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Thursday, 22 November 1973
Page: 2068

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) - I wish to take this opportunity to speak to the Student Assistance Bill. It is the natural successor to a Bill which has had some political history in this place. Years ago we had a great fight here to establish the principle and the terms and conditions upon which scholarships should be granted and the regulations upon which they should be based so that they would be subject to the supervision of either House of Parliament, and particularly of the Senate which has made the scrutiny of regulations its own province. That contest was held and the Bill was withdrawn. Subsequently another government brought in a Bill which based Commonwealth scholarships upon regulations. But the achievement of that regulation basis for scholarships was aborted because the Act was not proclaimed for some three or four years. I say quite kindly to the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland), who in this chamber represents the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley), that not one signpost or indication is given in this legislation as to the criteria upon which scholarships will be provided by the regulations. Is it the correct inference, as my colleague Senator Rae has said, that the regulations will be available by the end of January 1974? There are practical difficulties about that for students who want to know their entitlement well in advance of the end of January 1974. What chance will we have to scrutinise the regulations to see that they are an appropriate basis upon which these moneys are to be distributed to the scholarship world? So I wish to say that I think the regulations should be available and tabled now so that the Senate can scrutinise them before we rise to see that they provide for the purposes which we wish them to provide. I want to say one or two other things, and they will come up more fully in the Committee stage. In clause 7 of the Bill, for instance, I notice that:

An authorised person may, subject to and in accordance with the regulations, approve the grant of a Senior Secondary Scholarship to a person who is an Australian citizen or a permanent resident of Australia . . .

In one's innocence one would think that that expression was to be read as English should be read. But one has to go to the definitions clause to find that the phrase 'permanent resident of Australia' has an artificial and perhaps unacceptable meaning, because there it is expressed to mean: a person included in a class of persons that, under the regulations, is to be treated, for the purposes of this Act, as a class of persons permanently resident in Australia.

It would be more consonant with my facility for reading English if the Bill had been drafted so as to say that the beneficiary could be an Australian citizen or a permanent resident or such class of permanent residents as the regulations prescribe. I say that to remind the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) with what jealousy we scrutinise regulations which of themselves purport to restrict benefits to a discriminatory class.

Then I am intrigued by the provisions of clause 9 and a parallel clause, clause 12, regarding tertiary education assistance. I mention that only briefly at this stage so that the Minister may be prepared to give me in the Committee stage an explanation of the manoeuvres in this clause, because as I read it, it provides that any Commonwealth scholarship in existence at the time this Bill comes into operation is terminated. That is to say, a scholarship already granted is terminated automatically and arbitrarily by this Bill. But then it goes on to say in ( 2 ):

.   . an authorised person may approve the grant of a Senior Secondary Scholarship . . . to the person who was the holder of the existing scholarship.

It does not say on what terms- and, of course, it is a discriminatory item. Paragraph (3) says that where it is granted:

.   . then, notwithstanding section 8, -

What that means I would like to know- benefit under the Senior Secondary Scholarship so granted shall be the same as the benefits that would have been applicable under the existing scholarship if that scholarship had not been terminated.

I confess that the purpose of that manoeuvring, as I will call it, just to indicate in a shorthand way how the legislation strikes me at the moment, escapes me. The last thing I wish to say is that noting that under section 8 the benefit of the scholarship may be a basic allowance or a living allowance, I applaud what the Government has done regarding living allowances for isolated children. I only hope that because of the disadvantage which the child of school or university age is suffering by reason of the high cost of transport and living in the cities and the high cost of educational fees and other things in the cities, emphasis will be given on a basis proportionate to the hardship of those costs upon country children in providing the living allowances so that the injustice that is imposed upon children- a barrier to country children against their getting an equal opportunity with those living in the cities- can be bridged as much as possible. I would like the Minister for the Media at some time, either now or in the Committee stage, to indicate whether eligibility for the scholarship has any age limit, whether it is to be based upon any educational qualifications or whether it is intended in the regulations to adopt some other more general criteria for eligibility.

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