House debates

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


Petition: Youth Allowance

8:40 pm

Photo of Joanna GashJoanna Gash (Gilmore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I hereby present a petition from the electorate of Gilmore regarding the changes to youth allowance announced in this year’s federal budget.

The petition read as follows:

To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives

The petition of certain electors of the Division of Gilmore draws to the attention of the House their wish to have changes to the eligibility criteria for Youth Allowance for students, introduced this year, revoked as these will impose unnecessary and unfair hardship on those young people from regional and rural areas who are studying.

Your petitioners therefore request the House to call on the Government to revoke the retrospectivity of the Youth Allowance legislation immediately.

from 458 citizens

Petition received.

How sad I was to see the government refuse to accept the coalition’s amendments earlier this evening when the House divided on the issue. My community of young people in Gilmore can only hope that the government’s legislation will be defeated in the Senate.

The government’s bill would require our students to work 30 consistent hours a week for 18 months over a two-year period in order to be eligible for the independent rate of youth allowance. This criterion is completely unreasonable and unrealistic for young people in rural and regional areas like Gilmore, where employment, transport and local study options are hard to come by.

I held two local public forums in my area in response to the proposed changes, to inform people about the legislation and get their feedback. In the process I have collected 458 signatures from people who wish to formally voice their opposition to the changes.

While the education minister, Julia Gillard, has acknowledged that she has made a grave mistake by bringing in these changes, and has rolled back a small part of them, her changes do not go far enough. The changes still catch many people midstream—people who, in good faith, made plans. They deferred their studies, picked up enough work to earn $19,000 in a year, juggled part-time jobs, took longer shifts during the busy periods and set themselves up to be independent next year only to find that the government had changed the rules of the game and they were suddenly back at square one. If they do not live more than 90 minutes from their chosen tertiary institute they come under the new rules, and this time they have to find themselves 30 hours of work every week for 18 months and forego their uni places altogether.

Young people in Gilmore and across Australia have called on the government, time and time again, to address this. They have asked them to stamp out the retrospectivity of these laws altogether—not for a few but for everyone who is currently undertaking a gap year. They have called on this Labor government to offer more assistance, not less, for rural and regional youth.

I wonder if Ms Gillard has ever been to a place like Nowra, where the train line stops at Bomaderry and unemployment sits at around nine per cent. I wonder if she is aware of the difficulty that young people in this area face in going on to further studies, or whether she makes her laws with only metropolitan areas in mind.

The government claims that more people will be eligible for some sort of assistance under these changes and that reform had to happen, as people were exploiting the system. But why is it that young people in country areas will be the ones to pay the price as a result? And how many of their families will qualify under the income/asset test if one tractor on their struggling farm rules them out?

This is not an even playing field and the government is arrogantly ignoring the error of their ways—pushing through what is essentially a budget-saving measure to help pay $1.8 billion off their $315 billion debt. Australians are all paying the price for Labor’s reckless spending, even struggling uni students who do not have a dollar to spare. I call on the government to adopt the coalition’s recommendations and offer scholarships for extra assistance to those in rural and regional areas, while wiping out the retrospectivity of their laws altogether. And on behalf of the young people in Gilmore, who are increasingly being forced to move out of our area in search of opportunities, I ask the government to act fast. Again, I express disappointment at the outcome of the division tonight, and the lack of understanding by this Labor government towards the students of Gilmore.