Senate debates

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

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

Consideration of House of Representatives Message

Consideration resumed from 18 November.

Ordered that the message be considered in Committee of the Whole immediately.

House of Representatives message—

That the House has agreed to amendments Nos (1) and (2) made by the Senate and disagreed to amendments Nos (3) to (9), and requesting the reconsideration of those amendments disagreed to.

5:32 pm

Photo of Ursula StephensUrsula Stephens (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the committee does not insist on the Senate amendments to which the House has disagreed.

(Quorum formed)

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.

5:40 pm

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

I want to add the Greens’ comments to this discussion as to whether or not we will insist on the amendments. I think that what is important to note in all of this is that we need to be getting some type of solution that works for everybody. I have been very clear from the word go about our concerns with the government’s proposals. From budget night we have been raising the issues in relation to how these changes would affect students, particularly rural and regional students, right around the country. I am concerned that it has taken until this point for us to have a proper, robust discussion with the government on it. I am concerned that it has taken until this point for the government to acknowledge the issues in relation to the retrospectivity aspects of the legislation, but obviously their amendments circulated last night mean that they have started to at least acknowledge that there are some concerns and issues there with retrospectivity.

I do not believe that the bill as passed by the House, without all of the amendments that the Senate passed last week, is a good bill. In retrospect it is obviously a little bit improved over the piece of legislation we saw the first time around, because it includes two Greens amendments that have helped to improve the situation, but obviously the House rejected the rest. I think it would be remiss if this chamber simply did not deal with the legislation, go into the committee stage and talk about where we can go next. I do not want to be in a position where we do not have something at the end of this week to deliver to students—all students, city students and country students. I think it is time that we got real about needing to debate and negotiate properly across all sides.

Therefore the Greens will not be insisting on our amendments, in good faith that we can enter the committee stage and negotiate for proper amendments to this legislation that will make a difference. That is where we are coming from. I understand that the coalition want the legislation as it was passed by the Senate the first time around, but I think we need to accept that the only way we are going to deliver real results here for anybody is to keep talking and to keep trying to come up with some better solutions.

I think that the government needs to seriously consider its actions in relation to rural and regional students. If not in this package, it needs to come up with something else sooner rather than later because, even if we can buy 12 months for this year’s gappers, it does not save the brothers and sisters of those gap-year students. We need something else. Okay, the government disagrees that perhaps it should be a new criterion. That is fine. I can accept that, but I need to see what it is that you will do. I would hope that the coalition would be in agreement that we need to have something passed so that all students get something and that we should not simply dismiss the concerns of rural and regional students. That is why I am saying we will not insist at this stage, but we will enter into the committee stage and have a good debate about further amendments that we need to see the legislation improved, because what was passed by the House is simply not good enough.

5:44 pm

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

I will briefly speak to the motion moved by Senator Stephens. The committee should not insist on the Senate amendments to which the House has disagreed because the measures that were passed by the chamber previously are effectively unworkable. Since the chamber last discussed these questions, discussions have taken place between the Greens and Senator Xenophon. I indicate at this point that amendments that I circulated last night will be moved in the committee stage should this proposition be carried and that there will be an opportunity to canvass the detail of those amendments, which set down the agreements that have been met. As a consequence, the Senate will have the opportunity to ensure that 150,000 Australian students will have support next year.

Senator Mason, the question of whether or not students will have support is a question that the chamber can deal with now. You have indicated that the opposition is prepared to give precedence to the legislation that we are now discussing. The opportunity to deal with this question and to ensure that students do have support next year is now. Senator Fielding in particular has the opportunity here, now, to consider his position. I put this to you bluntly, Senator Mason: should we end up with a tied vote and therefore our amendments not be passed, then we will have nothing. Given the urgency of business, the prospects of the Senate reconsidering this matter, I would suggest to you, are small. If the strategy of the coalition is to voice their hostility to the government measures and to vote these amendments down in the hope that there will be a further opportunity to reconsider their position upon the second bounce back of this legislation, then I might advise you that that opportunity may not arise, simply because of the way in which this chamber’s business is likely to be played out with regard to the climate change legislation. So, if Senator Fielding or other senators feel that this is not the time to reconsider their position and that they will have another chance to do that, might I suggest to them that they may well be wrong.

5:47 pm

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

I just want to make this very clear to the government. The coalition is determined, with respect to retrospectivity, that no Australian student will suffer from the government’s retrospective introduction of this legislation—that is, no-one. The opposition will not yield on that point. There is another point we will not yield on. The opposition is determined that there will be an extra pathway for the payment of youth allowance to students who have to leave home to go to university. Again, the opposition will not yield on that point. I want to make this very clear to the government. These points are not for negotiation; they are what the opposition stands for.

Minister, you are quite right: there is an issue about people missing out on the scholarships. But, as Senator Minchin has alluded to and as the Deputy Prime Minister illustrated, the government was warned about the possibility, both by the opposition and indeed by the Greens, that this could happen. But the opposition has made the offer, through Senator Minchin, to assist the government if they are prepared to split these bills and to thereby ensure that students do not miss out on their scholarships. That is something the government can do and should do, and it might have to do it very quickly.

