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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4049

Higher Education

Mr FITZGIBBON (HunterChief Government Whip) (14:54): My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, how have the government's changes to youth allowance increased the participation of rural and regional students in higher education, and how does the budget assist students in gaining the skills they need to prepare for work?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:54): I thank the member for Hunter, the Chief Government Whip, for his question. It is a great question which enables me to inform the House of some very good news. The budget, of course, was all about jobs and opportunities for Australians, because for people in this country having the benefit of work is a fundamental part of being sure that you can make a life for yourself and your family. To get that all-important job, then be able to get the next job and a better job requires that people have access to opportunity. Since the budget, we have been talking about the budget's measures to spread opportunity to people who have been locked outside the benefits and dignity of work; the budget's measures to spread opportunity through enabling Australians, young and old, to upgrade their skills through our $3 billion investment in skills.

These policies build on reforms that this government has already delivered, most particularly reforms in education. Today I want to focus on the reforms in our university system—another way we are spreading opportunities to Australians. This morning I visited the University of Canberra, where I met a number of students who are benefiting from our youth allowance reforms. We have seen a 23 per cent growth in the number of undergraduate places since 2009.

Mr McCormack interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Riverina is warned.

Ms GILLARD: I would have thought that were something that every member of the parliament could celebrate: more students having an opportunity to get a place at a university. I would have thought that would receive shared congratulations. That means 23 per cent more people are having the benefit of that kind of opportunity.

When we look at youth allowance, we see an extra 21,000 university students are now receiving youth allowance. In just 12 months, the number of dependant students from disadvantaged backgrounds receiving the maximum youth allowance student payment has increased by 108 per cent—it has more than doubled. The number of regional and rural students receiving student youth allowance has increased by 22 per cent. For those who genuinely care about the fortunes of rural and regional students, that is good news. In total, more than 107,000 young people have benefited because they are now receiving youth allowance the first time or because they are receiving more in their payment. More than 36,000 of these young people are from rural and regional areas. Once again, that is something I would have thought would be received as good news. There has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of regional and rural students receiving dependant youth allowance. In the past 12 months more than 240,000 university students have received start-up scholarships, with 55,000 of those students coming from rural and regional areas, and 36,000 students have received relocation assistance, which has of course gone to students from rural and regional areas too.

For those who care about opportunity in our society, for those who care about turning around the trend under the Howard government of the participation rate of rural and regional kids in university going down, the good news is we have turned that trend around and participation is going back up. That is a great thing for rural and regional Australia. It is a great thing for those who celebrate a fair distribution of opportunity in our society.