House debates

Monday, 22 February 2010

Questions without Notice

Income Support for Students Legislation

2:31 pm

Photo of Darren CheesemanDarren Cheeseman (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion. Minister, why is it important that the parliament pass the student income support legislation and what are the consequences if it does not?

Photo of Julia GillardJulia Gillard (Lalor, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Corangamite for his question, and I know that he, as I am and members of the government are, is very concerned about student income support and supporting Australian students to go to university. The Leader of the Opposition is always free with advice to others about things that they should take responsibility for. Well, the Leader of the Opposition himself faces a test this week as to whether or not he will step up to his responsibilities to ensure that legislation passes this parliament which enables us to pay fair student income support to the students who need it the most.

I want to make clear to this parliament and to the Leader of the Opposition the consequences he will be personally responsible for if this legislation does not go through the parliament. If this legislation does not go through the parliament then 25,000 students with family incomes between $32,800 and $44,165 per annum will miss out on an increase to the maximum rate of youth allowance. We should be clear about that. That means that the Leader of the Opposition will be personally responsible for a student who lives in a home that earns around $40,000 a year not getting full youth allowance.

Then, of course, the Leader of the Opposition, if this legislation does not pass, will be personally responsible for the fact that a student who needs to move to study from a family that earns $60,000 a year—they should be able to receive almost $12,000 in their first year—will get no support unless they take a gap year. Then, on the question of university students, for a family with, perhaps, two students living away from home and a family income of $140,000, if this legislation passes then those students will be able to get rent assistance and the new Student Start-up Scholarship, plus a relocation scholarship. If this legislation is not passed, those students will get nothing. These are the consequences of the conduct of the Liberal Party and what is at stake this week.

It amazes me that, at the same time as the Leader of the Opposition is obviously directing his Liberal Party senators to hold up this legislation, I get correspondence from members of the opposition asking me to fix the very problems that they have created. I got correspondence from the member for Gippsland, who asks whether or not we would fix the fact that someone who gets youth allowance has part-time income taken into account when they are calculating youth allowance. He wants that fixed. Well, the legislation that Liberal senators are holding up fixes that very thing. The thing he wants fixed is being held up by his colleagues. Then, of course, he is not alone. I have had correspondence from Senator McGauran, who originally wrote to Centrelink; the correspondence was referred to me. Senator McGauran was complaining about the parental income test for youth allowance being too low. Well, Senator McGauran is right, but all Senator McGauran has to do during the Senate vote is vote on our side of the chamber, and we will be able to get this legislation through.

Ultimately this comes down to a test for the Leader of the Opposition, and it is a test this week. The test is whether or not he will stand up for a youth allowance package that is fair or whether he will end up explaining to literally thousands of students in thousands of families why they are not getting the benefits that the government wants to pay to them, a gross unfairness for which he will be responsible.