MARK COLVIN: The Federal Liberal and National Party Coalition has slammed a Queensland Liberal National Party move to scrap the Federal Government’s Abstudy scheme.
The youth arm of the party, the Young LNP, introduced a resolution at a state conference in Brisbane, calling for the Government to abolish the program.
It passed narrowly, despite one Queensland MP warning that it would get the party branded as a mob of bigots.
The Opposition’s Indigenous affairs spokesman, Senator Nigel Scullion, has called it a half-brained and embarrassing gaffe.
Stephanie Smail reports.
STEPHANIE SMAIL: Nearly 36,000 Indigenous students rely on the Federal Government’s Abstudy scheme for financial assistance.
The program provides money for costs like rent assistance and tutorial help for those at university, TAFE (Technical and Further Education) or doing an apprenticeship.
The state secretary of the Young LNP introduced the motion to scrap the scheme among the party faithful on the weekend, saying it’s a welfare payment that supports disadvantage.
But the move’s been rejected by the Opposition’s Indigenous affairs spokesman, Senator Nigel Scullion.
NIGEL SCULLION: There are some what I would say is embarrassing motions from the floor from time to time and I think this is one of them.
When these things just come up from the floor it often hasn’t been thought through. And frankly it’s not something I would ever support and I think most clear thinking people in this area wouldn’t either.
STEPHANIE SMAIL: Professor of Indigenous community engagement at Griffith University, Boni Robertson, has been involved in indigenous education for almost 40 years.
She says Abstudy is helping Indigenous students complete further education.
BONI ROBERTSON: You think of the number of our people out in the rural and the remote areas where they don’t have ready access to a university, who do apply for access into a university through away from base, that’s extraordinary.
And it’s opened up a whole area of development for our people in those areas by being able to get into university and get their qualifications and go back and help their families, help their communities.
STEPHANIE SMAIL: The resolution to scrap the program isn’t binding, but the delegates passed an amendment later in the conference to provide a new scheme to replace Abstudy if it was abolished.
Senator Nigel Scullion says the Young LNP should have thought about approaching him to discuss the issue before the conference.
NIGEL SCULLION: It is a half-brained approach, it just hasn’t been thought through and I’m sure it’s not widely reflective of the views of either people in Queensland, people in the LNP or in fact anywhere.
It’s just a very poorly thought through process and it should be a reminder to people if they’re going to say these sorts of things publicly then they should think them through or they’re going to get a bit of a bollocking publicly.
STEPHANIE SMAIL: The LNP’s own Education Minister, John-Paul Langbroek, isn’t backing the resolution either.
JOHN-PAUL LANGBROEK: Obviously the more support we can give so that more and more students can get to university and get a better education and better their lives are things that I’d support.
JOURNALIST: So you don’t want to see it removed?
JOHN-PAUL LANGBROEK: As I say we need to have as much support for as many students, rural and regional, as well as allowing for the other difficulties that many poor students face.
STEPHANIE SMAIL: Boni Robertson says the LNP should be teaching its younger members about the importance of improving Indigenous education.
BONI ROBERTSON: I would have imagined that with a younger group of Australians, with all of the things that have happened in social policy, with all of the role models that we’ve got in our communities at the moment, with all of the statements about the need to close the gap because of the absolute disparities that we see between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia, I would have expected a more enlightened mentality from a younger set.
I would have imagined that might have come from somebody you know 40 or 50 years ago who perhaps wasn’t so enlightened.
I don’t think ignorance can be a justifiable defence in this day and age.
STEPHANIE SMAIL: Senator Nigel Scullion says he’ll approach the Young LNP to discuss the issue.
NIGEL SCULLION: There are individuals who have every right to be able to speak their mind but they’ll be represented, like in the community, of a tiny minority of people who just simply don’t understand the issues.
And hopefully, through this sort of discussion, they’ve seen the sort of response from people who live and breathe the stuff, including people like myself, and I hope that that will enable them now to go and re-think their position.
STEPHANIE SMAIL: A spokesman for the Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, says there is absolutely no mood to change the policy.
MARK COLVIN: Stephanie Smail.