10 January 2012
By JOSH FAGAN
HUNDREDS of Bendigo students will have greater access to youth allowance this year, with restrictive regional and inner-regional criteria guidelines scrapped.
An extra 313 tertiary students in Bendigo have qualified for independent youth allowance, after federal government reforms came into effect on January 1.
Under the old policy of applying for youth allowance, students in central Victoria were classified as either regional or inner-regional depending on their location. The difference meant some students had to work an average 30 hours per week over two years to be eligible for youth allowance, while others in neighbouring towns only had to work for one year to qualify.
Federal Member for Bendigo Steve Gibbons said the overhaul of youth allowance requirements would mean Bendigo students were better off.
“Regional Victoria is among the biggest beneficiaries of this reform, with the electorates of Bendigo and Ballarat having the largest number of newly eligible students,” Mr Gibbons said.
“Almost 5500 students from around the country, including 313 from Bendigo, will now be able to access youth allowance payments for the first time, or receive a higher rate of payment each year.”
After months of lobbying from regional students and the opposition, the government passed legislative changes through parliament in September last year. Mr Gibbons said the youth allowance amendments, costing $265m, would directly benefit regional students.
“This extra assistance is part of a $265 million package designed to make it easier for students from regional Australia to go to university or undertake other tertiary study,” he said.
Nationals spokesperson for regional education Fiona Nash said a sustained campaign by regional communities and the Coalition forced a “government backflip”.
“Labor finally moved to fix their monumental stuff up,” Senator Nash said.
“But it shouldn’t have made the unfair changes to independent youth allowance in the first place.
“Now it just means money will be taken away from other youth allowance measures, or they will be delayed, which will affect many students.”
The National Welfare Rights Network welcomed the changes for university students but were concerned about where the funding was taken from.
“Thousands of Victorians will benefit from new rules that end the discrimination against students living in inner regional areas,” NWRN president Maree O’Halloran said.
“But unfortunately, some scholarships will be reduced to pay for these benefits.”
Mrs O’Halloran said the level of payments also hadn’t kept up with inflation rises.
“The current rates of payments for young people barely meet rising living costs and are insufficient to cover the costs of study or job search,” she said.
Latrobe University’s Bendigo Student Association is hoping the new youth allowance measures will be a boost for local students.
“In terms of access to education, we’re supportive of changes that make uni available for more people,” Student Association general manager Mark Willington said.
“Especially at La Trobe, it’s sometimes a big step for people coming down from regional communities, so we’re hoping those students get better support. “If the hurdles in the past that people had to jump over are gone, then it will be a good thing for students.”
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