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Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Page: 4000

Senator ADAMS (2:33 PM) —My question is to Minister Carr. There are thousands of rural and remote students who are undertaking a gap year under the current workforce participation criteria who now find they will not be eligible for independent youth allowance in 2010. Will the government reconsider the effect of the retrospectivity of their changes so that these students will be eligible for the youth allowance at the end of this year?

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Adams asked her question of Senator Carr but did not indicate whether she was asking him in his representative portfolio responsibilities—

Senator Ian Macdonald —What does it matter?

Senator Chris Evans —I am not sure that it is actually a question that goes to—well, I suspect it is supposed to be Minister Gillard’s portfolios. I think clarifying which portfolio the question is directed at and whether in fact it has gone to the right person would assist Senator Adams. We just want to be clear who she is asking the question of and whether she has the right person.

Senator Abetz —Mr President, on the point of order: I think we all know that Senator Carr represents the Minister for Education, and the gap year and youth allowance are of vital interest to people who are hoping to further their education next year. The relevance to Senator Carr of the question was quite clear.

Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on the point of order: for clarification, Senator Abetz is correct that, in respect of the education department, Ms Gillard does have that portfolio. In relation to youth allowance and the payment of youth allowance, it is a working age payment, which comes within the portfolio responsibilities of the Minister for Employment Participation, Senator Mark Arbib. So, if directed at the education portfolio about a youth allowance, as I think Senator Abetz highlighted, then it is definitely the wrong portfolio. The question should be to employment participation and should be directed to Senator Arbib—unfortunately for Senator Arbib!

Senator Abetz —Mr President, again on the point of order: the question related specifically to these students—‘students’, Senator Ludwig—being eligible for the youth allowance at the end of this year. It is clearly related to students at university.

The PRESIDENT —I am going to call Senator Carr, as indicated, representing the Minister for Education.

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Thank you very much, Mr President. The government has made changes to the student income support provisions of the youth allowance in response to the Bradley review. That concentrated on the desire of the government to actually make the student support program more equitable, to provide support to more students, to assist particularly students from poorer families to go to university and to provide the support from the Commonwealth. Under the current scheme, the program allows for students from wealthier families to qualify for a higher independent rate of youth allowance through the work test, at the expense of students from needier families.

Senator Siewert interjecting—

Senator CARR —It might be all very well for the Greens to concentrate on their particular niche in the socioeconomic structures of this country. The Labor Party is in the business of providing equality of opportunity for students right across this country. An estimated 36 per cent of independent students living at home and receiving youth allowance came from families with incomes greater than $100,000, 10 per cent came from families with incomes above $200,000 and three per cent came from families with incomes above $300,000. Many students from families with total incomes between $32,000 and $42,000 currently miss out on the maximum rate of payment, and scholarships are limited. Of course, many needy students in this country miss out because of the misdirected policies of the—(Time expired)

Senator ADAMS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Due to the unrealistic assets-testing regime, to receive the dependent category of youth allowance many tertiary students from lower- and middle-income families in rural and remote areas will be ineligible for either a relocation or start-up scholarship, because they do not qualify for a youth allowance. What assistance is the government going to offer these students?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Sixty-eight thousand students from needier families will now be eligible to receive youth allowance as a result of the increase in the parental income test from $10,000 to $32,000, and from $42,000 with the tapered rates. What we have actually got here is a suggestion that we should not—

Senator Adams —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The point is relevance: I have asked specifically about lower- and middle-income families in rural and remote areas who will be ineligible for either a relocation or a start-up scholarship because they do not qualify for youth allowance.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, you have 34 seconds to address the question that has been asked by Senator Adams.

Senator CARR —On top of the scholarships that I have spoken of, rural and regional students under these arrangements will also receive additional assistance. Eligible students who have to move to go to university will now receive a relocation scholarship of $4,000 for the first year of study and $1,000 in the years that follow. This means students will receive $6,254 in their first year and $3,254 in subsequent years. It is estimated that 14,200—(Time expired)

Senator ADAMS —I ask a further supplementary question. Given that there is no access assistance for rural and remote students, has the government given consideration to classifying rural and remote students as a separate, disadvantaged group?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The presumption that the senator makes to me is just wrong, because there are special provisions—additional provisions, on top of the new scholarships and on top of the additional support for students in needier families—for those students in rural and regional areas to actually get additional support. It might be all right for you to defend the wealthy and for you to maintain the gross inequalities that occur in this country, but it is not all right for the Labor Party. We are not—

Senator Adams —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Carr, I ask you, once again, as a question of relevance: could you answer the question?

Senator Ludwig —On the point of order: what we have heard is first of all the opposition trying to bring a question into education when it is clearly within employment participation. However, notwithstanding that, Senator Carr is doing an excellent job answering the base question about how we are supporting regional and rural people. For the point of order to be taken now, to say that he is not answering that or that he is not being relevant to the question—I would respectfully remind those opposite that they should listen to the answer that is being given by Senator Carr, because he is being relevant to the point.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, you have 27 seconds remaining to answer the question.

Senator CARR —It is well known that in rural and regional areas income is lower. Also, it has to be appreciated that our program is aimed at supporting people on lower incomes. It directly helps people in rural and regional areas. On top of that there is additional support, additional support for rural and regional students. We are in the business of helping all Australians, not just the wealthy, as your government was about.