Senate debates

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

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

Consideration of House of Representatives Message

6:15 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I think there is a lot of hyperbole going on in this debate on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2009 and it is very unfortunate that Senator Fielding said what he said. I do take issue with that. To say that I have sold out the bush is plainly wrong. Let us just put this in perspective. If this bill is not passed, there will be less support next year for regional students. That is the situation. What this scheme does is a direct result of the recommendations of the Bradley review. Senator Mason can correct me if I am wrong but I think it is fair to say that when the Bradley review came out the Hon. Christopher Pyne, the member for Sturt and my fellow South Australian parliamentary colleague with whom I have a very good working relationship, was broadly supportive of the Bradley review.

The Bradley review was about giving support, having greater access and opening up our education system so those who are disadvantaged can get a fair go and the system can be opened up. These changes are about support for low-income students. I think it is fair to say that students from higher income families will not get as much support, but there is a lot more support for students with a lower income. It is about access and equity in tertiary education. Low-income students will get more with a student start-up scholarship and a relocation scholarship. There is a difference in the taper test and there is a difference in the thresholds, but these are consistent with the Bradley recommendations which, as I understand it, the coalition—or Mr Pyne in particular—were broadly supportive of.

This is about a fundamental reform to our system. I agree with my colleague Senator Hanson-Young, and I congratulate her on the work that she has done with the government on the absolutely fundamental issue of retrospectivity. That was one of the key issues put to me by many constituents. For students and the parents of students, the retrospectivity aspect of it was simply wrong. These amendments go a long way in substantially dealing with the issue of retrospectivity. They are welcome amendments to this legislation, and that is why we need to support them.

In the discussions I have had with Senator Hanson-Young she has raised the government making undertakings on the issue of regional students. I think it is important that the government follows through on that with a task force to look at those issues and to look at some long-term solutions in addition to what is being proposed here. As I understand it, that letter will be tabled after I sit down. I think it is important for the government to understand, at least from my perspective—Senator Hanson-Young can speak for herself—that if the government does not deliver on further reforms in the next 12 months then that will not put the government in good stead for any further reforms it wants to get through. I accept that the government genuinely wants to get a reform process happening on the issue of regional students. I acknowledge the advocacy of Senator Nash of the Nationals on behalf of regional students. The point of difference, with the greatest of respect to Senator Nash, for whom I have great regard, is that I think this is the best we can do right now.

I am trying to be pragmatic and practical in what needs to be done. I believe this is a way forward. It is not perfect by any means, but in carving up the available funds I think this is broadly equitable. There is certainly room for improvement. I think what Senator Hanson-Young will refer to shortly will advance the issue further. I strongly support this, and I believe it is a way forward. I do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater by this legislation being defeated if this particular amendment does not get up.

I have absolutely no doubt of Senator Fielding’s genuine commitment to ensuring a fair go for students, but I urge him to consider supporting these amendments because they will mean a better go for regional students, particularly those who come from lower income families. To me the key issue here is ensuring that we have a greater degree of equity and access to tertiary education for our regional students. I believe what Senator Hanson-Young will refer to shortly will strengthen that argument. I support these amendments.


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