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Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Page: 2044

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (11:11 AM) —In summing up, I would like to thank all senators for their contributions as to the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2009 [No. 2]. Given this is the second time we have had to deal with this matter, there is a fair bit that people have contributed. The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to a Senate debate of this type, one always remains somewhat amused at the gyrations of senators seeking to position themselves for the inevitable compromises that are involved with a reform of this type. I am certainly amused in this circumstance given the posturing and the strutting of senators, which is not unknown in this chamber, and I have no doubt we will hear a great deal more of it yet before we reach the end of this process. The difficulty is that throughout that pantomime that we have to endure we often lose sight of what is actually being achieved. I think it is worth restating that, as a result of these changes—this is what the initiatives that this government has brought before this parliament will mean—support for students will be directed much more to those that need it. In fact, as a result of the government’s initiatives, there will now be 29 times the number of scholarships available to Australian students, should this bill be passed, when compared to when this government came to office in 2007. What this scheme does is provide assistance for 150,000 university students who receive youth allowance, ABSTUDY and Austudy and will receive a $2,128 start-up for a scholarship every year.

Senator Nash interjecting—

Senator CARR —It is a reduction. I acknowledge that it is a reduction on what we actually put to this parliament. It is a reduction, and part of the cost of the compromises that you have made is a reduction of $100 per student. Every student should bear that in mind. The cost of these compromises is $100 a head.

There is $2,128 as a start-up for a scholarship student every year and $1,300 in 2010 if this legislation passes. Do not assume that this legislation will pass, because the opposition have moved amendments which they know cannot be accepted. When they play these games—when they engage in these gestures—and when they provide these opportunistic and, quite clearly, hypocritical and fraudulent devices, they should bear this in mind: the consequences will be registered.

The measures we have here include the raising of the parental income test. This is what is at stake here: 150,000 university students have the opportunity to receive a substantial benefit and that is put at risk by yet another bit of political gamesmanship by people who have already struck a deal. The parental income test under these measures will be raised so that families with two children studying away from home can earn more than $140,000 before their allowance is cut out completely. That is a massive benefit. Students who choose to move to study may be eligible for an additional relocation scholarship worth $4,000. That is what the opposition are putting at risk: $4,000 for students who are obliged to relocate. That is in the first year of study and there is $1,000 each subsequent year. So we are not talking about just the $4,000 but the $1,000 that comes thereafter.

As a result of these changes, from 1 July 2012 students will be able to earn up to $400 a fortnight—$236 up from the old scheme—without having their payments reduced. The other great benefit of this scheme, which the opposition choose to gloss over—choose to put at risk—is that the age of independence will reduce progressively from 25 years to 22 years by 2012, which will see an estimated 7,600 new recipients of the independent rate of allowance. It will be reduced to 24 this year, if the legislation is passed.

These are genuinely landmark reforms. They have the unanimous support of 39 university vice-chancellors across this county. They have been so concerned at the opposition’s shilly-shallying and political manoeuvring that they have written to every senator urging this chamber to pass this legislation. They know the consequences of the opposition’s political gamesmanship for the 150,000 Australian students who will miss out on the enormous benefits that this government wishes to introduce.

You, on the other side of the chamber, have been defending your scheme, which Professor Bradley described as desperately unfair. What we are doing is replacing a scheme that was desperately unfair. So when you get teary-eyed about this, bear in mind—

Senator Mason —I did not defend the current scheme.

Senator CARR —I accept that. Senator Mason has indicated that the coalition now supports these new schemes. Senator Mason personally understood this. I have always said that Senator Mason has a better understanding of the consequences of these manoeuvrings than most of his colleagues. But it bears repeating that the scheme that people have been defending in here saw a family with two children aged 17 and 19 at home receiving a part income support when the total family income was just over $100,900 when compared with the previous cut-off of $60,000. That is the model you thought was great in the past.

What the Bradley review found, when they went to the detail of it, was that the current student income scheme—the old scheme—was incredibly poorly targeted and found that 36 per cent of independent students living at home were from families with incomes above $100,000. Professor Bradley’s research found that 18 per cent of students in this situation came from families earning incomes of above $150,000 and that 10 per cent of families who were receiving support had earnings of over $200,000. So the old scheme was not only incredibly unfair but fundamentally unjust.

We have an opportunity here today to put a new set of arrangements in place. If the amendment that has been foreshadowed is carried by this chamber, that is put at risk. This chamber gets up tomorrow night for a seven-week break. So there is a real issue here that cannot be simply glossed over by some procedural device or some attempt to pretend that you are doing anything other than what you are committed to.

Senator Mason, I do not envy you your position in a party full of such ignorant people. It must be difficult being a man who actually knows something about these topics to have to come in here and argue such an indefensible position. I understand how hard this can be, from time to time, when you have members of the House of Representatives who treat this place in a way that suggests that they do not really understand the consequences of what they are doing. Senator Mason, I am sure you would be aware that the member for Sturt actually wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister on 16 March. And while he wrote his usual sanctimonious stuff about how he would like to see more, he said:

We do believe there is still scope for improvement to the legislation for the provision of further concessions to also apply for students from inner regional areas.

I want to make sure those senators that may be living in some dream world and think they can play games with the lives of 150,000 Australians understand this. What Mr Pyne says is, ‘However, as agreed with you, we will ensure passage of the legislation this week so that Commonwealth scholarships can be made available as soon as possible to students.’

Senator Nash —Stop talking and get on with it.

Senator CARR —Just as long as you understand, Senator Nash, what those words ‘ensure passage’ mean. You cannot go outside and say that you were not signed up to the deal, because what we have now is a set of arrangements to give effect to landmark reforms that this government has introduced—that this government has ensured will provide enormous benefit to the people of this country—which will be supported by the coalition, unless we have another event like we saw last year with Mr Turnbull when you say one thing and mean another. We are about to discover what the truth of that matter is. The member for Sturt has committed your votes, in writing, to this proposition.

We all know the difficulty of this place. Those opposite are all experts who think they can run the government from the opposition benches. We know the game. On the one hand, you say the education spending that we are engaging in is a waste; on the other hand, in another part of the chamber, they say that we need to spend far more. There is a bit of a dichotomy in perspective here. This government has almost doubled the amount of money spent on universities, so it is hard to say that we have not spent enough and it is certainly very difficult to say that money is wasted—but it is suggested across the benches that we should spend more.

We are saying that this legislation is about investment in our university system for the future of our country. We are very proud of it. We also say, though, that there is not a bottomless pit that we can just keep digging and pouring money into. We have made very strategic investments and we are—

Senator Mason —It is good to hear you say that. I agree with you.

Senator CARR —Senator Mason, I am very clear about this. There has to be an approach to social reform that is measured against our capacity to pay.

Senator Mason —Absolutely.

Senator CARR —Senator Mason, you say you agree with that, so we are both signed up to the proposition that these measures have to be paid for. We cannot sustain the view that we just tip more money in and fix the problem. That is the position that you have agreed to. We are saying our priorities are right, and I look forward to the discussion of the amendments in detail. I commend the bill to the chamber.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.