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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6301

Mr GARRETT (Kingsford SmithMinister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) (19:26): On the question of the specific request for numbers that the member has made, it would be appropriate for us to take that question on notice. As to the general content of her questions I will just make the following points.

In relation to the specific question that the member asked around the review that is being chaired by Professor Kwong Lee Dow: this review will report by 1 July 2012, and the report will be tabled in both houses within 10 sitting days. Members should be aware-

Ms Marino: In 2011?

Mr McCormack: Kwong Lee Dow is in 2011?

Mr GARRETT: 2011-I beg your pardon. It will be tabled in both houses within 10 sitting days. Members should be aware that Professor Lee Dow has conducted a number of consultations around Australia. Of the 21 roundtables scheduled, two-thirds of those have been held in regional areas. So organisations, students and families, including those from regional areas, have had a good opportunity to contribute to the review either by attending the consultations themselves or by making a written submission.

Following the review, I can advise that the government will bring legislation to the parliament this year to implement new eligibility arrangements for youth allowance, removing the regional eligibility distinctions with effect from 1 January 2012. We always said we would review the most appropriate mechanism for determining the eligibility. In fact, we did legislate for that.

I can also advise the member that we have seen significantly improved financial assistance to students from low socio-economic backgrounds, including regional students, as a consequence of the government's reforms. We know that the latest statistics show that there has already been a 29 per cent increase in higher education in dependent youth allowance recipients from rural and regional areas, and that the government's reforms 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. For the member's benefit, this includes almost 29,000 young people from rural and regional areas.

I will make an additional point here to the member that there are a number of initiatives underway. You know what some of them are, including the additional students who are receiving scholarships. There are about 190,000 or so of those, with around 44,000 from rural and regional areas. We have additional initiatives which operate for regional students for improving their university participation: removing the cap in the number of students who can enrol in undergraduate degrees, which means that more students from rural and regional backgrounds will have the opportunity to attend university; establishing a new regional priorities round of the Education Investment Fund; and completing the Structural Adjustment Fund to assist universities, particularly in those regional and outer metropolitan areas, to adapt to the reforms in the demand driven funding system that we have in place. It needs to be clearly stated that the government has also established the $20 million Rural Tertiary Hardship Fund which will provide additional financial assistance to country kids from disadvantaged backgrounds—the first round to be distributed.

The point here is that not only are we conducting significant reform through the tertiary sector to provide greater opportunities for students right around Australia to take up the benefits of a university education but also those reforms significantly provide opportunities for rural and regional students.

Ms Marino: But not for the families in my electorate.

Mr GARRETT: With the interjections coming from opposite, the fact is that you presided for a decade or more over a university system where the participation of regional students declined. That is a fact that needs to be acknowledged in this House. Let us remember that regional participation rates actually fell in 2007, they didn't go up. Here you are: you went to the 2010 election wanting to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from funding, which was actually going to get low income students coming into universities, capping the participation and equity programs, and so on— (Time expired).

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Riverina—sorry, I will go this side.

Opposition members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I will decide, thank you.

Mr Pyne: You have already called the member for Riverina.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I have just made a decision. Thank you, I have tried to be fair to both sides. I was incorrect in calling the member for Riverina. I want to be fair to this side as well. I call the member for Robertson.

Ms O'Neill: We are continuing?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Please. If the committee wishes to continue, it will continue.