Thursday, 13 October 2011
Social Security Amendment (Student Income Support Reforms) Bill 2011; Second Reading
I rise today to speak on this very important piece of legislation for families, the Social Security Amendment (Student Income Support Reforms) Bill 2011. The legislation affects families in my electorate of Bass and right across Australia. It is legislation that will make it easier for hundreds of students in my electorate to attend university, and this is very welcome news. As families who have students studying at university know, study can be a financial struggle. Course fees, text books, students often having to move away from home, paying for transport and day-to-day living all adds up. We know that students need assistance while studying and the government undertook a review into youth allowance earlier this year. The chair of the review, Professor Kwong Lee Dow, conducted discussions in both metropolitan and rural and regional areas, in each state and territory. Earlier this year students at the Launceston campus of the University of Tasmania invited me to speak to them about the youth allowance. They certainly welcomed the review and spoke about their need for support. The report was tabled on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 and I am most pleased that the Gillard Labor government is taking action. We are acting on the advice and eliminating the distinction between inner regional students and students from outer regional, remote and very remote areas.
The government will also increase the value of the relocation scholarships for eligible students from regional areas to recognise that students from regional areas also experience higher costs in relocating for study. From 1 January next year, eligible regional students will receive a relocation scholarship of $4, 000 for the first year of study, $2,000 for each of the second and third years, and $1,000 for subsequent years. The government's response partially adopts the recommendations of the review and builds on them to provide additional support for students from regional Australia who need to relocate to study.
The bill will amend the Social Security Act 1991 to implement policy announcements by the government on 14 September 2011, following consideration of the recommendations of the Review of Student Income Support Reforms by: extending to inner regional students the special workforce participation independence arrangements for outer regional, remote and very remote students; changing the value and distribution of the relocation scholarship; and ceasing the Rural Tertiary Hardship Fund. The bill will also correct drafting oversights in: Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Other Legislation Amendment (Election Commitments and other Measures) Act (No.1) 2011 and the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Act 2010.
Over 15,300 higher education students from regional and remote areas each year will receive the higher rate of relocation scholarship as a result of this proposal. Resetting the relocation scholarship values for eligible students from regional areas means that dependent higher-education students from regional and remote Australia will receive additional assistance of $1,783 over a four-year degree, compared to current arrangements, not taking into account of indexation. This will be of great assistance to students and their families. Approximately 5,500 inner regional students will receive assistance as an independent person under the arrangements each year, following the extension of the special arrangements for independence through workforce participation to students from inner regional Australia. From 1 January 2012 the government will extend to students from inner regional Australia the workforce participation independence arrangements for youth allowance and Abstudy that currently apply only to students from outer regional Australia, remote Australia and very remote Australia, subject to the passage of legislation.
The extended arrangements will allow higher education and VET students from inner regional Australia to be considered independent for youth allowance and Abstudy if they are a full-time student and they are required to live away from home to study and they have combined parental income of less than $150,000 and they have either worked part-time—at least 15 hours each week—for two years since last leaving secondary school or had cumulative earnings totalling at least 75 per cent of the appropriate maximum national training wage award rate of $21,000 in 2011 over 18 months since last leaving secondary school. In addition, inner regional young people will continue to be able to qualify as independents for youth allowance or Abstudy under the existing full-time work criterion—that is, if they have had full-time employment of at least an average of 30 hours per week for 18 months over a two-year period. Inner regional students who left school 18 or more months ago may qualify under the new independence arrangements when they start from 1 January 2012. Employment undertaken over the period since leaving school will be taken into account, even if that work was done prior to 1 January 2012. This year, total support for the youth allowance for higher education will exceed $1.2 billion—an increase of more than 50 per cent on the $800 million outlay in the last year of the former coalition government. We are proud that more students than ever are now going to university. This is vital for our nation. We are proud that more students are receiving the support they need to attend to university. We are very proud that support is being targeted to those students who most need it. We recognise that the youth allowance provides really valuable assistance for students who are trying to get through uni. It is a vital investment for our government to make for Australia.
We need more students from regional areas to get to university, and getting access to the youth allowance really helps. When I attended the University of Tasmania forum on the youth allowance earlier this year, I heard from students that change was needed and how important the youth allowance is to ensure students can remain studying. So we have delivered on our promise to ensure that all regional students are treated equally for the purpose of the youth allowance. We have decided to make it easier for regional students to access independent youth allowance. Now all students from regional areas will have additional avenues to demonstrate independence and qualify for the independent youth allowance. We have also recognised that students from regional areas experience higher costs in relocating for the purpose of study.
Greater effort on education and skills development is one of the best ways to increase productivity over the long term. That is what our education revolution is about. Early childhood education, kindergartens, schools, TAFEs and universities have all had major funding increases since 2007, matched by major regulatory reforms to improve their quality and flexibility. Taken as a whole, these funding increases and regulatory changes comprise the most important economic and social reforms of recent decades.
In higher education our goal is to increase the proportion of young Australians with university qualifications to 40 per cent by 2025. We, the Gillard Labor government, are working hard to support young people while they are at university. I implore those opposite to support this bill. Labor believe in ensuring that the opportunity of high-quality university education is available to all Australians, regardless of their background or where they live. That is why, in April last year, we implemented landmark reforms to youth allowance payments to give more students the opportunity to go to university by targeting financial assistance to those with the greatest need. Just 18 months on, we can already see that these reforms, the Gillard Labor government's reforms, have succeeded in significantly improving financial assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those from rural and regional areas.
In just 18 months, the number of dependent students from disadvantaged backgrounds receiving the maximum youth allowance payment has increased by 108 per cent, the number of rural and regional university students receiving youth allowance has increased by 22 per cent and there has been a 15 per cent increase in the total number of university students receiving youth allowance. A recent Skills Australia report forecast that by 2025 one-third of all jobs will require a minimum of a bachelor's degree qualification. We need to prepare for this now. The Gillard Labor government aims to ensure that everyone who is eligible can access a place at Australian universities and go on to be part of the high-skilled Australian workforce.
During the 2010 election the Liberals had a plan to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in funding designed to attract low-income students to attend universities. During the coalition's time in office, participation of young people from regional areas actually declined. Regional participation rates fell from 18.715 to 18.08 per cent from 2002 to 2007. I offer my support to this legislation and encourage those opposite to do the same.