ABC 936 Hobart with Ryk Goddard – 8 December, 2014

RYK GODDARD:

Last week we heard about a relationship between the Government that didn’t seem to be working to anyone’s benefit. This was Julia Fasina, a mum whose daughter was competing overseas. She is also studying at a tertiary institution, and so receives Youth Allowance and had been told that from January the first that when she’s overseas she can’t receive Youth Allowance cause the changes in the ruling that no Australian can get Youth Allowance overseas. It’s to assist students while they study. And we thought that this was maybe not in Australia’s best interest for how can we win gold medals at the Olympics if people can’t compete in the interim?

Kevin Andrews is the Minister for Social Services and joins us this morning. Hello Minister.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Good morning.

RYK GODDARD:

Now Julia I spoke with last week and I wanted you to hear this, this is how she summed up in brief her daughter’s situation.

JULIA FASINA (mother):

Yeah well it happens the new changes come through on the first of January, and it’s the first we’ve heard about it because there’s been no notification. Um but yes whilst they are away they would stay on Newstart which I think is really important, because you know these young people that go away to compete, they’re not actually there for a holiday. Whilst they’re there they can continue their training, they don’t have an opportunity to rest at all and also they’re also continuing with their studies.

RYK GODDARD:

Minister were you aware how this rule might affect Australian athletes?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well the change was essentially to bring the Newstart Allowance into line with the other payments and to ensure that it was serving its purpose which was basically as a payment for students who were studying full time in Australia. So it’s been used a variety of ways for people essentially to go overseas and have holidays and that’s something we’ve decided to stop with the support of the Labor Party.

RYK GODDARD:

I’m sure that most people would agree that’s fine, that seems quite reasonable but certainly if you are studying, attending a conference for example overseas might be an important part of your study. Is it not a bit, uh sort of parochial to say if you are an Australian student you can’t travel?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well just going off to attend a conference probably wouldn’t count as well; you’d have to be doing something which is part of the formal study. But when it comes to people like athletes then the funding for that is provided through the Australian Sports Commission and that’s what that funding is, the purpose of that funding. So that’s why we decided to tighten these rules and say it should be for study, that’s the primary purpose of it, and that’s what we’re proposing to have in place from the first of January.

RYK GODDARD:

But in Caitlin’s example she is continuing to study, she’s probably taking work with her. But if she doesn’t keep competing internationally, she’s won a place at the Rio Olympics she’ll be representing Australia; she’ll be wearing our colours. At the moment though to keep that place she’s got to go to these international events but every time she goes she’s going to be cut-off and have to reapply.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

I understand that and you know, it’s great that’s what she’s doing and that she can represent Australia but we have to in difficult budgetary situations have to draw a line and that is to go back to what the purpose of the Newstart Allowance is, ah the Youth Allowance I should say, and that is to ensure that it is related to education and study and not to a variety of other things which it’s being used for.

RYK GODDARD:

What would it take to create an exemption like that?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Ah we would probably have to change the legislation to do that, I’m not sure there’s any power in the regulations to do that, there may be but it’s most likely having to change the law.

RYK GODDARD:

Did you change the legislation to reintroduce these stricter guidelines?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Look you can change legislation and do anything; it’s a matter of where you draw the lines around these things. But the general view we’ve taken is that payments, funding for sport, particularly elite sport is something for which the Australian Sports Commission gets millions of dollars each year and it then distributes it to the various sports.

RYK GODDARD:

So you’re saying it’s the responsibility of that Commission to make sure that those athletes have an income?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well they provide, there’s a variety of scholarships which are available to athletes through the Institute of Sport and the like. There’s funding for overseas travel for various competitions, that’s the role of the Australian Sports Commission.

RYK GODDARD:

Kevin Andrews is the Minister for Social Services on 936 ABC Hobart.

We’re seeing what can be done to make it more possible for Australian athletes to compete overseas, do you not see though that if someone is engaged in full time study and they’re training to compete at an elite level that that amount of paperwork, dropping off your exiting allowance and going to your sports commission to get the funding to cover that two weeks of competition over there and then coming back and signing back on could knock some of our best athletes out of the chance to compete?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Look I understand there’s additional paperwork but here we have to draw a balance between what the funding is going for and you know there’s all sorts of other things that people say oh we should be able to just use Youth Allowance to go overseas for and we’ve said no this is primarily an educational payment, it’s to do with studying full time in Australia and unless you’re going as part of study at an institution that’s part of your Australian course then it should be limited.

RYK GODDARD:

It just seems to be such a narrow view of what the idea of study is though?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well look I understand that argument and I understand the situation that this athlete is in but the reality is we have to draw the line somewhere. We’ve got massive debts and deficits, we have to put the budget back under control and just to allow people as they’ve been able to do effectively to go overseas on these payments for virtually doing anything they like, is something which we don’t think is acceptable.

RYK GODDARD:

How many people were doing that and how much money do you expect to save with this measure?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

This measure we expect to save about $140 million over four years, so it’s a considerable amount of money.

RYK GODDARD:

And you think there’s absolutely no way that’s going to be changed so that a parent like Julia Fasina is now from January the first going to need to be building relationships with sports commissions to make sure that her daughter can afford to study and compete at that level?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Ah yes because that’s, as I said, the purpose of funding through the sport commission is to fund amongst other things elite sporting activities overseas.

RYK GODDARD:

Are there other major changes that people need to know about coming on January the first because Julia was also a bit surprised that she’d heard nothing about this until she went into to try and do her daughter’s paperwork for her while she was lifting weights in Kazakhstan for Australia. Are there other major changes coming through that have maybe been left a little on the QT so far Minister?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Ah well these were changes that were announced in the budget back in May, so it’s not as if they haven’t been known. Ah the legislation passed through the Parliament as I recall some weeks ago now, it might have even been longer. Um so they have been there I’m not sure what the notification process has been through Centrelink but they certainly come into effect from the first of January.

RYK GODDARD:

I think we’ll get someone from Centrelink to come in and take us through the details of those changes in case those people missed it in the legislation. Minister good to speak with you this morning.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Thank you very much.