TRANSCRIPT: ABC Goulburn Murray: Youth Allowance
February 22, 2011
Date: Tuesday 22 February 2011
Journalist: Joseph Thomsen
Topic: Youth Allowance
JT : It more difficult to become eligible for youth allowance if you live in an inner regional area, which really is much of our broadcast area, certainly for the certainly for the bigger centres and the immediate surrounding areas Wodonga, Wangaratta, Shepparton and Benalla. Mount Beauty though for instance is classified as outer regional in which case you do not need to fulfil the criteria of working for 18 months 30 hours per week to become eligible for the Youth Allowance, to be classified as independent living away from home.
You may well be aware of the Private Members Bill that has been debated in the Senate and passed through to the House of Representatives. The purpose of which is to review that criteria. Potentially, to make it easier to qualify in inner regional areas. However yesterday the debate was rejected as being unconstitutional. We'll have look at what that means legally, constitutionally, in a minute or two.
From the Coalition's point of view Federal Liberal Member for Murray, Sharman Stone, spoke on youth allowance and the potential debate and change to criteria yesterday. Dr Sharman Stone good morning to you.
SS Thank You.
JT: It’s been said that this bill is unconstitutional and that is why it wasn't debated. Is your bill unconstitutional?
SS: No. There are those who say it raises a new budget item in that, before, there hadn't been any call on the budget for Independent Youth Allowance payments.
Well yes there had been, quite obviously, so our argument and our legal advice was this isn't unconstitutional and we could simply debate it.
In fact of course, this was about blocking a change which would have been fantastic for country students. Instead Labor has managed to be able to have a six-month hold. We've already had two or three reviews Joseph you know and they say by the mid year they will have a new story in time for students for 2012.
JT: Which we will maybe talk about in just a second just one further question on the constitutionality or otherwise. You're saying it is not unconstitutional but if that's the case why weren't you and the rest of the Coalition simply able to show that.
SS: Well it was a matter of debate. We in fact did debate for a couple of hours yesterday morning about this issue of constitutionality. We had the Greens member also Mr Brandt argue that it wasn't a constitutional problem at all. It was just a political device but the Labor Party had the numbers to say yes it was a constitutional problem.
Now we think that's just a nonsense. The Senate passed the Bill through on the basis that it was just additional monies for a program that was already established. Not a brand new call on the Budget. We were able to cite precedent that it has happened like this before. But Labor was determined not to change the Youth Allowance story yesterday.
JT: Now the review into Youth Allowance is going to be brought forward. What is this review actually going to do? Cover the same territory or something completely different?
SS: We’re told by the Minister Chris Evans that the review will focus on where to find the extra money in the budget for the extra students that will become eligible. In other words, where the savings will be in the budget. It's supposed to report on the first of July then they will also eliminate the regional eligibility distinction from January next year. In other words they will rule out this nonsense about inner regional and outer regional. For example Deniliquin is in the inner regional area, which is a nonsense.
So they're going to eliminate those border distinctions and find where the savings are to pay those extra allowances. We say not a problem, the Coalition had, when we were in government, a special educational fund you might remember that. There’s about 2 and a half billion dollars still in it even though it has been raided by Labour to pay for some energy programs. There is still $2.5 billion in that education future fund. So we're saying the money is still sitting there. You are only looking at about an extra $90 million per year. That roles easily off the tongue but think of the investment in our country students of the future. That is chicken feed in the way of money to save a generation of country professionals.
JT: Will a review in effect cover this distinction between what is called inner and outer regional students, is that what the purpose of it is?
SS: Yes. Chris Evans the Minister has told us there's two reasons for the review. One is to implement new laws to eliminate the regional eligibility distinction and the second is to find the savings in the budget to pay for the extra student allowances. They are the two reasons we were told by the Minister Chris Evans.
Now that doesn't need a six-month review, I wouldn't have thought. To knock that over you would simply get out the rubber and the white out and take the inner/outer regional borders off the map and just reach into our education fund we left them as a nest egg for future investment in education. So this six-month delay simply adds another years worth of gap students, keeps them in the dark, makes some students have to wait two years before they can take up their places if the university will still offer it to them.
So I think it is a very serious and sad problem. But a least Labor is now recognizing that they got this terribly wrong and they're going to do something about it but not for another year
JT: If the review is going to cover the same territory wont it also be unconstitutional?
SS: Well that's a good point Joseph. If they are saying we are going to work out where the savings are in the budget it implies that they've agreed that all of this should happen.
So you're absolutely right. Yesterday was nonsense, this business of stalling it because of so-called constitutional problems.
It's just a political device so that they can save a bit of face because of course Prime Minister Julia Gillard was also the Minister for Education when all this rubbish happened so it was a face saving exercise. I'm just shocked on two fronts; one that they did it, but also the Independents, Tony Windsor and Mr Oakeshott and so on, Katter went across and voted with Labor on it.
Where are their thoughts about their rural students?
JT : Sharman Stone thank you very much for giving us an update on what took place in Parliament yesterday from the coalition point of view.
SS: Nice talking to you Joseph.
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