Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Scholarship Payments) Bill 2010

Second Reading

4:15 pm

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

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table the explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard and to continue my remarks.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Australian students have been left in limbo by the failure of the Senate to pass a range of measures aimed at improving Youth Allowance. Because of this failure many students do not know if they will have access to scholarships or what rate of income support they will receive this year. For some, this is the difference between whether they attend university or not.

An important component of these reforms was the inclusion of two new scholarships aimed at providing students with the support they need when commencing university study. The Start-Up Scholarship was to be provided to all students receiving student income support, to assist in the educational costs associated with their studies, and the Relocation Scholarship as to be provided to all dependent students who live away from home and independent students who are unable to live at home, but are required to relocate to attend university.

In August last year, the Government introduced the Higher Education Support Amendment (2009 Budget Measures) Bill to abolish existing Commonwealth scholarships without immediately providing replacement legislation. The Greens were highly critical of this move, particularly as the new, better targeted scholarships were included in the controversial Youth Allowance reform package.

As we had anticipated, the failure to pass the Youth Allowance package has left students out in the cold, with many facing the prospect of receiving no additional support that would have been provided through the proposed scholarships.

The Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Scholarship Payments) Bill 2010 seeks to provide students with some of the support they had been expecting, by immediately legislating for the vital scholarships to assist in their educational and living costs.

If supported, the Greens Private Senator’s Bill would ensure that all students currently in receipt of Youth Allowance and those with parental incomes less than $150,000 would have access to additional financial support in this academic year.

The need for adequate student income support is particularly acute for those who have no choice but to leave home to take their place in higher education and fulfil the potential they have demonstrated by earning that university place.

Given Universities Australia’s own estimates suggest that the average cost of being a student is about $670 per fortnight, the fact that we have never seen an increase in the fortnightly YA rate of $371.40, aside from annual indexation, is appalling.

Although we didn’t see an increase in last year’s budget to bring Youth Allowance at least to the current rate of Newstart at $456 per fortnight, the pitiful amount of income support provided to students further emphasises how important these scholarships are for students studying at university.

At a time when young people are under increasing financial pressure, students need to be better supported if they are to stay on and excel in their chosen path.

And while the Greens negotiated with the Government to deliver the Youth Allowance package in its entirety, the unfortunate reality for thousands of students was that the current numbers in the Senate prevented the legislation from becoming law.

Despite the refusal of either major party to concede any ground for the sake of the thousands of university students, the Greens practical approach to provide students with some of the support they need for university this year is an important one.

This Bill would ensure that students already eligible for Youth Allowance and those whose parental income is under $150,000 a scholarship of $2000 per year would be available, along with a relocation scholarship of $4000 in the first year, followed by $1000 in subsequent years for those students who are required to move out of home to study.

The importance of providing for the scholarships sooner rather than later, is evident in the volume of correspondence my office has received in the months since the Senate’s initial rejection of the legislation.

One student who contacted my office said:

“I received a list of the textbooks I need for just the first semester next year and the cost was over $400. Where am Ito find the money for this without a scholarship??

This is where I could have really used the New Student Start Up Scholarship. With this scholarship I could have put it towards textbooks, accommodation and other university expenses.”

Another student, from rural Victoria highlighted the importance of increasing support for students who are required to relocate to study arguing that the legislation should:

“Either maintain an amount that students need to earn (to qualify for the full-rate of Youth Allowance), similar to the present legislation or grant country students scholarships so they can attend Universities away from home. Both these options present rural students with achievable means to overcome the hardships associated with continuing their tertiary education away from the support of their home and families.”

Even parents of prospective university students have expressed their disdain over the failure to at least pass the scholarships, with one family highlighting the financial burden of supporting their daughters while at university stating: while they access any of the large number of tertiary institutions, our daughters have to move away from home and set up accommodation and live independently. This presents a large financial burden on our family’s finances. The proposed changes to the Commonwealth Scholarship scheme to provide initial payments to assist with moving and setting up accommodation will provide some way to assisting mange this.”

Given the complexities surrounding the Government’s proposed reforms, this Private Senator’s Bill seeks to break the Senate deadlock and provide students with some of the additional support they had been banking on, to ensure that students are not being used as political footballs in an election year.

Students have been caught in the middle of a political slanging match, and it is time that all sides of politics put the education of our future leaders first, and provide the support that is needed.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.