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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7855

Mrs GASH (3:46 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Education—a real, serious question! Can the minister assist my constituents of Gilmore by explaining where the jobs in rural and regional Australia exist that will provide 30 hours per week for 18 months so that young people in my electorate qualify for youth allowance and realise their dreams of higher education?

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the member for Gilmore for her question. I do not know whether she should have insulted the member for Macarthur’s question, but there we have it. Can I say to the member for Gilmore that the force of our youth allowance reforms is that students will be under less pressure to find work in a gap year—less pressure because more of them will qualify through the parental income test. I absolutely acknowledge that the current system, set up by the Howard government, which saw regional and rural participation rates in higher education go down, is constructed so that young people who want to qualify for youth allowance basically receive the message that the only way they can do that is to take a gap year and work. That situation has come about because the parental income test is so low, people do not qualify on family income, so they take the gap year, find a job and qualify that way. As the member for Gilmore rightly pointed out, the problem with a system that is geared like that is, obviously, that there are parts of our economy where it is much harder for young people to find work, and many regional towns are like that.

Ms Julie Bishop interjecting

Ms Marino interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! I think the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the member for Forrest have had a good go. They will sit there in silence.

Ms GILLARD —The other great vice of that system, as statistics show, is that if young people take a gap year many of them actually do not then go on to do the university course. So what are we trying to do? We are trying through these reforms, through the changes to the parental income test, to enable people in the member for Gilmore’s constituency who have family incomes in the low to middle range to qualify upfront for youth allowance. That means you could do year 12 this year and go to uni next year, having qualified—no gap year, no need to worry about getting work. More people will be qualifying that way because of the changes in parental income support.

The member for Gilmore would be entitled to ask me: how many people will benefit from these changes? I can tell her: around 100,000 students will benefit from these changes—68,000 more will qualify, will get money for the first time, and 35,000 will get more money. Then her constituents who would have to move away from home will, as youth allowance recipients, automatically get the benefit of the student start-up scholarship and, if they need to move away from home, get the relocation scholarship. For them, what is that worth in the first year? The relocation scholarship and the student start-up scholarship is worth $6,254, which will enable them to make that transition into the first year of university, plus they will get the youth allowance. That means more people qualifying, getting more money without having to do what the member for Gilmore is worried about and that is look for work in regional towns where it may not be available. Given our concerns, she should be out spruiking these reforms as better reforms for her constituency, because they are.