Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2009
Consideration in Detail
by leave—I move opposition amendments (1) to (4):
(1) Schedule 1, item 2, page 5 (lines 13-14), omit ‘30 June 2010’, substitute ‘31 December 2010’.
(2) Schedule 1, item 2, page 5 (lines 18-20), omit paragraph (e).
(3) Schedule 1, item 2, page 5, (line 23), omit ‘1 July 2010’ substitute ‘1 January 2011’.
(4) Schedule 2, item 4, page 20 (line 17), omit ‘$1,127’ substitute ‘$500’.
These opposition amendments are important. We will be insisting on these amendments. They cover two areas, but the primary amendment is to remove the retrospective element from the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2009. The government’s changes to the Youth Allowance have moved, during the game, the goalposts for students in their gap year at the moment. We do not believe in principle that that is something that the opposition can support.
The Minister for Education did admit the error some months ago and tried to address it for a very small number of students. That was her fig leaf to cover her embarrassment. The change that the minister spoke of in her speech just now to the House will impact in a positive way on about 4,500 to 5,000 students. It still leaves 25,000 or more students facing a change in the rules in the middle of the game or, as I said, the goalposts moved in the middle of the game. We cannot support that.
Gap year students, who had at the end of year 12 this year and last year spoke to career counsellors, Centrelink staff and other people about their future and made plans in good faith, who were accepted into university and who deferred university for 18 months in order to be able to qualify for the youth allowance, did so relying on the legislation as it was then drafted so that they could ensure they accessed youth allowance. To change the rules midway through the game on those students is utterly unacceptable. The opposition will stand up for those 25,000 or more students who have been so viscerally affected. The minister says that, in doing so, we are standing up for a flawed Youth Allowance scheme.
The opposition support reform of the Youth Allowance. We support many aspects of the Bradley review. We believe that the Youth Allowance does need to be reformed for the good of all students into the future. That is why we support many aspects of the government’s changes to the Youth Allowance. For that reason I find it amazing that the government would not be prepared to ensure that students who are currently in their gap year would not be so negatively impacted upon by retrospective legislation that has changed their entire future.
I will not keep the House at length tonight. I spoke in the second reading debate and I outlined some examples and many of the concerns that the opposition have about this government’s legislation. Suffice it to say that there are many people who have been negatively impacted upon by retrospective legislation. The government says that we are going to assist more students so that those students must suffer. A better way to manage reform of the Youth Allowance would be to do so from 1 January 2011 so that students in their gap year are not retrospectively impacted upon.
The second opposition amendment will ensure that we do not punch a hole in the side of the government’s budget, because it will cost several hundred million dollars to ensure that the retrospectivity is removed. I believe we will get support for this in the Senate—obviously, in this place we will not. To ensure that the changes that we propose are revenue neutral, we are proposing that scholarships be reduced from 1 January to $1,000—the current government figure is $2,254. That will raise enough money to ensure that our amendments are revenue neutral. (Extension of time granted)
I will not be much longer. I appreciate the courtesy of allowing me to continue my remarks. The second amendment will ensure that the opposition’s changes are revenue neutral and will leave a sum of money available—probably about $120 million—for the establishment of a rural and regional scholarships program. Now that the Senate committee has reported in the Senate on this bill, the detail of that program will be clearer in the days and weeks ahead.
The only other thing I would add is that the government needs to very seriously consider how it wants to handle this legislation in the Senate. I warned the minister in June and again last sitting week that, if she insists that the Commonwealth scholarships remain part of this bill rather than being decoupled from it, as I proposed in June, we will potentially be voting this legislation down with the support of probably the Greens, Senator Xenophon or Senator Fielding. As a consequence, it will be on the government’s head that the students affected by the scholarships change will not be able to get any scholarship at all from 1 January 2010. I have laid that on the table for many months.
If the minister insists and believes that she can hold a gun to the head of the opposition, I am warning her that it will be her problem. It will not be the opposition’s problem. We are not in government. I have at least worked that out. Therefore, we will not have responsibility for the government’s pigheadedness and foolishness in linking to this retrospective Youth Allowance change with a scholarships program. That will be a matter for the government to handle.
I hope she will see reason rather than the rather embarrassing display of mindless partisanship that she showed in her speech during the second reading debate just then, where she inferred that the good ideas come from only one side of the House. I think she may be guilty of starting to believe her own rhetoric and the praise from the peanut gallery, because that display was straight out of the Australian Union of Student’s handbook rather than the Obama handbook, which says that good ideas can come from all parts of the political spectrum. But we know that she is essentially an old Cold War warrior from the Left, and old habits die hard. With that, I recommend my amendments to the House.