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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 618

Dr STONE (1:41 PM) —There is another very important right which we need to consider in this debate today—that is, Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1948—that long ago—it stated:

… higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

Is this government claiming that we are all dumb and stupid in rural Australia, that the merit that is found in rural Australia is not equal to that found in urban or metropolitan Australia? The consequences of what they are trying to do today—that is, to shut down a possibility of ruling out the inequities of inner and outer regional criteria for independent youth allowance—are denying thousands of country students access to tertiary education. The outcome of that is to remove a generation of rural professionals. Are we to look overseas for all trained doctors, nurses instead? Are we going to spend the same millions on trying to orientate them to Australian cultural circumstances, because there will not be rural generated professionals? The only professionals who, in too many circumstances, will come to country areas are those from the country. We are eliminating their chances of getting qualifications because so many Australian rural parents cannot afford the $20,000 or so it takes to have a student kept in accommodation, food, transport et cetera beyond their home.

It is just a tragedy. This is all about the current Prime Minister, the former Minister for Education, refusing to swallow her pride and acknowledge that she got it very wrong. It is one thing to come into this chamber and say, ‘Look, this attempt to get the thing right, somehow it is against the Australian Constitution’, but we have out there right now more than 10 to 15 per cent of students unable to access university from country areas—an inequity which is not only against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it is also against any sense of Australian decency. The Prime Minister should be deeply ashamed. She should right now be talking to her Leader of the House and asking, ‘How can we fast track a debate where we simply restore the criteria of the coalition for both inner and outer regional students, and then we move swiftly towards a far better way to fund youth students in rural areas into the future so they can afford to go to university?’

People in my electorate have been rallying. We have had deputations. We have had parents in my office weeping because all their lives they have hoped to have their child reach their full potential by going to university and now they are seeing those hopes dashed. We have just come out of seven years of the worst drought on record. We have now experienced the worst flood on record. There is no cash for my families, but those families are designated ‘inner regional’. Their students are supposed to find 30 hours of work per week over an 18-month period within two years—and those 30 hours are not the average; they are the minimum for each week. Those students are supposed to survive a two-year gap period when very few universities in Australia will contemplate making an offer with a two-year gap—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Order! It being 1.45 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for a later hour this day. The honourable member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.