Photo of Steve HutchinsSteve Hutchins (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the committee does not insist on the Senate amendments to which the House has disagreed.

The Temporary Chairman:

The ayes and noes being equal, the amendments are not insisted upon. As has been explained on previous such occasions, the reason for this is that the amendments required a majority to be carried in the first instance, and the equally divided vote on the question of whether the Senate should insist on its amendments indicates that there is now not a majority in support of the amendments.

Question negatived.

5:59 pm

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move government amendments (1) to (8) together:

(1)    Schedule 1, item 2, page 5 (lines 13 and 14), omit “30 June 2010”, substitute “31 December 2010”.

(2)    Schedule 1, item 2, page 5 (lines 18 to 20), omit paragraph 1067A(10C)(e), substitute:

             (e)    if the person would not be taken by section 1067D to be required to live away from home on the higher education start day, assuming he or she were not independent then—the person’s combined parental income (as defined in point 1067G-F10 of the Youth Allowance Rate Calculator in section 1067G) for the tax year described in subsection (10D) is less than $150,000; and

(3)    Schedule 1, item 2, page 5 (line 23), omit “1 July 2010”, substitute “1 January 2011”.

(4)    Schedule 1, item 2, page 5 (lines 24 and 25), omit notes 1 and 2, substitute:

Note:   For undertaking full-time study see section 541B.

(5)    Schedule 1, item 2, page 5 (after line 25), after subsection 1067A(10C), insert:

   (10D)    For the purposes of paragraph (10C)(e), the tax year is:

             (a)    the tax year ending on 30 June 2009; or

             (b)    the tax year ending on 30 June 2010 if:

                   (i)    the person requests, in writing in accordance with a form approved by the Secretary, the Secretary to determine that paragraph (10C)(e) apply to the person’s combined parental income for that tax year and the Secretary does so; or

                  (ii)    under point 1067G-F6 of the Youth Allowance Rate Calculator in section 1067G that tax year would be the appropriate tax year for the purpose of applying Module F of that Rate Calculator to the person in respect of a youth allowance payment period including the higher education start day (assuming youth allowance is or may be payable to the person).

(6)    Schedule 1, item 4, page 6 (line 4), omit “and (10C)”, substitute “, (10C) and (10D)”.

(7)    Schedule 2, item 4, page 20 (lines 16 to 19), omit section 592H, substitute:

592H  Amount of student start-up scholarship payment

Payment for which person is qualified in 2010

        (1)    The amount of a student start-up scholarship payment for which a person is qualified in 2010 is $717.

Payment for which person is qualified in 2011 or later

        (2)    The amount of a student start-up scholarship payment for which a person is qualified on or after 1 January 2011 is $1,127.

Note:   The amount of a student start-up scholarship payment for which a person is qualified on or after 1 January 2011 is indexed annually in line with CPI increases (see sections 1190 to 1194).

(8)    Schedule 2, item 19, page 28 (table item 68, 4th column), omit “section 592H”, substitute “subsection 592H(2)”.

The amendments that the government has moved reflect the agreement that has been reached as a compromise after discussions with the Greens and Senator Xenophon. These arrangements expand our current transitional measures to include transitional support to students who have had a gap year but remain at home. These students would be able to qualify under the old criteria in addition to the gap year students who have had to move away from home to study. However, this additional transitional assistance would only extend to students at home from families with incomes below $150,000. This is because the government does not think that students from families on incomes above this level should receive transitional support if they are living at home.

I noted that a number of opposition senators have indicated that they support improved targeting in the package, so I hope they will go on and support these particular measures. These measures provide the targeting that others have spoken of and which the government supports, but reduce the costs in such a manner as to be economically responsible. In fact, the changes will be made revenue neutral by ensuring that during the first year of the transitional period the student start-up scholarships will comprise two payments of $717 each. After this, the student start-up scholarships will revert to their original value of $2,254 indexed. They will be delivered in two payments each year, worth $1,127.

The government urges the Senate to support these arrangements. They reflect the agreement that has been reached with the Greens. If the Senate supports these amendments, the government will be able to provide expanded support to students during the transitional period to the new scheme. We will make sure that that new scheme ensures that assistance is targeted. The arrangements are economically responsible and they are designed to ensure that there are appropriate offsets by reducing the value of the start-up scholarships next year.

However, these amendments will not permanently gut the new student start-up scholarships to deal with the transitional issue as would be the case if the Senate were to adopt the Liberal Party’s position. The Liberal and National parties have sought to reduce benefits to 150,000 students. They have done so by seeking for the government to adopt measures that would be worth in excess of $1 billion in additional expenditure. This would produce a massive blow-out in the budget and is a measure that the government just simply cannot accept. One of the opposition’s amendments would see the existing gap year arrangements remain in place for students who need to move to study. This would allow students whose parents’ income is well above the parental income test to access support, at a massive cost to the budget.

