Mr COULTON (Parkes) (5.29 pm)-I rise this evening to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2010-2011, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2010-2011 and the amendment moved by Mr Pyne with regard to youth allowance. It is a great frustration to me and many of the people I represent that this argument about youth allowance is still continuing. The former education minister, now the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, introduced these changes to youth allowance two years ago. They severely handicapp the ability of regional students to obtain a tertiary education.
There was some negotiation and some ground given last year that allowed students from remote Australia and outer regional Australia to obtain independent youth allowance, but due to the vagaries of lines on maps and a methodology that had absolutely nothing to do with education and more to do with health provision we had huge anomalies in youth allowance. When students were living on opposite sides of a road, one was eligible and the other was not. In my electorate, particularly disadvantaged were the students who live in Mudgee and Dubbo. Despite what people might think, many of my constituents are not from farms. Most of my constituents live in towns. I had a lot of correspondence from students in Dubbo and Mudgee and particularly from their parents who were concerned that they would not be able to afford a tertiary education for their children. One mother actually rang me and said that they had three children and they were going to have to decide which of their children was going to have a tertiary education and which two would have to miss out.
The Prime Minister, then the Minister for Education, spoke about the changes she brought in and said that there were many more scholarships available to allow country kids to study at university. But the issue is that they were not of a high enough value. I know the independent youth allowance is not perfect but I am a great supporter of it for several reasons. One is that it enables students to take a gap year after high school and take part in the workforce, to show some responsibility and earn money of their own. They get into the routine, they get out of the school environment and, as they are working and earning that money, they can contemplate their future. I know many young people who in that time have had a change of heart as to what they might really want to study at university and have gone into something else. So I think that 12-month period is very good. I also like the fact that they are more often than not in a fairly low-level, entry job in the workplace. Quite often academic students go on to something at university without experiencing working on a shopfloor, stacking meat in an abattoir or working at a supermarket checkout-all these jobs are worth while and very beneficial-and so they miss out.
We believed last week that there were going to be changes and the Independents in the House of Representatives decided to back the government and indicated that youth allowance was being fixed. But I tend to think they have been duped. At this stage, and Senator Evans confirmed it in Senate estimates last week, there is no clear plan for where the government is going with youth allowance. They have promised another review this year, but the problem we have is that two years of students-the ones in year 9 and the ones in year 10-are going to miss out. Mr Pyne’s amendment will allow youth allowance to start in June and students in year 9 and 10 will be covered.
In the 21st century, to have students with perfect capabilities and the rest of their lives in front of them not being given the opportunity to reach their full potential because they cannot attend university is a shame. A lot of the reason we are still here discussing this is the pride of the Prime Minister, the pig-headedness of the Prime Minister.
She will not admit that she got it wrong two years ago.
Mr Craig Thomson-And the Constitution.
Mr COULTON-It would not be unconstitutional, in answer to the member for Dobell. We do seem to have this relationship that we turn up in this place at the same time.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Georganas)-Order! Members will keep making their remarks through the chair.
Mr COULTON-It would not be a constitutional issue because the Prime Minister has the ability to change this. The government could change this with the full support of both sides of the House. It need not be a constitutional issue. So, hopefully, we will gain support in the House for this from the crossbenchers and the government will have to address the issue of youth allowance for the students who left in years 9 and 10.
I understand that the appropriation bills do allow for free-ranging conversation. So while we are speaking about the bills that allocate funds for the management of this country and the operation of government, I will touch briefly on the carbon tax. As for the effect of the carbon tax, carbon pricing or whatever you want to call it, there is a fair bit of shadow boxing coming from the government on this. They are reluctant to say what they really mean but the people in my electorate know what it all means. In the original report addressing climate change, Professor Garnaut indicated that, through addressing carbon, through either a trading system or a tax, regional Australia would have an economic downturn of 20 per cent and the cities would have an economic downturn of eight per cent. If anyone expects me, as a representative of a regional electorate, to support legislation that is going to be economically damaging to my electorate, they are crazy. The issue is this: in a lot of the conversation in the past week we have not heard how the climate is going to be altered by this tax and how making the small business owners, pensioners and fixed-income earners in my electorate pay more money is going to affect the environment.
No-one has stated that.
I have been called a denier and a sceptic and anything else you would want to say. The issue here is not about climate change; the issue is whether this economic measure will address the problem of climate change. In the discussions we have had in the last couple of weeks no-one has spoken about this. Senator Bob Brown, who is either the quasileader of the Labor Party or at least a close adviser to the Prime Minister, says no-one will be hurt because ‘We’re going to take the money from you to stop you using electricity but we’re going to give it back to you so you can use the electricity in compensation.’ So what is the point? If a carbon tax is to alter the way that we behave as a nation, if the carbon tax is designed to make energy dear-more expensive-so that we use less and if we are going to compensate people so they are not affected by the tax, how is it going to make people use less? So what is the point of doing this?
They have been saying the polluters will pay. Who are the polluters? The polluters are the people that flick the switch on their air conditioner. The polluters are the people that use energy in their small shop to run their deepfreezer.
The polluters are the service station owners that use electricity to drive pumps to run their business. The
polluters are the farmers that use electricity to run their irrigation plants and their shearing machines and that use diesel in their tractors to grow food. They are the polluters! The emission of carbon is directly proportional to human beings. Our existence generates carbon. Unless we want to go back to living in a subsistence environment with no electricity and no fossil fuel, then there is no point in what is being proposed.
This is a tax on civilisation. It is a tax on everything we do and it is being talked about without mentioning how the climate is going to be altered and cooled. When we had the emissions trading debate last year and the year before, we heard some crazy stuff from the other side. When I listened to the member for Isaacs he painted a picture of how many of the suburbs in his Victorian electorate were going to be submerged by the waterfront. The member for Makin spoke about the heat wave that was happening in Adelaide at that time and how parliament had to pass that legislation at the end of 2009 so that it would not be so hot when he went home on the weekend. To have crazy talk and scare tactics from the government about the issue of climate change without explaining how this policy would have any effect on the temperature of the globe is immoral.
On another note about issues in my electorate, one of the great frustrations is that we end up with academic debates in this place and a lot of time wasted, while people with great disadvantages go largely unnoticed. I want to bring to the attention of the House tonight to the Aboriginal communities in my electorate. I believe my electorate has the second-largest Indigenous population in Australia. I would particularly like to draw to the attention of the House the village of Toomelah on the Queensland border near the town of Goondiwindi.
The member for Moreton might like to take a bit of notice because I know he has sympathy. Two years ago the CDEP was removed. I know that the CDEP had some issues, but in Toomelah there was no other employment and they saw CDEP as their employment. The CDEP subsidised the employment of the people who worked in the coop store. It helped out with aides who worked in the medical centre. It looked after the maintenance of the village, such as the mowing. To my knowledge, the CDEP built the only memorial to Aboriginal service men and women in Australia. But because Toomelah is located east of the Newell Highway it was considered not remote and when the CDEP was changed they lost it.
I am calling for the reintroduction, for a trial period of 12 months, of the CDEP until we can get some help into the village of Toomelah. The program is already going. It would not need legislation; it would just need a boundary change. There are huge problems of alcoholism and lawlessness. There have been attempted suicides. I have given my solemn promise to the people of Toomelah that their plight is going to be my No.1 priority for this term of government. I have spoken to Minister Macklin and I believe that she is discussing and deciding on this issue at the moment. I think that, as we get into our academic debates down here, sometimes it might be useful to reflect on the less fortunate people in our communities. Surely, with the resources of the Australian government, we can help the 400 people who live in Toomelah.