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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12078

Mr GARRETT (Kingsford SmithMinister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) (17:44): I would like to provide some concluding remarks in relation to the Social Security Amendment (Student Income Support Reforms) Bill 2011, and table a correction to the explanatory memorandum as I do that.

Higher education is central to achieving the government's vision of a stronger, fairer and more productive nation, and the government's commitment to increasing access to university for students is a key element of higher education reform. The Social Security Amendment (Student Income Support Reforms) Bill 2011 will amend the Social Security Act 1991 to remove distinctions between students from inner regional Australia and those from other regional and remote areas in accessing independent youth allowance. It also ensures that young people from outside the major cities, who are dependent on their families for financial assistance and need to relocate for their university studies, will receive additional financial support in the second and third years.

Following last year's reforms to student income support, many more young people particularly those from families with low income, are now accessing youth allowance while they study at university. Overall, from March 2010 to June 2011, there has been an 18 per cent increase in the number of students accessing youth allowance. The reforms have also had a positive impact on families from remote and regional areas of Australia, with more young people who need to live away from home to study being able to access assistance.

Through this bill the government will deliver a fair and equitable package of additional measures that provides additional support to young people from regional areas, while maintaining an emphasis on assisting students from low socio-economic backgrounds. From 1 January 2012 students from inner regional areas will have access to the more generous part-time earnings and workforce participation for independent youth allowance currently available to outer regional, remote and very remote students who need to live away from home to study after completing secondary school and whose parents earn less than $150,000 per annum.

The new independence arrangements will be available to young people from inner regional Australia from 1 January 2012 subject to them meeting the eligibility criteria. Employment since leaving school will be taken into account when assessing whether a young person meets the criteria, even if that work was done prior to 1 January 2012 by a young person who left school in 2011, 2010 or earlier.

To assist in resolving any confusion about whether work undertaken prior to 1 January 2012 can be counted towards the independence test I have tabled corrections to the explanatory memorandum for this bill that clarify this matter. The government is also resetting the value of relocation scholarships to provide extra support for eligible dependent students from regional areas. These scholarships will generally be $4,000 in the first year the young person is required to live away from home to study, and $1,000 in subsequent years of study in an approved scholarship course.

For eligible dependent students from regional and remote areas the relocation scholarship amounts are doubled to $2,000 in the second and third years of living away from home to study. These amounts will be indexed from 2013 and there are no changes to eligibility criteria. In any year there will be around 15,000 students who will benefit from this change over the period of their degree. The amendments to the explanatory memorandum also clarify that the new relocation scholarship amounts will apply from 2012 for all eligible recipients.

In addition to several technical amendments the bill includes amendments to offset the cost of the extra assistance for regional students from within existing funds. This fiscally responsible package reflects the government's ongoing commitment to open doors to higher education for young Australians.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.