These measures do acknowledge that to get this legislation through the parliament compromise was necessary. The government has compromised. As a result, the government has, I understand, the support of the Greens and Senator Xenophon. To be successful the measures will need the support of one other senator. If one other senator does not support these measures, they will fail and there will be a situation that arises where 150,000 students will have no support. As I said previously, if you are relying on the assumption that there will be time this week to reconsider this measure, you are mistaken. You cannot assume that the legislative program will allow for this matter to be reconsidered later in the week. We face the prospect that whenever this chamber rises at the end of this week 150,000 students will have no support. I urge senators to think very seriously about that possibility. I table a supplementary memorandum relating to the government’s amendments. A memorandum to this bill was circulated in the chamber on 23 November 2009.

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.

6:09 pm

Photo of Steve FieldingSteve Fielding (Victoria, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I could not get down here earlier because I was working on some Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme details. Senator Carr has, I think, totally underestimated the Australian public on this issue, and also the Senate. A clever country would indeed make it easier for our kids to get to university and not make it harder for kids from our rural and regional areas to get to university. I am a little surprised that the Greens have decided to sell out the bush—but, then again, they do that all the time on the environment so there is no difference at all. I would have thought that Senator Xenophon would have also stuck to what we had, because frankly this is a real, live issue—this is about rural and regional kids getting to university. Those amendments that were passed by the Senate, I believe, are still vital.

I think the government needs to rethink its position. It had plenty of time to rethink it. You come in here and warn about 150,000 scholarships but it is your doing. It is your recklessness. You have had plenty of time to think about it but you have been reluctant, and you have come in here with a bit of sugar coating—a little bit of a review; a little bit of this and a little bit of that—but really in essence you have not got to the heart of the issue. This is about rural and regional kids who need to relocate and cutting them off from something they definitely need. And you know they need it because you have extended it—you have exempted some gap year kids this year. You have also come in here previously and said there was recklessness on the part of the coalition when talking about cutting scholarships. Well, you have done the same thing. But you spin it anyway—you spin it around again and again; you spin so much that you will make yourselves dizzy. Let us get to the heart of the issue. Let us not attack rural and regional kids going to university. These are key amendments, and I am surprised that you have not found a better way to resolve the issue.

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.

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.

6:21 pm

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

I seek leave to table a letter from the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, outlining the government’s commitment to establishing a task force specifically to look at the new pathway that we need in order to support rural students.

Leave granted.

We have bought 12 months. If the government’s amendments are passed then we have removed the retrospectivity aspect so there are 12 months clear for us to come to a proper solution to support rural and regional students. I do believe that that is the best way forward in order to allow students to start the next academic semester—which for some students will start in January, for others February and others March 2010—with some certainty about what they will face. That is the deal for the next round of students, but after that, as I have already said, we need to find a better pathway for students, for the brothers and sisters of this year’s gap year students, this year’s students moving from the country to the city in order to get a further education.

We need to see that commitment from government. I am tabling this letter here today because we have had these discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister. But do not be mistaken: the Greens will continue to push this issue. We were the ones who moved an amendment right from the word go for an increase in the youth allowance, because it is ridiculously low. It is more than $100 less than Newstart. Somehow we think that students, because they are studying, need less money than someone who is out looking for a job. This is the ridiculous situation we are in. We are talking about a maximum of $341 a fortnight when we know that the cost of a student studying per fortnight is up at the $600 to $700 mark.

The government need to seriously consider injecting more funds into student support if their education revolution is ever going to be realised. We need a commitment that they will seriously take on this issue in relation to rural and regional students and an acknowledgement that overall there is no education revolution without supporting students to do the job they are there to do, and that is to study, to get their degrees and then to move into the workforce and contribute to society. It is a long-term plan that we need to see from the government and it requires investment.

I have been very outspoken about this from day one. I do not believe you can bring in major reforms without injecting money. So this is the 12-month transition. They need to find some dough to back this up. This is not a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I am not into that. We actually need to find an injection of funds. It is unrealistic to expect to be able to broaden the accessibility of youth allowance to more people without putting more money in. You have 12 months to do it. That is what we want to see from the government, and I table the letter today.

6:24 pm

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

I have just two issues. Senator Hanson-Young said retrospectivity is taken account of in the government’s amendments. It is not with respect to all students—most, but not all. Secondly, I am sure the Deputy Prime Minister is well motivated and I am sure that she has the best interests of the government at heart, but the opposition will only be satisfied with an extra pathway that is legislatively guaranteed. Any guarantee from the Deputy Prime Minister I am sure is well intentioned, as I say, but it must be in legislation. We are talking here about access and social inclusion with respect to rural kids, and the only way we can be sure of that is to have it in legislation. That is why the opposition is opposing the government’s amendments.

Question put:

That the amendments (Senator Carr’s) be agreed to.

Resolution reported.