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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 256

Senator PETER BAUME —I refer the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs to her answer in the Senate yesterday that the new tertiary education assistance scheme and unemployment benefit provisions for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds represent a significant step forward for all young people. I ask the Minister whether she will accept figures provided to me by her Department which indicate that as at 30 June 1984 79 per cent of TEAS recipients were aged 18 years and over and that only 21 per cent were aged less than 18 years. Therefore, will the Minister acknowledge that the gap between unemployment benefit and TEAS-that is, the education disincentive gap-has increased by $9.62 for 79 per cent of students, that is, for four students out of five, since the Hawke Government came to office?

Senator RYAN —I am perfectly happy to accept the accuracy of the figures provided to Senator Baume by my Department, namely, that 79 per cent of TEAS recipients are over 18 years. The point of what I was saying to Senator Baume yesterday was that the increase in TEAS means that for the 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds there is now no effective gap between unemployment benefit available to them on the point of leaving school and TEAS. This is a very significant step because we are most concerned in the area of youth unemployment with those early school leavers -16-year-olds and 17-year-olds who are mostly leaving without an adequate level of education to go on to successful higher education or training or to get a secure job. That group has the highest priority in an area that is generally a very high priority of the Government.

I think Senator Baume will agree with me that the early school leavers are those who are most at risk in terms of their prospects of long term unemployment and have least likelihood of improving their capacity to get a secure job by way of further education and training. So, with regard to closing the gap, it seemed to us to be important to make our most significant step in the area of those who were most vulnerable. It is certainly true, as Senator Baume has pointed out, quoting figures from my Department so support his claim, that they are a minority of TEAS recipients, indeed, 21 per cent. Nonetheless they are a group who are most vulnerable and therefore are of most concern.

We have given the 79 per cent of TEAS recipients who are 18 years of age and over a 10 per cent increase in the maximum allowance payable. It is true that there is still a gap between the single adult rate of unemployment benefit and the TEAS benefit. It is true that with regard to some students that gap may have a disincentive effect. We hope that other measures we are taking to improve access to higher education, to improve the number of places available and to improve the capacity of institutions to offer special bridging courses and other special courses to assist young people who are less prepared to undertake education, will overcome that.

Obviously, as Senator Baume suggests, a gap remains. However, I believe it is important that, at a time of very stringent budgetary pressures, we have been able to increase TEAS by 10 per cent. It is an increase which has been welcomed. I hope that we will be able to continue making increases in TEAS so that that gap does not provide a disincentive to any individual student. However, I put the Senate on notice that the Government has the intention of achieving a much more fundamental overhaul of the area of youth income support. We do not think the method of simply raising individual benefits by as much as we can afford will overcome all the anomalies that exist in the youth income support area. When we are in a position to publicise the report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on youth policy and youth income support policies we hope that there will be an informed public debate to complement the work that has been done in my Department and in the department of Senator Don Grimes on new, fresh and more equitable approaches to the area of youth income support generally.

Senator PETER BAUME —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Senator Ryan did not answer the last part of my question. Will she acknowledge that the gap which we were talking about has in fact widened for 79 per cent of students receiving TEAS since the Hawke Government came to office?

Senator RYAN —The gap certainly did not widen in the last Budget. It was reduced somewhat-not as much as might be ultimately desirable, but it was certainly reduced-in the last Budget.