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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 615

Ms MARINO (1:26 PM) —We in this House should be able to debate this bill today. I represent the students who are most affected by this in the south-west of Western Australia. I hope that they and their families are watching this today. I hope that they can see to what lengths this government is prepared to go to continue to discriminate against their right to a higher education. I hope they are watching.

This is a shame; it is worse than that. I have been working on this since 2009, since this government chose to discriminate against students in rural and regional areas like the south-west of Western Australia. It is an indictment on this parliament that the two houses of this parliament have voted for the rights and the opportunities of regional students, and yet now we have this opportunistic process to try to prevent that debate.

Senator Evans actually wrote to the President of the Senate. Senator Hogg’s response was:

You have sought my assistance in ‘drawing this matter to the attention of Senators so that steps may be taken to ensure that the Bill does not proceed—

a preconceived outcome. The President of the Senate continued:

While I am happy to table your correspondence and the Attorney-General’s advice (and this reply) for the information of senators, it is quite inappropriate for you to ask me to take steps to ensure that a bill does not proceed on any basis, let alone on the basis that the House of Representatives has a different view of its constitutionality.

These are the lengths that this government is prepared to go to to prevent rural and regional students from having access to youth allowance. That is a real indictment on this government. We all know that the Australian Constitution is a grand document and the framework for this debate but the spirit of the Constitution is as important as its wording. Section 53 says:

Proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys, or imposing taxation, shall not originate in the Senate …

But it is pertinent to this debate to ascertain whether the Social Security Amendment (Income Support for Regional Students) Bill 2010 does in fact appropriate money—and it does not. According to the Clerk of the Senate, in her submission to the Senate committee which examined this bill:

The Social Security Amendment (Income Support for Regional Students) Bill 2010 is not a Bill that appropriates money. It does not contain any clause that could be characterised as an appropriation.

She makes the important point in her submission that appropriations are already made for youth allowance and the Social Security Act of 1991 provides for income support for students in Australia. The funding for this act does not set a limit on expenditure; that is, the Social Security Act of 1991 does not identify a cap on spending.

The discrimination against some students based on where they live is not a result of the act setting a cap but of the policies of this government putting that discrimination into legislation. The changes to youth allowance did not put a cap on expenditure; they simply applied a discriminatory basis against recipients in certain geographic areas—like my own. So young people in my electorate who are already disadvantaged, who are already less likely to be able to access higher education, are being further discriminated against. The Clerk of the Senate also referenced this point, in saying:

When the parliament agrees to a standing or special appropriation, the relevant agencies have effectively been given a perpetual blank cheque for payments to be made. This means that a change to a bill of entitlements, such as providing wider access to income support, does not need to appropriate any money because the appropriation is already in place.

To make this clearer, I ask that members look at the legislation that passes before them every day. We have heard that nearly all the legislation has a financial impact and most of it involves an additional expense, even if it is simply in administration. But how many of these are appropriation bills? Most are not, because our constitutional forebears recognised the need for common-sense and practicality. They saw the need for acts of parliament that managed programs without calling them appropriation bills.

The Constitution of Australia implicitly directs the government and the parliament not to discriminate against any individual on the basis of where they live in our great nation. I can see Senator Nash nodding her head. She understands this very well because that is what we have seen here. Students today in my electorate are being discriminated against and the 2011 cohort and their families are currently being affected by this. They are moving from their regional area to a metropolitan area. We are losing some fantastic people and families—some wonderful resources from regional areas—on the basis of this discriminatory legislation.

We can fix it today if we debate this bill. It is inappropriate that you should be discriminated against just because you live in a regional area. It is an indictment of this government that it has allowed this to continue since the budget of 2009. This could have been fixed at any time. The government is well aware of this. This parliament—through the election of 150 people to this House, and through the Senate—has said that it needs to be fixed. So let us take the opportunity to fix it and fix it now. My students, my families and the 20,000-plus students and families around this nation are asking and begging for this. They beg me and I am sure they beg Senator Nash. If you had families and students affected by this, you would be standing up here like me and saying, ‘End the discrimination now. Let us debate this bill today.’

We all know the disaffection that regional students feel. It is alive and well, every day, and that is why we are so committed to this. We know what it is doing. I meet the families on a daily basis. I meet them in the supermarket. I meet the mums and dads that are saying, ‘We might now have to take an extra job.’ I have young people whose whole lives and careers have now changed. What is worse, I have young people who are actively not choosing year 11 and year 12 courses that lead to university because they know their families will not be able to afford it, on this basis. I have families who say to me, ‘We have to choose which one of our family members can go to university,’ as a result of this. They choose one member. Would you want to be one of those families? And how do you think the siblings feel? That is all wrapped up in this.

We are not taking this lightly, because this is as serious as it gets in a regional area. We need this to be fixed and fixed now. Another review is not what we need. It is not what the families need. It is not what those families who write to me, ring me and email me on a regular basis want. We know that the elected members reflect the will of the people—and the will of the people has been expressed by both houses. That is the will of the people. The government could and should agree to a fair and just system of access to Youth Allowance, right now. They could do that in the May budget if they chose to. They could do it today. It would indicate the strength of this parliament and the strength of the people’s voice in this parliament.

I believe that last year this House expressed its will in directing the government to act on Youth Allowance. It continues to refuse to do so. It continues to not allow this issue to be debated or action to be taken immediately. The students whom I represent in the south-west of Western Australia and all of the other great young people around this nation who deserve equity of access to youth allowance and therefore their higher education should have this access.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—The original question was that the motion be agreed to, to which the honourable member for Melbourne has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘that’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.