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Wednesday, 21 November 2012
Page: 9347

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (12:04): The Greens do not support the government's proposed amendments to delay the indexation of the student start-up scholarships from 1 January next year to January 2017. These amendments really put up in flashing lights the government's failure to public education, and in particular to students in a difficult situation, whether they have a low income for various reasons or they are in regional and rural areas. What is also now up in flashing lights is the coalition. We have heard a very interesting speech from Senator Nash. She has set out very clearly the problems with this amendment, but also stated very clearly that the coalition would not be opposing it. We could stop this amendment going through. The Greens are not going to be voting for it and it should not be supported. Senator Nash said very clearly that it makes no sense.

This scholarship is provided to students who meet the lower economic income criteria of various income support payments to help meet the exorbitant costs of textbooks and other study materials. We have it there, because it is a recognition that these students are already struggling economically. We have all had experience of going to many of these areas—I think most of us have, because I have heard many speeches in parliament about the difficulties students and their families are facing in coping with education costs. This has been an important measure. To gouge a group of disadvantaged people who are being urged to overcome multiple barriers of disadvantage to attend full-time study and acquire further qualifications for the future economic necessity of Australia is simply wrong. It is actually deeply offensive. Let us remember all of those speeches from the Prime Minister and her ministers about a skilled nation. We need to be providing pathways for people across the country to come into our education system, yet we have just put up a barrier until 2017. It is extraordinary. It is as though it will never come back again. This cut is part of an over $1 billion cut in higher education support for students, research and universities. It is a most backwards and very short-sighted step.

We need to look at what is happening in some of the comments that are being made about these amendments. Senator Nash spoke very effectively in exposing the government's hypocrisy in saying one thing and doing another, but she has actually done exactly the same thing herself with her speech. She has got the experience from regional areas. I have been outside this parliament on platforms where she has spoken in detail about these problems. She has done it many times in this chamber with her colleagues. But she has actually highlighted the hypocrisy of the Liberals and Nationals. I urge that we vote together to block this and that the government pulls it. At this time, to bring forward a delay in the indexation of the start-up scholarships is so deeply wrong.