The Nationals have set their agenda for Regional Education, at its annual Federal Council at the weekend.
A series of motions, mostly moved by Nationals Senator and Coalition Regional Education spokesperson Fiona Nash, were passed.
“Importantly, there was strong support for a Tertiary Access Allowance to assist all regional students who have to relocate from home to pursue tertiary studies,” Senator Nash said.
“It is a concept that’s been discussed at a policy level in response to the large number of regional students unable to access independent youth allowance because of changes the Gillard government made to the eligibility criteria.”
Other motions that passed include:
(a) The introduction of a Home Tutor Allowance in recognition of the role Home Tutors play in delivering distance education to children in remote communities with no financial remuneration for the work they do;
(b) Extending the annual Distance Education Allowance (under the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme) to remote families with pre-school aged children so that they can access early childhood distance education programs
Speech therapist support
Support a proposal for a federal-state agreement to assist in funding the provision of speech therapists in all schools to ensure learning difficulties are detected and addressed early in a child’s education, and to consider the opportunities to also address occupational therapy.
Agriculture skills and labour shortage
Acknowledge that more needs to be done to address the shortage of skills and labour in the agricultural sector and, in particular, supports:
(a) The inclusion of agriculture and horticulture on the National Skills Needs List which identifies trades and occupations that are considered to have shortages and offers financial incentives to those who pursue these careers;
(b) An Agricultural Apprenticeship system (proposed by ABC Heywire finalists) to help address the shortage of labour, provide employment opportunities for young people and to keep regional communities alive.
Student support at regional education institutions
Supports an annual low interest loan scheme for students who choose to study at a regional education institution, as part of The Nationals’ plan to attract young people to regional areas.
Regional primary health and medical precincts
(a) Supports the establishment by universities of Primary Health and Medical Precincts to produce more medical and allied health professionals and help address the shortage in regional areas; and
(b) Calls on The Nationals in government to support such projects with capital funding from the Education Investment Fund.
Agricultural research fund
Calls on The Nationals in government to establish an Agricultural Research Fund for universities to encourage innovative new research in the fields of agricultural science, food security and food production.
“Also passed was a Young Nationals motion for the integration of the study of rural communities, our industries and culture across curricula in recognition of regional Australia's integral role in Australian culture and prosperity,” Senator Nash said.
“These motions will form the Nationals policy on regional education.”
Senator Nash also moved a motion to help address the rural doctor shortage that was again passed. It states:
That the Federal Council of The Nationals condemns the Federal Government for refusing to hold an immediate review into problems associated with using the Australian Standard Geographical Classification-Remoteness Areas (ASGC-RA) map to determine incentive payments paid to doctors who practise in regional Australia and:
(a) Deems the ASGC-RA map an inappropriate tool in applying incentives to attract doctors to small towns, when using this map allows doctors in a larger regional centre to be paid the same incentive as doctors practising in the smaller towns;
(b) Calls for the ASGC-RA map to be replaced with criteria that more accurately reflects the medical needs of individual communities in consultation with the Rural Doctors Association of Australia.
“The ASGC-RA map is causing the same grief within the rural health sector as it is for regional students in determining their eligibility for independent youth allowance,” Senator Nash said.
“I have been working with regional education stakeholders and the Rural Doctors’ Association on this matter and the need to fix it urgently.
“They now have the full weight of the federal Nationals behind them which will continue to lobby the city centric Gillard-Brown government for some commonsense.”
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