Senate debates

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

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

Consideration of House of Representatives Message

6:12 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

First of all, I think anyone who has been watching the debate on this issue would know that it was Senator Fielding who came last in terms of standing up for rural kids. From day one the Greens raised these issues in terms of taking away the workplace participation criteria. So, through you, Mr Temporary Chairman Marshall, I would like Senator Fielding to reflect on his comments. I know he gets into these sensationalist arguments every now and again and thumps his fist on the table, but no-one really notices because he is just throwing another tantrum.

The reality is that we need to come up with a solution that actually offers real support for students. The bill that was passed by the House of Representatives is not the right bill. The bill that came to the Senate the first time round was not the right bill. In fact Senator Fielding and the Greens argued that the bill that we passed in the Senate last week was not the right bill either because we wanted, both of us retrospectively, a specific criteria to help rural students. We have worked and worked and worked all the way down the line on this piece of legislation.

We have got to the point now where if we do not pass something, students across the country are not going to get what they should be getting. If we can buy 12 months of time to ensure that we do not have the retrospective laws affecting gap year students and a commitment from the government to finding a new pathway then we can actually work towards something better for the future. That is what we need to do. Playing politics and point-scoring across the chamber between senators and their parties is simply not going to deliver what students need—it is absolutely not. It is time that people pulled their heads out of their backsides and actually focused on getting the work done. That is why we did not insist on the amendments, because we need to have a debate about the amendments here that we need in order to move forward. We need to see a commitment from the government to a new pathway. The government needs to recognise that country students around the country after 1 January 2011, if these amendments are passed, are not going to be better off unless it comes up with something. But to do that it also has to come up with the dough.

I suggest that the minister seriously take this on board and ensure that in next year’s budget there is some money for rural kids. That is what the government needs to do and that is the commitment we need to see. But simply voting down and blocking a piece of legislation that is going to improve the situation overall is not the way forward. Throwing tantrums does not work when you are 2½ and it does not work when you are an Independent in the chamber either. It is simply not an appropriate or responsible way of governing.

Similarly, for the opposition to simply continue to block is not appropriate either. We need to keep talking. We need to ensure that we buy 12 months and force the government to come up with a new pathway. Let us not put in jeopardy the positive measures of this package that need to start on 1 January next year. That is what we are asking for. I do not think that throwing tantrums works for anybody. I also do not think that the claim that Senator Xenophon is also selling out the bush is accurate. Senator Xenophon has clearly been a champion of the bush since day one in this chamber, but he can probably speak for himself.


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