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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 661

Senator TEAGUE (5.02 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendments:

1.Clause 2, page 2, after subclause (4), insert the following subclause:

"(4A) Item 12A of the schedule commences on 1 January 1994.".

2.Schedule, page 5, after item 12, insert the following item:

    "12A. After section 7 in Part 2:


  Concession to parental assets test

    `8.In determining what benefit is payable under this Part, a parental assets test is not to be applied in the calculation of a student's living allowance if the parent is entitled to a Health Care Card issued by the Department of Social Security for the purposes of the National Health Act 1953.'.".

These two amendments may be taken together. Amendment No. 1 refers to the commencing of the additional provision and amendment No. 2 is the additional provision. The second reading debate expressed the urgency of the committee agreeing to these amendments. I thank very much not only my colleagues Senator Tierney from New South Wales and Senator Boswell from Queensland, but also Senator Bell from the Australian Democrats. They have all agreed that the shameful reneging by the Labor government on its announcements concerning families suffering in the rural recession ought not to be quietly shuffled into some back corner, and the government should be required to face up to honouring its clear announcements in the way we have referred to during the second reading debate.

  I note that Senator Schacht has entered this debate at this stage for the first time, although he did say that he listened diligently to the clear speeches that were made here this morning. I will, therefore, be very brief in going over the point. It is the case that the government announced in the budget last August that any family holding a health care card—that is, a card available under the National Health Act—would not suffer the application of an assets test to determine eligibility for Austudy.

  The rural recession is biting many families who may have a large asset, their own farm, which ordinarily would produce a sufficiently high income so that they would not be eligible for an Austudy benefit for a son or daughter.

Senator Schacht —It won't be only farmers who are claiming it.

Senator TEAGUE —I agree with the minister. This suffering falls not only on people living in the country but also even on people in the city who have businesses which, although sizeable assets, do not produce their normal income in the recession. There are tests for eligibility for a health card. If a family is eligible for a health card then let its children and all other family members be free of an assets test for Austudy.

  The minister said that there would be less than 100 in all of Australia in the earlier months of this year who would have benefited from Austudy. But because of powerful speeches in the parliament about the matter and the double flip that this government has embarrassed the nation with, there will be such publicity that there might be 200 families now that would be alert to this eligibility for Austudy and, therefore, take steps to gain Austudy. The date from which this provision will operate is 1 January this year, which is the date announced by the government on which this provision would start.

  The government announced it in the August budget. The Department of Employment, Education and Training re-announced it in a press release in September. It was included in the DEET budget guide. It was included in the Austudy guide—the brochure that students are to read to help them know what the benefits are under Austudy—and provided for in the Austudy application form for 1994.

  The disgrace was that when the Austudy regulations were being put in place in December the government left this out and then claimed, when the flak hit the fan in February this year, that it was all a mistake. I regard it also as disgraceful that no minister made a clear statement to clarify the matter. There was not even a press release. There was certainly no statement to the parliament when it met in February. There was only a bullying piece of information given to the actual applicants from the bush.

  Applicants, knowing that they are suffering in the bush or city—where, as Senator Schacht says, many are suffering—because of the malaise in various areas of the economy, read the application form and Austudy brochure, make the decision to go ahead with university study and apply. Senator Knowles, Senator Bell and Senator Coates all know that it is most inappropriate that it is only when those applicants get their applications in and they are being processed that they are told by an officer, `Oh, there has been a mistake. This wasn't intended. The assets test will apply to you.' Their hopes are dashed. They say, `But, look, this was clearly announced.' There was no clarifying statement by a minister or the government, only verbal messages to the applicants themselves and, as the minister said, perhaps there were 100.

  As is well known, for years the Liberal and National parties have called for this kind of measure in Austudy during the rural recession, and has been calling for it for the last three or four years. It was not only a matter of successful motions in the Senate, it was also a clear promise, for example, in our policy speech. We have been consistent, and we have been consistent by adding these words to this bill so that the act can be amended. More precisely, the concession to parental assets test that we want is as follows:

In determining what benefit is payable under this Part, a parental assets test is not to be applied in the calculation of a student's living allowance if the parent is entitled to a Health Care Card issued by the Department of Social Security for the purposes of the National Health Act 1953.

With those words I will conclude. I will listen to the minister's response but I assure all of those sitting opposite that we will be consistent with all of our statements over recent years and months. We will persist with this request; we do expect this to be adopted here in the Senate; and we certainly urge the government in the other place to agree to the request.