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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2357

Senator BOSWELL (Leader of the National Party of Australia) (7.54 p.m.) —I rise to speak on the very important need to bring about some form of social justice for rural youth who form one of the most disadvantaged groups in society, a group the government has ignored. Despite the underpinning rationale of the government's recent white paper, Working Nation, that the youth of Australia should be in school, in training or in employment, many rural youth are excluded from one or more of these options in a way that is unfair and inequitable.

  Firstly I deal with education. Countless numbers of eligible students cannot afford to continue their education, as a result of their family's essential farm assets disqualifying them from Austudy assets tests despite their having a very low income. Currently, students cannot be assessed for Austudy independently of their parents until they reach the age of 23. Are these rural students expected to wait six or seven years before completing their education?

  Secondly, I turn to jobs and training. As we all know, employment prospects for the young people in rural centres are bleak. For rural students denied the opportunity to finish their schooling, there is little hope to be found in the jobs compact. The $96,000 jobstart wage subsidised placements during 1993 were mainly sourced from the retail, manufacturing, entertainment, restaurant, construction and wholesale trade. Clearly the vast bulk of these jobs would be found in the capital cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne.

  The government's commitment of $50 million to regional policy will go nowhere towards creating anything like the job opportunities that will be found in the capital cities. The new youth training allowance for under 18s is subject to the same means test as Austudy. Unless these children move away from home and declare themselves independent of their parents—at a time, I might add, when they need their parents the most—the same number of young people who currently cannot access Austudy cannot access the youth training allowance except for the minimum non-means tested payment of $30 a week. Unable to afford to continue their education, unable to get a job, unable to access the training allowance except for the minimum payment, countless numbers of rural youth are cast aside by the government. Why are the dependants of the vital wealth creating primary industries sector treated with such callous disregard?

  Australia today is a divided country. The gulf between metropolitan and rural and regional Australia in employment, essential services, prospects and lifestyles is widening each year. Rural youth are particularly hard hit. One-third of under 25-year-olds are unemployed. The only way they will ever gain employment when economic conditions improve is if they are sufficiently skilled to meet the skill levels demanded by employers. We need a trained, highly skilled work force, and the best way to achieve this is through assisting able students to complete their secondary and tertiary education.

  It is absolutely lamentable that able students have been denied the right to pursue tertiary studies at university or TAFE because their parents' farm assets disqualify them from receiving Austudy payments. One of the most inequitable situations that exists in Australian society today is that of students from low income farm families who are prevented from participating in further education as a result of being denied Austudy assistance.

  As a Department of Employment, Education and Training brochure states, without financial help thousands of students would be unable to complete their education. This is certainly the case with many farm families which have been consistently denied Austudy eligibility because they hold farm assets over the assets threshold, despite having low or zero incomes.

  The notion that because a farmer owns a property valued at over $734,000—the current assets limit—he can afford to educate his children, cannot in many cases be validated. A farm and farm related assets cannot be realised easily. We are still in the midst of a rural recession and the effects are being felt nationwide.

  A third of Queensland and New South Wales is drought declared. The recent ABARE survey report reveals that the average broadacre farm profits have been negative for the fourth consecutive year. This represents the average—many farmers would have experienced negative profits for far longer than four years.

  Wool growers have been struggling on under low prices for several years now. The special circumstances that affect rural families, such as prolonged drought and low wool prices, have to be acknowledged. Children from struggling farm families should not be denied an opportunity to further their education because of the family farm assets.

  A recently prepared NFF submission contains DEET estimates that rural people's participation in higher education is only two-thirds the rate of people in urban areas. Data collected by DEET shows that in 1993 there were 450,000 Austudy applicants; 506 applications were refused because they failed the assets test and 48 per cent of those were rural applicants.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The time for the debate on the question of the adjournment has now expired. The Senate stands adjourned until tomorrow at 9.30 am.

Senator Boswell —Mr President, I seek leave to continue my remarks.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Boswell, there is no way you can seek leave. It is an order of the Senate and it takes precedence over all other matters. It states:

At the expiration of 40 minutes, or at the conclusion of debate, whichever is the earlier, or if there is no debate, the President shall adjourn the Senate without putting the question.

The Senate stands adjourned until 9.30 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Senate adjourned at 8.00 p.m.