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Thursday, 21 October 2010
Page: 1228

Dr STONE (12:52 PM) —I rise to talk about the terrible problems that rural Australians are having in being able to afford to have their children leave home to go quite long distances to take up tertiary studies.

In beginning these remarks, I must say that I am so pleased that just hours ago the Australian Electoral Commission put out a new proposal for redistribution of electoral boundaries in Victoria. Where they first proposed the abolition of the Murray electorate, in their latest proposal they are now proposing to reinstate the seat of Murray understanding the unique circumstances that face that part of the world particularly in terms of the irrigation footprint that covers all of the Murray electorate. That is part of our problem: a lot of other government agencies do not understand that a unique set of circumstances affect the lives of people who live beyond the tram tracks. For example, the Goulburn Murray Local Learning and Education Network put out data looking at what had happened to the 2007 school leavers and what was happening in the beginning of 2008. Twenty-nine per cent of school leavers from the Goulburn Murray region went on to university. Hold that figure: 29 per cent went to university. This compares with an average of 44 per cent for the rest of the state. That is a difference of more than 10 per cent. Of course, the Goulburn Murray region is not at the back of Bourke; it is only two hours from Melbourne.

When we look at the numbers of school leavers looking for work, 6.8 per cent of school leavers in the Goulburn Murray area were looking for work compared with only 3.8 per cent of school leavers in the rest of Victoria. That is because the school leavers in the Goulburn Murray area were not in training, they were not in apprenticeships or VET; they were looking for work. The study asked parents and school leavers why they were not studying. It is no surprise that 43.1 per cent responded that financial pressures on the family were the reason that tertiary places had not been taken up. That is 43 per cent of families in my electorate compared with only half that number, or 26 per cent, of families in the rest of Victoria saying that financial pressures had kept their sons and daughters out of university. I think that is a shocking statistic and an indictment of this government.

In addition to the 43 per cent who said that financial pressures on the family meant that their kids could not go to university, 46 per cent said that the cost of study was the reason their family’s children could not go to university. Hold that figure in your mind: 46 per cent compared to just 31 per cent of the rest of Victorian families saying that the cost of study had created the barrier for them in terms of their students taking up their tertiary offers.

With that data, cast your mind forward to what Labor have done about helping country students be able to afford to go to tertiary training away from home. What have they done? They have made it so much worse. They have said that the coalition criteria for achieving independent youth allowance status would be only accessible for what they call ‘outer regional’. The inner regional areas are going to have to put up with the fact that they will have to work for two years at least in their gap year. They will have to have the equivalent of full-time work, basically. They really cannot find the equivalent of full-time work in my part of the world.

I want to commend the member for Forrest, who brought forward a motion the other day condemning this situation. To give an example, those who know Victoria will know the absurdity—indeed, the obscenity—of the fact that ‘inner regional’ includes towns like Boort, Dingee, Inglewood, Cobram, Barmah, Prairie, Bridgewater and Rheola. These are tiny towns, with the nearest larger town in some cases scores of kilometres away. They are now called ‘inner regional’. Those students cannot access support to go to university. Those families in and around those towns have gone through the worst drought on record, they are now facing a locust plague, and this government is now arranging to take 45 per cent of their water away, so they have no future in terms of economic self-sufficiency. This government is making it impossible for those students to break out of future poverty by being able to access their tertiary education offer. I think that is disgraceful. I hope this government will understand very quickly that there are human rights involved in this. Why can’t country students in Australia who have the results take up their offers and be able to have support to cover the $20,000-plus it costs for students to study away from home? (Time expired)