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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6007

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) (5:28 PM) —I thank the shadow minister for his questions. It would be churlish of him indeed to try to criticise this government’s record on education given the historically large new investments that are flowing into education as a result of this government’s education revolution and particularly the expenditures in this budget. I understand that he cringes when he reflects on the parlous state that education was left in by the former government and that he finds it difficult to make any substantive or real criticisms of the government’s programs.

I will come directly to the student financing questions that he raised. I want to give to the shadow minister an important statistic that I think he may not be aware of: under the previous government in the period 2002-07 regional participation rates in higher education fell. Under a Liberal government in which National Party members served in significant roles—at the most significant point as Deputy Prime Minister—a government that would have said it was doing things for rural and regional Australia, regional participation rates in higher education fell from 18.715 per cent to 18.08 per cent. That is against a population share of 25.4 per cent of the population.

So, even at the higher point, regional people were significantly underrepresented in higher education, and that problem was exacerbated during the life of the former Liberal-National Party government. And the bad news does not end there, because remote participation rates fell over the same period, from 1.27 per cent to 1.12 per cent. That was against a population share of 2.5 per cent, so already significantly below population share and falling under the Liberal government. In those circumstances obviously this government is very determined to make a difference for rural and regional education. That is why we have moved to the student financing package that is part of the budget papers. In very much expanding the number of families that will get benefits and in very much increasing the family income test for those families, this package will benefit rural and regional students. To give just a flavour of that, the parental income cut-off for two students 18 years of age or more and living away from home is $139,388. That is a significant statistic for regional families who are very likely to have to have their students move away from home. We have taken the income test to that point from $79,117 under the old system. So for rural and regional Australians, who tend on average to earn less than their city counterparts, such a huge extension in the family income test and the additional numbers of students that will benefit is very good news indeed.

On the question of farm assets, can I advise the shadow minister that the way the assets test works for families in those circumstances is that it takes account of current market values and it is net of business farm related debt, so obviously we are talking about a calculation that goes to the equity, if I can use that terminology. The valuation disregards the principal family home and up to two hectares of surrounding land. The limit currently set on that valuation is $571,500 and it is indexed. However, for business assets, including farm assets, a 75 per cent discount is applied to this assets test. This means that youth allowance and Abstudy are obtainable for young people in small business and farmer families who have assets to the value of $2.286 million. That is the way the assets test works, and I would direct the shadow minister’s attention to each element of that so that he can accurately transmit that message. On the question of—(Time expired)