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Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Page: 2052

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (11:51 AM) —I want to reiterate my concerns about the negotiations and the agreement between the government and the opposition over this amendment. I am glad we are getting something moving. We all know that we have 24 hours now to get something through before we break. Students could be left with nothing if we do not agree on something by Thursday afternoon, because the HECS census date is March 31. I am glad that there has been some agreement to get something through, but, no, the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2009 [No. 2] is not perfect. This is a total compromise. The result is that we have picked winners and losers, and that is not good policy. It is not good policy for any government to be picking winners and losers based on the fact that it did not put any extra money into the bucket. I take the point of the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research that we do not have an endless bucket, blah, blah, blah. If you want to implement major reform you have to fund it—that is the crux of the problem. If you want to put money into the hands of students through scholarships, bravo! Student advocates have been advocating that for years, and I must say that they were advocating it to the coalition when it was in government as well. For years, students have been asking for some money to help at the beginning of each semester. This was not the government’s idea; this was something that the government decided to run with. It was never their idea. This was an idea that came from students themselves, but the government did not fund it—the government wanted to ensure that it had a budget neutral package. You cannot put up a major reform package and not fund it properly. That is why we are in this sticky position.

The basis of this amendment means that we are passing something that picks winners and losers—bad policy. We are saying that some kids deserve to be treated independently but they still have to defer their studies—we are still punishing them—and yet other kids do not have that avenue at all. All I need to do is look at my home state of South Australia. Families and students from right around South Australia have contacted me—as they have from the rest of the country—asking, ‘What is going on?’ They are confused about the situation. They are in limbo and are desperate to know what is going to happen. Students from Loxton in South Australia have contacted me out of concern. They want to get to university and need support to do that. They will be able to defer their studies, earn $19,500 and get independent status, get that support and get on to university. They still have to defer their studies, which we know means that most of them will not actually go on to university. But kids from Mount Gambier do not even have that avenue. It is unfair. We have picked winners and losers. It is bad policy.

We need to get something through. I accept that. I do not want this issue to continue to be a political football about who supports students most, because we know about their credibility out there. The government has not put any extra dollars into the fund and the coalition did not do it when it was in government. I think the scores on the board are fairly even, actually. What we need to do is look forward and ask what we are going to do. I hope that, at the very least, the taskforce with the $20 million can help us move some way forward. There are going to be students who will be affected next year by these changes or lack of changes. There are some ways forward on this.

I am disappointed that it has taken until this point for the government and the opposition to agree on something and that it has turned out to be a bit of a dog’s breakfast. Let us move on. I am concerned that we now have 24 hours to get something passed in order to ensure there is some money in the hands of students. I am prepared not to stop debating this issue until we get something through before we leave here this week. If people do want to play games about this, play them out there in public; do not play them in here where they are actually going to affect the lives of individuals. Parents have taken out mortgages on their homes because they have not known what is going on and their kids needed to start university this year. They need to start making repayments on those mortgages. We need to get the money into the hands of students sooner rather than later. We cannot delay this any more.