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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 653

Mr McCORMACK (4:07 PM) —This is about fairness, equity and assisting regional students to have the same opportunities as those who live in capital cities. If, as this government often claim, their focus is on regional Australia, here is the chance for the government to put action where their words are—real action, real policy and real hope for country students. Here is the test. It is not a geography test. It is not a test between inner and outer regional students. Allow the bill to be debated on the floor of the House of Representatives. What does the Prime Minister have to hide? I would like to see the Prime Minister show genuine leadership and help the bill pass. If the Prime Minister decides not to do this then I would like her to tell the students of Wagga Wagga, Junee, Tumut, Gundagai, Coolamon, Batlow and Adelong in my electorate—and all of those students in all of the other electorates, including those in Labor electorates, and also those in Mackay—why she will not allow them fair and just access to independent youth allowance.

Labor’s claim that the coalition’s policy to fix youth allowance for regional students is not offset with savings is a nonsense, a lie and a disgrace. As stated in the accompanying document to the bill, the coalition proposes that this be funded from the Education Investment Fund so as to be budget-neutral. The Social Security Amendment (Income Support for Regional Students) Bill 2010 was introduced by the shadow parliamentary secretary for regional education, Senator Fiona Nash, last September. It follows a similar motion that was moved and passed in the House of Representatives. The bill was passed in the Senate on 10 February 2011, with 35 votes in support and 33 against. The Greens and Labor opposed the bill—what would you expect? Independent Senator Nick Xenophon and Family First Senator Steve Fielding voted with the coalition. The Labor government, in an unprecedented move, wants to scrap the bill, even sounding out the possibility of Governor-General intervention. This is an extraordinary move by a government running scared from the parliament because it knows it will and it should lose the vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

The changes to youth allowance which passed the Senate will not even be considered by the people’s house if the government has its way. How undemocratic. How unfair. How un-Australian. This is in conflict with the 2008 precedent established when the Rudd government allowed a coalition bill that had originated in the Senate and which sought to increase the pension to be presented to the House of Representatives. A motion to do exactly what this bill proposes passed the House of Representatives with crossbench support last year. The government knows it would again, and it is too weak and too insipid to face the music this time. We do not need another review. This is, if the Prime Minister is to be believed, to be the year of delivery and decision—not delays—so just let the bill be debated and let it be passed. Students in the inner regions who cannot access youth allowance will be the big losers if this government persists with this abhorrent and discriminatory tactic.