Gippsland › Latest news › Darren Chester MP

Federal Labor government needs to tackle economic barriers hindering regional university access

Darren Chester spoke in a parliamentary debate about the challenges facing young people in regional areas of Australia and suggested that the government needs to listen more to regional perspectives.

By news@gippsland - 31st March 2023 - Back to News

I have great pleasure in joining the debate this morning and I'd like to associate myself with the thoughtful contribution from the member for Mayo. I think she raised many interesting points and valid points, particularly about young people in regional areas and their experiences in our country today.

Government need to address these issues and challenges so that young people in regional areas can achieve their full potential

Government need to address these issues and challenges so that young people in regional areas can achieve their full potential

Government neglects regions

It's that good, common sense that the member for Mayo brings to this place, which I think the government would be well advised to listen to because I think the government needs to realise, sooner rather than later, that it is a very urban focused government. It is a very urban focused government by virtue of the fact that the overwhelming majority of members of the government do live in an urban environment.

Opposition members interjecting - I acknowledge the members opposite who claim a little bit of regionality. I'll give you Lyons. It's a big stretch to see Blair, on the outskirts of Brisbane, with the City of Ipswich, as being particularly regional.

Regional voices ignored

Mr Neumann interjected - I hear the member for Blair, and I always listen to him because he used to be my shadow minister - so I often heard from the member for Blair. It's not a criticism I'm trying to direct at you in any way whatsoever. It's just an indication of what we have seen in recent election results.

The Labor Party has dominated right across mainland Australia - and congratulations to the Labor Party in that regard - but there is a great divide now between where the Labor Party is drawing its electoral strength and where people like me and the member for Riverina live and work on a daily basis.

I've offered in all good faith to be available to the Prime Minister to provide feedback for communities that are more than a couple of hours away from a capital city. The Nationals' communities are all more than a couple of hours away from capital cities, and the challenges we face in those regional areas are particularly felt by young people.

Regional voices struggle

The regional youth experience is very different from the metropolitan youth experience, and as members who live in those rural and regional communities we bring a certain level of expertise and understanding of those communities that we can offer the government in good faith. This is not about the member for Gippsland standing up and trying to bash the government.

It's more about saying that we live in those communities, we work in those communities, our families are there, and we understand that some of the policies that come out of Canberra, and Sydney and Melbourne, really don't play that well in a regional location. They simply don't work on the ground.

We had that same experience from time to time with our Liberal cousins as well; don't get me wrong. It's a never-ending challenge for those of us in the Nationals to try and make sure that regional perspectives are understood. My role as the member for Gippsland - and my good friend the member for Riverina would share this passion.

Removing barriers for youth

We want to see young people in regional communities have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. I think that's a shared vision across the parliament: we want to see young people growing up in Australia having the opportunity to achieve their full potential. But in the regions there are often other barriers that get in the way of that occurring, and I've spent my whole political career in this place working to try and address some of those barriers.

I want to refer specifically to the challenges we have around increasing participation in university by kids from a regional background. There is no-one on this planet - certainly no-one in Australia, I would hope - that would think that country kids aren't as smart as city kids, but our participation rate in tertiary studies is vastly below that of students from an urban environment.

In my electorate of Gippsland we have the second worst tertiary participation rate in the state of Victoria. The only region that's worse is Mallee, and Mallee is probably worse because it's more regional, rural and remote than even my electorate.

Breaking education barriers

Now, some of these challenges are challenges we have to address ourselves, as leaders in our own communities. As leaders in our own communities we have to explain to young people in our community - and help instil in them confidence, hope, optimism and aspiration - that, just because no-one in their family has finished year 12, they can't finish year 12.

Just because no-one in your family has been to university, there's no reason why you can't be the first person in your family to go to university. They're aspirational challenges I think we, as local members, have to work with our communities on, in partnership with the education sector.

The aspirational barrier is one that is our problem, but the economic barrier, the affordability barrier, the accessibility barrier, are government problems. They're the Group of Eight's problems as well. They have to work with our communities to make it more accessible for people from regional communities, and, as governments, we have to try and address the affordability issue better.

Students facing obstacles

The previous government, to its credit, started down that pathway with tertiary access payment improvements and independent youth allowance improvements, but we didn't finish the job. I implore the new government to have another look at this issue and understand from a regional perspective how that accessibility and affordability piece is actually working against some of our young people achieving their full potential. I say in all genuineness that there are still challenges out there for regional students to go on and attend university.

Of course, as the member for Mayo indicated a few moments ago, it's not all about university. You can have great careers in regional towns doing an apprenticeship, doing a trade or starting your own small business. Again, we have to make sure that is accessible to our students in our communities and they can see that pathway for themselves.

Regional youth hardships

Let's not kid ourselves: it's been a pretty tough time for young people in regional Australia. I look at my community, who came out of a drought into a bushfire, then into a COVID situation and lockdowns. Whatever you want to point to, there has been trauma in our regional communities. So making sure people are well supported and they can see a pathway for themselves is, again, a challenge for us as leaders in our communities.

We need to instil that hope and that confidence and optimism. We need to be sharing positive stories with young people in regional areas so they can see a future for themselves in those communities. COVID has really made it difficult for communities to get together.

As we emerge from the pandemic and as we start getting together more often, our challenge in our communities is to share that story of positivity and hope and to invest in their education and in them achieving their full potential.

Green Army opportunity

The pathways are not always, as I said, about university. There are pathways into trades, into vocational skills and also into the Defence Force. As a former minister for defence personnel, I know the diversity of opportunities that exist for young people in the Defence Force.

I want to take one last point in the moment I have left and refer to the comments of the member for Mayo in relation to the Green Army. I believe that is another huge opportunity for us as a nation - to invest in the skills and the training of young people who are very passionate about the environment and quite rightly so.

Solutions to the issues

If I have one criticism about the current debate in Australia when it comes to the environment, it is that it has become very singularly focused on emissions and only on emissions. I'm someone who believes that we do have to do our share to reduce emissions, but, at 1.3 percent to 1.5 percent of total global emissions, Australia doesn't have the solution to emissions by itself.

We do have the solution to some of the natural resource management issues in our communities - issues around biodiversity, pest animal control and pest plant control. We have those solutions in our own country. It's up to us as Australians to address those broader environmental issues, beyond the global challenge of reducing our emissions.

Regional job losses

The member for Mayo talked about the Green Army and the role it can play. What we're seeing right now in Victoria is deliberate public policies to cut down jobs in a whole range of industries where regional people have often sought to be employed, whether that be in the timber sector, the energy sector or paper manufacturing.

We in Gippsland are the custodians of a vast natural estate. We have huge areas of public land - state forests and national parks - but very few jobs associated with that. There are very few jobs that are actually boots on the ground doing practical environmental work.

Training for environment

There is a huge opportunity in my electorate for training and skill development in areas like the Green Army, leading into careers in the service of the natural environment. We want more people trained in bushfire hazard reduction, critical asset protection around our towns and pest plant and animal control - real biodiversity measures that I think young people in regional Australia will be very attracted to because they can see tangibly the work they're doing to improve the environment in regional Australia.

When we talk about young people in our regional communities, it's blatantly obvious they are the future. We need to invest in their education, invest in the opportunities for them to achieve their full potential and work with them to ensure they see a future for themselves outside the capital cities. I thank the House.

Pictures from Gormandale & District Primary School Facebook page.


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