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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 630

Mr PYNE (2:28 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. When the opposition fought to restore fair access to youth allowance for kids from the bush, the government labelled it ‘unsustainable and irresponsible’. Will the Prime Minister inform the parliament why it was irresponsible to give youth allowance to more rural students two weeks ago but the right thing to do now?

Ms GILLARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the shadow minister for his question and I can very simply answer it. The government has always been committed to a better and fairer deal for students. We did that because when we came to government after more than a decade of neglect of the needs of country students the participation rate of country students in university was going down. I say to every member of the former government, including the member who asked the question, that they were part and party to the participation rates of regional students going down—a great national shame. The government moved to change that system to make it better and fairer, to end the spectre that some money was going where it was not needed and to bolster participation rates of country students.

In generating those reforms we worked with members on the crossbenches and, ultimately—and is it not interesting to remember this now?—we entered into an agreement with the person who asked the question. I shook hands with the shadow minister on an arrangement which then went through the parliament. But he made it immediately obvious to me that, whilst he wanted to secure additional changes to the package, and was prepared to reach an agreement with me on the package, he was not going to defend that package. So instead of having the political responsibility to say to his colleagues, who then complained about it, ‘I signed off on it; I stand by it,’ he, of course—as we expect from the member for Sturt—actually walked away from these reforms.

These reforms have been benefiting students around the country and they have been benefiting students in rural and regional areas. We have seen a 25 per cent increase in dependent youth allowance recipients from rural and regional areas. We have benefited more than 85,000 young people who now receive the maximum rate of youth allowance, a higher rate of youth allowance or a payment of youth allowance for the first time. More than 29,000 are young people from rural and regional areas. More than 25,000 additional students who need to move away from home to study now receive scholarships. This includes more than 10,200 students from regional and rural areas. More than 190,000 additional students now receive scholarships towards their education costs. More than 45,300 are students from regional and rural areas. So I am happy—any day, any time—to compare this government’s record for regional and rural students against the government that went before, of which the shadow minister was a member and a minister. I am happy to compare track records any time.

Of course, as part of those arrangements we also agreed that there would be a review, and we have agreed to bring that review forward by 12 months. We have worked with people of goodwill who care about students to deal with that. But I can say that we will not give way to the coalition’s hypocrisy, we will not give way to the coalition walking away from a deal and we will not give way to their fiscal irresponsibility because once again they are in this parliament with an unfunded bill, and they could not even find a hint as to how to fund it from One Nation this time.

We will keep delivering for regional students and improving the system for regional students, and I am very happy to bring forward a review by 12 months to do just that.

Mr McCormack —Tell that to the country kids you won’t give youth allowance to!

The SPEAKER —Order! While the member for Riverina is being annoying, he is wasting his time—we cannot really hear him up here. He will cease interjecting.