A public hearing of the inquiry has also heard of floods exacerbating the financial stress of families in the bush, and the deteriorating mental health of some of the thousands of young people struggling to live and study away from home.
The inquiry will release its report and recommendations on February 9, but the woman driving the campaign for equal access to Youth Allowance in regional Australia is calling on the federal government to not delay in fixing “the mess”.
The Nationals Senator Fiona Nash has written to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans, urging them to make the system fairer for students from inner regional areas that must now work 30 hours a week for 18 months, in a two-year period, to be eligible for independent Youth Allowance.
Students from outer and remote regions still access the allowance through “single gap-year arrangements”, requiring them to earn about $19,000 within 18 months.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics, according to Senator Nash, has confirmed that the maps used to determine “what regions students live in, and therefore their eligibility, are not appropriate”.
Ms Nash participated in the one-day public hearing of the inquiry in Canberra, as did Senator Nick Xenophon who previously voted with the government to prevent debate on her bill that
seeks the reinstatement of “original and fairer eligibility criteria”.
Since the hearing, Senator Xenophon has publicly stated that he will back the bill, if the government does not act, and has also written to Ms Gillard and Senator Evans.
Yesterday Ms Nash reported that many regional students had spent the past 295 days worrying about how they would pay for tertiary studies.
“The hearing heard evidence ... that around 5500 students from inner regional areas cannot get independent Youth Allowance under the single gap-year arrangements,” she said.
“The frustration of these students, their families and concerned others is evident in the various petitions they’ve signed that call for a fair system.”