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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6388

Mr HUNT (7:50 PM) —I rise to address concerns from within my electorate about the impact of changes to Youth Allowance. These are not hypothetical; these are real impacts on real people. It will affect their capacity to pursue their own education, to prosecute their dreams and to take steps forward.

I want to deal with this in terms of the problem and also the solution. The problem has three parts. The first is about the human aspect. It is illustrated by Kieran Stubbs, from Mount Martha. Kieran’s mother, Amanda Stubbs, approached me. Her boy is vision impaired. He has been taking steps to ensure that he qualifies for Youth Allowance through working. He acted on the basis of advice and in a belief that if he took personal responsibility he would be rewarded and allowed to proceed with his education. There is a real risk that by having to work for 18 months he will not be able to pursue his course—for the very simple reason that he is not able to extend his deferral beyond 12 months. That is the reality. A young boy is taking responsibility for himself, seeking to advance his education, earn money and do all that he can, yet the promise of that education is now put at risk.

The second part of the problem is that Kieran’s problem extends widely. Within my own electorate, I have been contacted by many people, particularly within the Bass Coast area, from Phillip Island and from the Bass Coast more broadly. These are folks who have a vision of doing something majestic in their life in terms of pursuing their education. Kieran’s problem is a wider problem, in my electorate but also in many other electorates.

Thirdly, there is a problem of principle here. This legislation, this change, is a retrospective change to Youth Allowance. It is not retrospective to sweep up people who have been acting in good faith. We oppose retrospectivity clearly on principle. But it is retrospective to pick up young people who had been working to be able to afford to study, to advance their knowledge and to contribute to society. That is an extraordinary principle which has been broken in this parliament, and we urge the government to rethink and to withdraw.

The solution is very simple. We will take three clear steps to help protect Kieran Stubbs and other students like Kieran throughout the Mornington Peninsula, Western Port and Bass Coast and throughout rural and regional Australia. The first of those steps is to move amendments to the legislation so that students currently working to qualify for Youth Allowance under the existing rules will still qualify for that allowance in 2010. I think that is extremely important.

Because the federal budget has been catastrophically blown, we face a future of debt and deficit that people such as Kieran will have to pay back. We know that this should cost in the vicinity of an extra $573 million. Therefore, the second part of our solution is not just about fairness but also about responsibility. In order to deal with the issue of fiscal responsibility, we propose to fund this extra expenditure through a reduction in the start-up costs of handouts proposed by the Rudd government. That means that, where students are due to receive $2,254, to be paid in two instalments, the coalition proposes to reduce this to one payment of $1,000—except for recipients of the Veterans’ Children Education Scheme—which should save approximately $696 million over four years. We would make those savings and then the third part of the solution would be to introduce $120 million of new rural and regional scholarships.

These three things will provide a solution for people such as Kieran, protecting against retrospectivity for those who are currently working for the Youth Allowance, adjusting and reducing the new up-front payment and introducing a rural and regional scholarship. That is the way forward. (Time expired)