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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6005

Mr PYNE —I am glad that the Minister for Education has come into the Main Committee to discuss the consideration in detail for education as often a parliamentary secretary or junior minister would be sent, and that is to her great credit. I have a few questions that I would like to put to the minister which she can either answer today or be prepared to take on notice and return to the House to answer at some point. They largely relate to the common youth allowance changes and also to the Education Investment Fund changes and then my colleagues, the members for Boothby, Stirling and Indi, will also fill the time allocated for education as there are a number of other issues within this portfolio which they handle.

What follows are my questions about the common youth allowance changes. The DEEWR fact sheets identify that 30,700 students are likely to miss out on youth allowance due to the tightening of the workforce participation criteria. I would like the minister to provide detail, if that is possible, on the composition of these 30,700 students. How many will come from rural and regional areas? How many will be ineligible because they come from farming backgrounds where the parental asset, the family farm, excludes them from receiving youth allowance irrespective of their parental income? How many will be ineligible because they come from small business families where the parental asset, the small business, excludes them from receiving youth allowance irrespective of parental income? I would also ask the minister if she is aware that, according to the ABARE farm survey results released in April 2009, the equity at 30 June 2008 of the average broadacre farm in Australia is $3½ million dollars and that the average farm cash income from the same farm was $62,400. Given that by these figures the average farm in Australia is well above the level for the personal assets test—approximately $2.2 million this year—can the minister confirm that as a result of the government’s reforms the child of an average farming couple in Australia is entitled to receive no assistance to pursue their higher education dreams unless they first work full-time for 18 months even though their parents’ income would have been well within the range that would qualify them to receive youth allowance were their parents receiving the same income from a salaried job in the city where the student would not even need to leave home to study? Is the minister able to release whatever analysis the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has done into the specific challenges facing students from rural and regional Australia who must leave their family home in order to access higher education?

I also ask: how many representations has the minister’s office and the department received from members of the Australian public in relation to the amendments to youth allowance by email, by letter, by phone call or by personal visit? Will the minister consider making transitional arrangements that would allow those students who have taken a gap year in 2009 on advice from Centrelink officials and others at their schools in order to gain independent youth allowance in 2010 to be able to do so and therefore ensure that the government is not imposing effectively retrospective legislation on Australian students? They are my questions in relation to the common youth allowance. I am happy to let you answer those now or continue.

Ms Gillard —Please continue.

Mr PYNE —In relation to the Education Investment Fund, $6.2 billion was assigned in the 2007-08 budget for a new Higher Education Endowment Fund, the HEEF, to provide an ongoing revenue source to pay for university infrastructure into the 21st century—an initiative that Peter Costello was closely involved with. Last year the Rudd government added $2.5 billion from the last Costello surplus and renamed it the Education Investment Fund.

The minister has claimed to deliver a $5.7 billion package in this budget for universities, research and higher education generally, but I ask the minister: isn’t it true that to create this $5.7 billion figure the government has had to include $934 million of the EIF, the Education Investment Fund, round 2 projects; $901 million of EIF funding for what the government has called its Super Science Initiative; $750 million of undefined EIF future rounds; and $400 million taken from EIF funds for the Clean Energy Initiative? Isn’t it therefore the case that $3 billion of the government’s $5.7 billion higher education package was in fact appropriated in Peter Costello’s 2007-08 budget? How much of the $750 million earmarked for EIF future rounds over the next three years will be spent on university infrastructure, how much will be spent on vocational education and training infrastructure, and how much will be diverted to programs unrelated to further education altogether?

I could speak at length about what I regard as the manifest failures of the government in respect of education, but I know my colleagues with responsibility for industrial relations, apprenticeships and training, and the member for Indi, who has responsibility for child care, have other questions, so I will leave it at that. I look forward to the minister’s response. (Time expired)