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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4083

Mr CHESTER (3:45 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Education. I refer the minister to her failure to answer the member for Sturt’s question. Will the minister guarantee that students currently in their gap year will not be financially penalised under the government’s changes to eligibility criteria for the independent youth allowance? Or will the minister make regional students pay the price for the government’s reckless spending?

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —With the greatest respect to the member, what a very silly question—which was produced by the member for Sturt. The answer to the member’s question is clear: yes, the government is changing the system. Why is the government changing the system? Because we are a responsible government that believes that every dollar of student support—indeed, every dollar of government expenditure—should go to the place that it is going to do the most good. When we see a financing system with benefits going to the upper end we ask the question: can we do better to target people in need?

The member would not have heard this from the member for Sturt, but the Bradley review, for instance, found that 36 per cent of students who were living at home and who were receiving youth allowance through having been considered independent were from families with incomes over $100,000 and 10 per cent were from families with incomes over $200,000. When you see a result like that, you should ask the question: can we do better? What we have done is something that will be better for students generally. We have reoriented this system so that, rather than being pitched in that way, it will support families in ordinary income ranges. As the member would know, incomes in regional Australia tend to be less than incomes in metropolitan Australia, so any regearing of the system that puts money—

Ms Julie Bishop —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The question was specifically about students in their gap year this year who have taken a gap year because—

The SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume her seat. You have raised the point of order of relevance. I do not have to invite you to debate the point of order unless I require it. On the matter of relevance, the Deputy Prime Minister is responding to the question.

Ms GILLARD —On the member’s question where he asked me about the impact on regional students, I am explaining that, because regional Australia tends to have lower incomes than Australia generally, any system that reorients towards people in ordinary income ranges is better for regional Australia. Let me give the member one example.

Mr Hartsuyker —Mr Speaker—

The SPEAKER —The member for Cowper will resume his seat. I have indicated that the Deputy Prime Minister is responding to the question.

Ms GILLARD —To take an example which would have meaning for the member, given his electorate, under the new system that we are proposing a family from the bush with two kids of university age who have to move to study will now be able to automatically receive some support with a family income of up to $139,388. That figure has been increased from the Liberal figure of $75,000 in family income. You can see from those two figures the huge expansion in family income thresholds that will make a difference to people in his electorate. Then there are our Student Start-up Scholarships of $2,254 per year. We are estimating that 146,000 students will be eligible for them next year. That is 133,700 more than currently.

Then, of course, on top of that there are our relocation scholarships to benefit the kinds of kids in the member’s electorate who need to move to study. This is a system that overall will give extra student support—that is, 38,000 additional students will be on income support and 36,000 more will receive higher payments. I understand from the cat-calling that the position of the Liberal Party must be that they would prefer to give money to families with income over $200,000 and $300,000 a year than to see an extra 36,000 students get income support. They would prefer to do that than to see more students get more money. If that is the contemporary position of the Liberal Party, that says everything any Australian needs to know about their value system, and it is not very pretty indeed.