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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26719


Senator GREIG (8:38 PM) —by leave—I move Democrat amendments R(1) and R(2) on sheet 4231 revised:

R(1) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 13), before item 1, insert:

1A After subparagraph 8(8)(zja)(ii)

Insert:

; or (iii) a scholarship known as a University Equity Scholarship as defined in the Commonwealth Scholarship Guidelines;

R(2) Schedule 1, page 4 (after line 14), before item 3, insert:

3A After subparagraph 5H(8)(hb)(ii)

Insert:

; or (iii) a scholarship known as a University Equity Scholarship as defined in the Commonwealth Scholarship Guidelines;

These amendments were circulated by my colleague Senator Stott Despoja, and I will speak to them in just a second. Before I do that, I want to express to the government and the opposition that it was my understanding—wrongly, it seems—that the appropriate protocols had been followed in seeking leave to table Senator Stott Despoja's speech on the second reading. I would not have progressed with that if I had known the appropriate protocols had not been followed. I will undertake to do that hopefully before we close.

These amendments aim to broaden the exemption of scholarships from the social security income test to include a new class of scholarship called university equity scholarships. The government exempted its Commonwealth learning scholarships in the new higher education legislation last year and in this bill is broadening the exemption to full and partial fee-waiver and fee-pay scholarships. Until now, discretionary scholarships provided by universities have been ignored—that is, any scholarship provided by a university that is not a Commonwealth learning scholarship and that gives students a payment to be used at the student's discretion would be counted as income for the purposes of the social security income test.

The Democrats support the changes to the treatment of scholarships in this bill but believe they do need to be broadened. For universities to gain funding through the Higher Education Equity Program they must, along with various other measures, offer university equity scholarships out of their own funds. However, under current policy these scholarships will not be exempt from the social security income test. This means, therefore, that students receiving Austudy, youth allowance, Abstudy, a service pension or other payments under the SSA or VEA who receive a discretionary university scholarship will have their scholarship counted as income, but students receiving one of those payments under the SSA or VEA and a Commonwealth learning scholarship will not have their scholarship counted as income. This situation is quite absurd and unfair for the many students who will receive discretionary university scholarships.

Equity scholarships would be provided to students meeting the low socioeconomic status requirements of the Commonwealth Scholarships Guidelines established under section 238.10 of the Higher Education Support Act 2003. The equity scholarships would be established under a new chapter of the Commonwealth Scholarship Guidelines. Disadvantaged students in need of income support are being severely compromised by the current arrangements, which prevent them from receiving the full benefit of their scholarships. We Democrats have received strong support from vice-chancellors, students and university staff for these amendments. I commend them to the chamber.