Senate debates

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

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

Consideration of House of Representatives Message

6:05 pm

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

I thank the minister for his plain talk. I appreciate that. At least we know where the government stands. I do appreciate that. I would just re-emphasise that for the Liberal Party, the National Party and, I think, Senator Fielding these are really critical issues. We simply do not accept that retrospective legislation of this sort is appropriate. We simply will not agree with it. I just want to make that very, very clear to the government. We simply do not accept it.

With respect to the extra pathway for students who have to move away to go to university, again we simply cannot conciliate on that. For us, that is just not negotiable. Honourable senators may recall the first recommendation of the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport on this legislation. The committee said:

3.120 The committee believes that the tightening of the workforce participation criteria still leaves post-2008 school leavers with only one workforce participation option if they want to be eligible for the Independent Youth Allowance.

3.121 The committee recommends that the workforce participation criteria in proposed section 1067A(10)(c) be extended beyond a transition measure, and be retained for students who are required to leave home to pursue their chosen course.

And that is what the opposition are sticking with—we wish to retain the extra pathway for students who have to leave home to attend university. Minister, I know you are doing your best and you have your instructions but the opposition simply cannot give in on these amendments. For us this is an issue of principle and a very, very important policy issue. I flagged before that I accept what the minister said—that 150,000 students could be put in jeopardy with the start-up scholarships and indeed the Commonwealth scholarships as well. That is an issue and the minister is right to raise it. But, as I also flagged, the opposition is willing to assist if necessary to ensure those students are looked after. The opposition, and I think the Greens and Senator Fielding, flagged this problem months ago when the bills were split. I think the government took the wrong course in splitting the bills. It was a mistake.

I note that the opposition has been slammed and lambasted for weeks, perhaps months now, for cutting the start-up scholarships, but I note that the government are doing the same thing in their amendments. I understand why they are doing it—to save money for budgetary reasons, which is exactly why, I might add, the opposition did it; it was a budgetary savings measure to pay for the promises and the policies that we were insisting upon. I just want to flag it to the government that, despite all the highfalutin talk about how outrageous it was to cut start-up scholarship payments, the government is doing just that in their amendments.

I also flag to the Senate that the amendment I was going to move, which again we raised in the debate the other day, on page 6014, which I understand has now been circulated, I will now not be moving because the amendments have not been insisted upon so it does not apply. I just raise that as a matter of procedure. The opposition will not be supporting the government’s amendments.


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