Senate debates

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2009

Consideration of House of Representatives Message

5:34 pm

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Education) Share this | Hansard source

The coalition will vote against the government’s motion that the committee not insist on the Senate amendments. It does so for two threshold reasons. For us there are two nonnegotiable issues. The first is to do with retrospectivity. We say that no matter who the students are, whether they are well off, not so well off or from disadvantaged backgrounds, about 30,000 students, based on information they have received, plan to have a gap year. While retrospectivity technically is not the case many students have decided to take a gap year and we think they should be entitled to youth allowance. That for us is not negotiable. The position of the House of Representatives, sadly, does not take that into account. The second issue is that, in line with the recent Senate committee’s report, the coalition believes that there should be an extra pathway for rural students.

Let me go back to where this debate commenced. It commenced with the issue of access and social inclusion. The government—the Labor Party indeed—so often sees disadvantage too narrowly. They talk often about Indigenous students and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, but for us that is not the only issue of access or indeed of social inclusion. The opposition is desperately concerned about rural students and access to higher education. That is a particular concern, I know, for all members of the opposition. That is something we will not give in on. We must take care of retrospectivity and preserve the entitlement of everyone in the system that would have missed out. The opposition is concerned that none of these students miss out and without the opposition’s amendments many students will continue to miss out. We say that all 30,000 should be able to apply for youth allowance and take their gap year.

Secondly, and very importantly, the opposition believes that the most important recommendation of the Senate committee, which relates to extending the workforce participation criteria for those who must leave home to go to university, must also stay in. Again, that for us is critically important. We do not accept that that extra pathway for students that must leave home to go to university should evaporate. Unless we insist on these amendments, that will evaporate, and again we simply will not accede to that.

Thirdly, the opposition, of course, is concerned—and this has been raised, I know, by the Australian Greens, and I think all senators are concerned—that the auditing of those requirements to live away from home should commence. There should be guidelines developed by the secretary of the department of education to better target these allowances. Again, for us that is a critical issue: to better target social welfare and these allowances. For us that is terribly important.

I understand that in her letter the Deputy Prime Minister is concerned that about 150,000 students will not receive start-up scholarships in 2010 and that 21,000 Commonwealth scholarships will be affected. In her letter to me—a very pleasant letter—the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, writes:

Preventing passage of this bill will mean that 150,000 students will not receive start-up scholarships and that 21,000 Commonwealth scholarships will not be paid to new students in 2010, as the coalition voted to remove them earlier this year.

Well, she might be concerned, but as Senator Minchin said in his letter to Ms Gillard:

The coalition is concerned that the government, having ignored our warnings earlier in the year about the danger of separating the legislation, abolishing the Commonwealth scholarships with their replacements, has now placed in jeopardy the existence of any Commonwealth scholarships in 2010.

I should say that the Australian Greens also flagged this issue. Senator Minchin says:

I can confirm that, should the government maintain its position of being unwilling to accept the Senate’s amendments, the coalition will be happy to give precedence to the consideration of legislation the government may wish to introduce this week that will provide for scholarships in 2010.

In other words, the coalition will cooperate with the government and separate the legislation to ensure that students do not miss out if necessary. We are happy to do that.

I also flag that later on I will be moving an amendment—I think it is on sheet 6014—that again puts forward the budget-saving measure that the opposition has proposed to pay for all the additional expenditure that these proposals flag. I just flag that for the moment, but I simply say that the opposition will vote against the government’s motion that the committee not insist.


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