Opposition Youth Allowance Bill inquiry to report next week

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Opposition Youth Allowance Bill inquiry to report next week

Posted 4/02/2011 by Coral Dow

A stack of gold coins being watched intently by a young woman
An issue facing Parliament on return next week will be the Youth Allowance. The Senate may need to decide if it will debate the Private Member’s Bill introduced by Senator Nash in October last year. The Social Security Amendment (Income Support for Regional Students) Bill 2010 seeks to fulfil a Coalition election commitment to ‘relax the eligibility criteria for the Independent Youth Allowance which will be extended to students in the Inner Regional Category’.
The Government’s reforms of student income support were implemented in March 2010 with the passage of the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2010. The Bill passed after an agreement was reached between the Government and the Opposition which allowed students living in ‘Very Remote’, ‘Remote’ or ‘Outer Regional’ areas to access Youth Allowance under the previous independence test (sometimes referred to as the gap year test) provided they had to leave home to study and met a parental income test of less than $150 000 a year. The National Party were disappointed that inner regional students were not included.

On 16 November 2010, Senator Nash introduced a motion to have standing orders suspended in order to allow for the Bill to be debated. According to Senator Nash, the suspension was necessary because the Bill needed to be ‘dealt with before the end of the year’. The motion was supported by the Opposition and Senator Fielding but opposed by the Government, the Greens and Senator Xenophon and did not pass. The Government, the Greens and Senator Xenophon each argued that the Bill should first be considered by a Senate committee. The Bill has been referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for inquiry and report by 9 February 2011.

The Bill is controversial on a number of grounds including that it overturns an agreement reached with the Government that Inner Regional students not be included with students in the Very Remote, Remote or Outer Regional areas in being able to access Youth Allowance under the broader test for Independent Youth Allowance that prevailed prior to the passage of the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2010 in March 2010.

Key questions raised by the Bill include:
  • how will the Parliament resolve the Constitutional issues associated with the Bill, should this become necessary? In contention is the question of whether the Bill appropriates money and hence whether it contravenes Section 53 of the Constitution (which prohibits the Senate from doing so). An earlier Flagpost discussed the situation as it stood in November. In submissions to the Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee inquiry, both the Attorney-General’s Department and the Clerk of the Senate, Dr Rosemary Laing put contrasting positions to the Committee for its consideration
  • does the Bill sufficiently addresses the problem of ensuring adequate income support for students who need it, or are alternative, more fundamental changes required? Concerns about the workforce independence criteria contributing to delayed entry to study or discouraging study altogether for non-metropolitan students have given rise to suggestions for alternative mechanisms. The main alternative canvassed at the committee hearings and elsewhere would involve granting independent status to students who need to move away from home to study. This alternative is favoured by the Australian Greens, which took to the 2010 election a policy to provide for all students required to travel for more than 90 minutes each way to attend university to be entitled to the ‘full rate of Youth Allowance’. This policy has since been costed by the government at $805 million over the four years 2011-15 and released through a FOI request
  • should the measure be funded (as proposed in the Bill) from the Education Infrastructure Fund (EIF), the standing or special appropriation under the Social Security Act or some other mechanism?
These questions are discussed in further detail in the Bills Digest for the Social Security Amendment (Income Support for Regional Students) Bill 2010.

(post co-authored with Luke Buckmaster)

(image sourced from: http://bit.ly/gY5ZjY)

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