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Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Page: 4011

Senator WORTLEY (3:21 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to respond to this debate on the motion to take note of answers given by Senator Carr. In saying so, I would like to point out to the senators opposite that by delaying the implementation of this measure, over 100,000 Australian students will be worse off. The Bradley review found that current income support arrangements were poorly targeted, with not all support going to those most in need. I would encourage those senators opposite to have a look at the Bradley review and the findings of that review. The government’s response to the Bradley review of higher education will ensure that student income support payments are better targeted and that more assistance is provided to those students who need it most, including rural students.

For the senators opposite, let me point out a few things that they seem to have missed. The Bradley review found that 36 per cent of independent students living at home were from families with incomes above $100,000. It found also that 18 per cent of students in this situation came from families earning incomes above $150,000, and 10 per cent came from families earning incomes above $200,000. This government has accepted the recommendations of the review and has decided to take tough decisions to ensure that student income support is received by those who need it most.

The workforce participation criteria will be tightened and those savings will be invested in increasing access to income support for students who need it most by increasing the parental income test. This means more support for more students. More rural youth will qualify for student income support payments under changes to the age of independence. The package of student income support reforms will progressively lower the age of independence to 22 years by 2012 to ensure that the age of independence accurately reflects when individuals become more independent of their parents. It currently stands at 25 years of age.

We will also see changes to the parental income test which will reduce financial barriers for dependent rural students. About 68,000 extra dependent young people will gain access to youth allowance or Abstudy through a more generous parental income test threshold, and around 34,600 will receive a higher rate of payment as a result of the government’s changes to the parental income test.

We have already said the independence criteria will be tightened to better reflect actual circumstances, but rural students will be receiving additional income support. They will get additional help to this. Any university student who receives at least a part payment of youth allowance or Abstudy also receives a range of other assistance of particular benefit to rural young people and their families. There are other benefits attached to this, and I would like to highlight some of those. Rural students receiving youth allowance or Abstudy still have access to the higher away-from-home rate of payment as well as the remote area allowance, the fares allowance for up to two return trips home per year and other benefits such as the low-income healthcare card and the pharmaceutical allowance.

For rural students who are dependent on their parents, the family asset test applying to dependent youth allowance recipients takes account of current market values, net of business or farm related debt. This valuation disregards the principal family home and up to two hectares of surrounding land. The limit is currently set at $571,500 for most families and is indexed each year. Further, a 75 per cent discount is applied when assessing business assets, including farm assets. This means that youth allowance and Abstudy can be received by dependent young people from small business and farming families with assets up to the value of $2.286 million. Families in drought affected areas who are in possession of a drought relief exceptional circumstances certificate—(Time expired)