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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6392

Mr JOHN COBB (9:33 AM) —Young people in my electorate of Calare are devastated, absolutely shattered, after finding out about government budget plans to make the independent youth allowance virtually inaccessible to them. This is another kick in the guts for regional Australia because, as one woman told me:

Please tell Mr Rudd that universities are not found on every street corner … some of us live over the mountains on the other side.

Labor has targeted one of our most vulnerable groups, young people, at a time when we know jobs are in short supply. It is ridiculous to expect young people in small regional areas to be able to find 30 hours of work a week over 18 months, which is the new criterion for the independent youth allowance. As one year-12 student said:

I live in Trangie and so job prospects are very limited. This is of a great concern to me as to what I will do in the future.

Another devastated young person told me:

I feel that the government has overlooked us, especially as rural students with such difficult requirements to achieve youth allowance with these new laws combined with the overwhelming shortage of jobs in rural areas. It will now be impossible for many students to earn youth allowance and get uni. How is this fair?

I held a public forum on this issue last week and the turnout was overwhelming. Young people in a gap year, who will be most affected by these cruel changes, came along, as well as year-12 students and worried parents. One of them said:

The changes to Youth Allowance don’t make the change to an independent university life more difficult; they make it impossible.

Another young person said:

During the HSC, I am now feeling that there needs to be no effort, as I won’t be able to attend my preferred university. It favours upper class families. Education revolution has become derevolution.

Another said:

Being from the Central West, it stops me wanting to be an engineer as I can’t do that here. I need UNSW Sydney. I need Youth Allowance!

A teacher and parent said:

Long-term students in regional NSW are severely disadvantaged in their access to higher education opportunities by changes in the Youth Allowance. An estimated cost for sending a student is $20,000 to live away from home. The lack of a Youth Allowance means rural families will not be able to support children or multiple children at school. In particular those currently on Gap years have now had the rug pulled from under them.

When students from three Orange high schools heard about my forum, not only did they come in good numbers but they rallied to get a petition of 1,600-odd signatures in the space of 24 hours. One said:

I would like to see the government justify this idea as the changes are making it a lot harder to further our studies. A lot have made plans that are now jeopardised and it’s unfair.

Another said:

I think that if the government is trying to encourage support in tertiary education for rural students, as stated in the Bradley Report, this is a total backward step. No one wants to hire people for only a year and a half of casual work. Where are the jobs?

Parents just cannot believe the situation. These changes can be seen as an attack on rural Australia, the only sector of the economy keeping Australia out of technical recession. (Time expired)