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Thursday, 10 February 2011
Page: 420

Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (10:11 AM) —Today we are again talking about the level of income support we provide to help our kids get to university. Family First believes a clever country would be making it easier for our kids to get to university, not harder. But after the changes that were made at the beginning of last year by the Labor government, together with the support of the Nationals, thousands of Australian kids in regional and country Australia are now finding it harder to get to university. Family First is the only party that has consistently stood up for regional students on this issue. Family First has been on the record as saying that any student who needs to relocate more than 100 kilometres in order to study should be eligible for youth allowance under the old criteria. This includes rural and regional students. It is a system which is simple, it is easy and it works.

Unfortunately, the National Party sold out rural and regional kids by doing a deal with the Labor government which has resulted in regional students having to basically defer their uni studies, which in effect puts them two years behind their city counterparts. The National Party knew country kids would be treated like second-class citizens at the time but still sold out the bush and put country kids two years behind their city counterparts. And today we have the Nationals claiming they are helping the bush, but in fact all they are doing is trying to fix the mess they created. School leavers from regional areas are now having to delay their study plans by two years in order to go to university. Many of them may well decide not to bother going to university because of having to wait so long.

Students in places such as Ballarat, Bendigo, Sale, Shepparton, Traralgon, Wangaratta, Warrnambool and Wodonga have been left out in the cold—and that is just Victoria. Across Australia you also have places such as Albury, Wagga Wagga, Orange, Dubbo, Tamworth and Mackay. These students are now being forced to work 30 hours per week for 18 months, or 15 hours per week for two years, in order to qualify for study assistance. What are students from places such as Rockhampton or Bundaberg supposed to do to find that work? How are they supposed to find work for 30 hours per week when their home towns have just been ravaged by floods? Are we supposed to just give up on these students and say, ‘Too bad—I guess you guys have to miss out on university education as well’? It is absurd. This bill, the Social Security Amendment (Income Support for Regional Students) Bill 2010, fixes a problem that should never have been created in the first place and I hope the bill passes the Senate so we can make it easier for these students, our kids, to go to university to keep our reputation as a clever nation.