Standing up for Canberra

Independent Youth Allowance 2011

I rise tonight to speak on the independent youth allowance, with a sense of irony. Irony, because it comes from the side of politics that for over a decade ignored calls to reform the youth allowance system. It ignored pleas from students, especially rural students. It ignored pleas from welfare peak bodies. It ignored calls from the education sector. In fact, it is the side of politics that ignored calls from just about everyone to improve access to youth allowance to make sure young Australians could get access to this vital payment.

Those opposite had 10 years to invest wisely the fruits of the resources boom and to share the bounty of the nation with the nation. Those opposite had 10 years to invest in the skills and education of the future, but they failed to do so. Those opposite had 10 years to make substantive reform to the youth allowance system to improve access and outcomes, but they failed to do so—a failure that saw regional participation rates not just stagnate, but fall. So it is with a strong sense of irony that I rise to speak on this motion. In fact, I think it goes a bit beyond irony. It strains the bounds of credibility that those opposite would now seek to become the champions of access to education by all Australians, especially when we consider that, at the last election, they campaigned on a platform of cutting $1 billion from the trades training program.

This policy would have seen over 1.2 million students from over 1,000 secondary schools miss out on the opportunity to engage in education pathways to become the next generation of electricians, bricklayers, hairdressers, chefs, plumbers and carpenters. And now those opposite have the audacity to continue to rail against this government's Building the Education Revolution, a program that in my electorate has seen new libraries and classrooms built and upgrades to essential infrastructure. So I find myself straining to believe that they are genuine about education and improving access and outcomes in education. However, for tonight, I will take it at face value because, as the saying goes, it is better late than never.

The historic reforms that this government has made to youth allowance has seen thousands of students from across the country, including regional students, gain access to opportunities which were unknown prior to the election of this government. The figures speak, and they are astounding. After just 12 months an extra 21,000 students are receiving youth allowance —a 15 per cent increase. There has been a 22 per cent increase in the number of regional students receiving youth allowance and there has been a staggering 108 per cent increase in the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds receiving youth allowance. Let me just say that again. There has been a 108 percent increase in the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds receiving youth allowance.

Our changes to youth allowance are a success. In just over three years Labor has dramatically increased the number of young people receiving support to gain an education. Unlike those opposite, who ignored for a decade the calls to improve the system, we are prepared to listen. We are not resting on our laurels. We are a government of reform and we are always looking for ways to improve. So I will not stand here and say that the task of improving educational opportunities is finished. We are prepared to listen, learn and constantly improve because we on this side are genuinely and deeply committed to education for all Australians. That is why we have brought forward the review into youth allowance, with a focus on the capacity of rural and regional students to access higher education. This review will consider options for new eligibility arrangements and appropriate savings that can be made to pay for any change to the system. It will report on 1 July this year.

This government is committed to education. It is committed to ensuring that every Australian can benefit from the opportunities that exist now and in the future. That is why we invested in the Building the Education Revolution program; that is why we are investing in skills and education; that is why we made historic reforms to youth allowance; and that is why we will continue to make reforms into the future.

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