SUBJECTS: Government backdown on Youth allowance
Christopher Pyne: As you can see from the media release the Government and the Opposition have resolved the impasse over the Youth Allowance. Julia Gillard and I have met on two occasions last week, they're our two meetings for the 18 months that I have been shadow minister and I think that underlines how keen The Government has been to acquiesce to the requests of The Opposition. Some of you who followed this closely would remember that The Opposition wanted three things to pass the Youth Allowance bills. We wanted to remove all the retrospectivity from the bill, we wanted to ensure there was still a pathway to Higher Education for rural and remote students, and we wanted to ensure that this was a revenue neutral change, and therefore we proposed that the start up scholarships be reduced by whatever the amount was that it would cost to do the first two things.
The Government has entirely capitulated with respect to removing retrospectivity and the changes will now not begin until January 1st 2011 which is what the Coalition proposed of course last year. And the tragedy of course of today's announcement is that all of this could have been resolved last year if The Minister had been prepared to talk to the Opposition last year and students would have not been in this limbo state since January 1st to April as we are now in. Secondly the Opposition and the Government has agreed to apply a formula to rural and remote Australia using data that has been established by both the Howard Government and the current Government to determine who is the most disadvantaged in terms of rural and remote Australia. That will assist about seven thousand six hundred rural and remote Australians over the next four years, it will mean the primary request of the Opposition was to put those students back in the position they would have been if the Youth Allowance wasn't reformed, and namely that rather than having to find thirty hours a week of work in a rural area in order to qualify for the Youth Allowance, we wanted to put that to fifteen hours a week and that has been agreed by the Government. We also wanted to put back the threshold of about $19,000 earnt over 18 months for rural and remote young people, and that has also been agreed by the Government.
That will cost one hundred and four million dollars and that will be paid for by reducing the start-up scholarships to $1,300 in the first year and $2,115 in subsequent years. The Government has capitulated on the savings measure, it has capitulated on the work test for the work force participation rate criteria to get the Independent Youth Allowance, and it has completely capitulated on the issue of retrospectivity. The Coalition thinks that the Government could have gone further, we believe that the inner regional young people should have the same tests applied to them as rural and remote young people, but we aren't prepared to delay this change any longer but we do commit in Government to reviewing the entire scheme and ensuring there is a proper pathway for all students who need to leave home to go to university from regional and remote Australia. So it's a pretty substantial victory for the Coalition, we fought very hard to get these concessions, we're glad they have been achieved but we think The Government could have gone further and do more and in Government we commit to ensuring there is a proper and thorough review of these changes.
Journalist: How confident are you that you have all your Coalition colleagues on board, particularly the National Party?
Pyne: This arrangement has been agreed to by the Shadow Cabinet, the backbench education committee and the party room today.
Journalist: Was everyone in the party room supportive?
Pyne: There was no body in the party room who spoke against accepting these arrangements
Journalist: You say that the Government could have announced these changed last year, why don't you think Julia Gillard capitulated earlier in your words?
Pyne: I think the Minister thought that the Coalition wouldn't stick to their guns, but we have a constituency in rural and remote Australia that we were absolutely determined to stand up for. I note that the three independent members in the House of Representatives didn't stand up for their young students and of course there are Labor members in seats like Flynn and Capricornia and Braddon and all across Australia who didn't stand up for their rural and remote students. I think Julia Gillard tested the will of the Coalition and found that we were quite prepared to stick to our guns and as a consequence has rolled over. That said, we think she could have gone further and we'll push for more change in the future. This is a good step and we welcome it because we want the money to flow to students, particular the start up scholarships.
Journalist (Inaudible) was there an element of ego here on both sides?
Pyne: I think Julia and I very much enjoyed the negotiations over the last week and we feel that we have resolved most of the issues for rural and remote Australian students. We could have gone further, the Government could have gone further and we will press for that in Government, but I welcome the fact that she has been prepared to bend substantially. Of course she said these changes would be impossible last year, that they could never be delivered as the Coalition were vandals. Today of course she has capitulated on our major grounds.
Journalist: Where did you have the meeting, in her office or your office?
Pyne: Where the meetings were is pretty immaterial, but they were in my office. The Minister seemed to think that it was very important, that this was an issue, but it wasn't an issue to me, I couldn't care less, I would have been happy to meet at Aussies if that in fact would have been the decision.
Journalist: What's the voting timetable on this?
Pyne: The Senate and the House of Representatives will pass these bills this week.
Journalist: You're not aware of any concerns at all among your National colleagues?
Pyne: There are people in the Coalition including me who think the Government could have gone further and there should have been more concession, and we will press for those in Government, and certainly that is my view too that the Government has come most of the way with what we wanted, it could have gone further, but it's a question of whether you hold up the bill any longer and stop the flow of money. We are reasonable and responsible in Opposition and we bought about what I think a good outcome for young Australians in rural and remote Australia. We will do better that the Government when we are in Government, but that is probably six months away.
Journalist: (Inaudible) MP's away from gloating?
Pyne: Announcing that The Government has negotiated with the Opposition and has said that some things that are impossible are possible is not exactly how you've put it, it's simply announcing a fact.
Journalist: So it's not gloating then over a victory?
Pyne: I'm not going to repeat your words back so that you can use them.
Journalist: It must have been a bit of a pill for Ms Gillard to swallow though, do you see this as a personal victory?
Pyne: That is a matter you should put to Ms Gillard. Politics is not about personal victories, it's about achieving outcomes for young people in this case and we have achieved those outcomes.
Journalist: Do you take this as a bit of sign that the Government are willing to negotiate on further things to get them through, what they've described as an obstructionist Senate?
Pyne: Well I think what is interesting is that a Government that has described us as standing in the way of reform has negotiated with me to bring about an outcome that does deliver reform to Youth Allowance and to Commonwealth Scholarships, and with a bit of give and take we have managed a very good outcome for rural and remote Australians. It could be better and we would go further if we were in Government, but we're not, the Opposition is the Opposition, the Government is responsible for these changes. We are happy that we've got some way along the road.
Journalist: How does this deal affect students who have already been set on the scholarships?
Pyne: The amendments remove all retrospectivity, so any student who is currently in their GAP year, who would have qualified for the scholarships and Youth Allowance but for the Governments' original bill will be able to qualify for the scholarships and Youth Allowance. That is a very significant part of this win, this retrospectivity being removed, and it means that people who in good faith made plans for 2010 and even 2011 will as a consequence be delivered those plans by the Coalition.
Journalist: So all those students who are now at uni for the first time, they're going to get scholarships, but have just started?
Pyne: Anyone that would have qualified under the old criteria, so those students who at the moment are in limbo this year, they will all be able to qualify because the start date is now January the 1st 2011.
Journalist: But obviously they have missed out on the first few months so will that be made up?
Pyne: My understanding is that will all be backdated.
Journalist: And the further concession that you've flagged under a Coalition Government, will they be a first year policy?
Pyne: Well I think we need to get right away from this argy bargy about lines on maps and who's in and who's out. My view is, is what this has taught us is that the Youth Allowance and Commonwealth Scholarships need to be put on an even footing that is equitable for rural and remote Australia and everyone else, and if we are elected at the end of this year we will have a go at trying to address it and reform it from the ground up.
Journalist: How quickly are the students' going to get their scholarships who have just started their university year?
Pyne: Well as soon as the bills are passed I assume the money will flow, but that's really a matter for Julia Gillard, she's responsible for the nuts and bolts.