I am appalled at the hypocrisy. (Time expired)