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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 665

Senator BOSWELL (Leader of the National Party of Australia) (5.25 p.m.) —I made my contribution to this debate during the second reading. Having listened to Senator Schacht on the intercom, I must admit his arguments did not persuade me at all. He was totally wrong when he said that the government never had any intention of honouring the commitment that it made four times through its budget decisions and then through circulars that it sent out to people who were trying to apply for Austudy. I quote from the Australian:

  "The Government intends to honour its policy but at this stage it is not clear whether it can—this will take a few days to sort out,"-

That is a direct quote from Mr Free's office:

   A spokesman for Mr Free said yesterday "an administrative contradiction" between the Department of Social Security and DEET had occurred and that some people applying for Austudy benefits might have been affected.

Clearly, if the government has any respect at all for Mr Free, then it must honour its commitment. Government members must close ranks around Mr Free and support the statement he made to the Australian. That is apart from supporting the four prepared papers that were sent to a certain number of students; I do not know the exact number. Senator Schacht says 2,000 and Senator Bell says 400.

  These were students mainly from farm families whose parents receive zero or negative income because they have an asset that they cannot realise, similar to a tool of trade. Under the new white paper regime these 15- to 17-year-old children are not entitled to benefit from the scheme. These children have been brought home from school because their parents cannot afford to keep them at boarding school. They are ineligible to receive job training because of the asset of the family's farm. They are then ineligible to receive Austudy. These kids are the most discriminated against in Australia; their parents are on no income or zero income.

  As Senator Schacht has told us he comes from a farming background, I would remind him that only nine per cent of wool properties are making a positive income, and therefore the rest are on negative incomes. Because of the assets test quite a number of children have been excluded from the training program initiated in the white paper, and they have also been excluded from Austudy.

  Senator Schacht said that he can count, and the government will be overwhelmed in this vote. It will be the Australian Labor Party versus the rest. The government will go down because the Democrats, the Greens, Senator Harradine, the National Party of Australia and the Liberal Party will vote against it. It will be like Horatio defending the bridge, only he had three people supporting him; the government will have none.

Senator Schacht —Well, he died with honour.

Senator BOSWELL —The government will die with dishonour on this one because there is nothing honourable about excluding children from education. The government in its own policies states that it wants a clever country and development in regional Australia. Where else will the government get development unless it gives the kids in regional Australia a fair go? The government is not giving them a fair go.

  Two or three weeks ago a similar bill went through this chamber. I will not go into great detail on it, but it was somehow going to include the family home in the assets test. The committee voted against it and it went down to the lower house and was rejected. It came back here, and we sent it back again. Today, the government read the numbers and the government accepted amendment No. 8 to the social security bill. That was very helpful to the same people that this legislation is going to affect.

  I appeal to Senator Schacht; as a person who comes from a farm he would know the hardship that these people are going through at the moment. We cannot just shove those 300 or 400 people away and forget about them. They are Australian citizens and they deserve the same rights as every other citizen of Australia. The government is denying those young people an opportunity for education.

  That is not what I understand the Labor Party professes to be all about. The government is supposed to give battlers a fair go. If the government walks away from these children and young adults it will violate every principle that the Labor Party stands for. Senator Schacht, Senator Sherry and the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Senator Collins, ought to go to the cabinet meeting, bang the table and say, `This is the greatest embarrassment we have ever had. We promised these kids not once, not twice, not three times, but four times that they would get a chance to go to school and to university and we have reneged on it.' If those senators cannot convince the Prime Minister and the cabinet with those arguments, I do not believe they are trying.

  This legislation is going to go through today. As I said, it will be the Labor Party versus the rest. It will go to the House of Representatives, and I am sure that Senator Schacht can convince the Prime Minister by saying, `This is a bit of an embarrassment. Let's not dump poor old Free. He has to live out there in the community and we have got to rally round our colleagues. Therefore, not only have we got to support the young adults and the children who are being excluded from the training program, but we are now giving them a double kick in the backside by excluding them from Austudy.'

  Senator Schacht is a person who can carry an argument. I believe that he is a person who is basically good at heart. I ask with all the sincerity that I can muster that he, together with Senator Sherry and Senator Collins, get in there and start to fight for Labor Party principles and give the downtrodden a fair go.