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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 11997

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (Braddon) (12:02): I am continuing my remarks on the legislative changes for student support that the government is now putting forward. This is a very successful student support assistance package that has seen a massive increase in the number of students taking up tertiary education options and students coming from regional and outer parts of Australia.

My speech was rudely interrupted last time the parliament sat. The opposition attempted to gag me from speaking in an attempt to play games in this House, which they have been doing all year in their fit of not being successful in forming government. I do not want that type of episode to interfere with what is the announcement of some very good news. I can understand why the opposition spokesperson on education wanted to interrupt my speech which is to demonstrate the good news that is part and parcel of this additional $265 million financial commitment to assisting students and their families access higher education in our nation, especially in a region such as my own.

All of my electorate was effectively deemed outer regional, except for two centres, Latrobe and Devonport, which were deemed to be inner regional. Those two inner regional centres now will be deemed to be the same and equivalent to outer regional areas and will be eligible for this increased assistance, if they were not eligible beforehand. Labor's changes mean that students from inner regional areas will have additional avenues to demonstrate independence and therefore qualify for independent youth allowance. It expands the options available to inner regional students to access this youth allowance. The maximum rate of independent youth allowance, for the record, is $388.70 a fortnight—that is, if you are 18 years old or more, living away from home with no children. But in order to further support regional students who have to move away from home to study—both of my children, Julian and William, have had to move away from home, and it is a struggle—this scheme is designed to assist a lot more families.

If you have to move away from home and you are from regional areas, the government is also increasing the value of what we call the Relocation Scholarship for eligible students from regional areas. That means, for example, that 15,300 regional students will receive a higher regional Relocation Scholarship amount each year. That is 15,300 of our students and their families who will benefit. From 1 January 2012 eligible regional students will receive a Relocation Scholarship of $4,000 for the first year of study to help them establish themselves when moving away from home and with all the rigmarole and anxiety that goes with that. It is $2,000 for each of the second and third years and $1,000 for subsequent years. There are a lot of things at play in determining those figures but that is calibrated and calculated to be the most essential type of support during those years.

Over a three-year degree, the Relocation Scholarship will increase from the current total of $6,186 to $8,000 from January next year. It is never enough, particularly with the financial burdens that many people from regional areas experience living away from home and the costs associated with that, but it is certainly a great increase on the past and will be greatly beneficial to many families. In the meantime with the changes that we have announced in this legislation we have decided to make it easier for regional students who may have missed out in 2009 and 2010 to access the independent youth allowance. This was during the period of review. The report of that review was handed down recently. The new rules will come into effect from 1 January 2012. I point out for the record that any employment undertaken since the student left school will be counted towards the independence test even if that work was done prior to 1 January 2012. We are trying to take into account the period between the initial announcement of the financial support scheme and the review that was recently handed down.

The review considered the impact of student income support arrangements implemented under the package on equity, with a particular focus on the impact on rural and regional students and their capacity to access higher education. The chair of the review Professor Kwong Lee Dow conducted discussions in both metropolitan areas and rural and regional areas in each state and territory. He handed down the report. The government's legislation before us is in response to that report's recommendations.

This year total support for Youth Allowance for higher education will exceed $1.25 billion. That is an increase of more than 50 per cent, something which if known by those on the other side is not mentioned by them. That is a 50 per cent increase on the $800 million outlay in the last year of the former coalition government. We are proud that more students than ever before are going to university. This government is proud that more students are receiving the support they need to attend university. This government is very proud that support is being targeted to those students who need it most. The review and consequent legislation, and prior to that our former scheme, are designed to support those families who need that support the most. We have succeeded in doing that. We have massively increased participation rates, particularly from rural and regional Australia. After a decade of stagnation under the former government we are delivering support that Australian students need to assist them to get through university.

The $265 million new package of support that I mentioned earlier will be fully funded. New expenditure will be offset from within the current program or the previous program. That means winding up the Rural Tertiary Hardship Fund, deferring the measure to increase youth allowance eligibility for masters by coursework students from 1 January 2012 until 1 January 2014, reducing the start-up scholarship to $2,050 from 1 January 2012, and reducing the Relocation Scholarship for non-regional students to $4,000 from 1 January 2012.

I have said before that we have opened the doors to Australia's universities. Students across the nation have taken up the opportunity to further their tertiary education. They have responded strongly to the new opportunities to access youth allowance. We have delivered major increases in funding to assist those students. For example, in just over a year we have seen an extra 25,000 students receiving youth allowance and many of these students are from low- and middle-income families. Many more low- and middle-income families are taking advantage of the lowering of the age of independence from 25 to 23. That is a massive change and has financial implications both for the benefit of those who are receiving it and increasing the cost of the scheme. There has been an increase of 29,441 students just with a change to the lowering of the age of independence. Fewer students are accessing youth allowance through the independent workforce criterion. That is a decrease of 26,141 students. So more are eligible and more are taking up that opportunity. As I was saying before, many more low- and middle-income students are accessing independent youth allowance, an increase of 21,342 students.

So overall the number of students accessing youth allowance is up from 135,000 to 160,000. That is an increase of 18 per cent in just more than a year. There have been more students in rural areas, particularly in my own area and that of the member for Lyne, who has spent a long time trying to hone this scheme and make it even more beneficial for rural and regional students. I thank him for that. I was really happy to work with him to keep on keeping on to make these changes.