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The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) is appalled by the proposed changes to Newstart and Youth Allowance payments in the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017.

The proposed changes include a number of elements that will disproportionately and negatively impact students, including:

  • Upon being found eligible for Youth Allowance, individuals will still have to wait four to five weeks before receiving payment
  • Youth Allowance eligibility would depend upon the completion of mandatory activities, such as looking for work through ‘RapidConnectPlus’
  • Individuals aged 22 to 24 would no longer be eligible for Newstart payments ($528.70 per fortnight), and would have to transition on to Youth Allowance ($437.50 per fortnight). This is a cut of over 17%; that is, $2400 less per year

To put this in context: the Australian Council of Social Service defines “poverty” for a single adult at an income of less than $426.30 per week.

The proposed changes depict a unacceptable lack of awareness by the government for the concerns and needs of students. It is shameful that the Coalition have deprioritised student welfare to an extent that will cause serious ongoing financial stress to a significant segment of the student community.

UMSU condemns these changes, and will continue to advocate and fight for an equitable Centrelink system that puts the wellbeing of students above the drive for profit.

UMSU is further disappointed by the Department of Social Services’ statement that the proposed changes will “provide incentives to young unemployed people to obtain the relevant education and training to increase employability”. This implies that Centrelink benefits exist to provide incentives to find jobs. UMSU contends that it is the lack of jobs that necessitates these payments, and that it is the role of payments to ensure young people are able to maintain a reasonable standard of living when they are looking for work or studying full-time.

UMSU would also like to take this opportunity to remind University of Melbourne students that the Welfare department provides a free foodbank and breakfast bar, housing services and referrals to relevant support organisations.

Yan Zhuang
UMSU President

The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) will soon offer pill-testing kits to students, following a successful motion at last week’s Student Council meeting.

Assuming the motion is ratified by Council next week, reagent kits will be available for free from UMSU in the near future.

We understand that many members of our community are concerned about the message this may send. UMSU does not endorse recreational drug taking but we can’t ignore the fact that young people are going to continue consuming these substances regardless of their legality.

The welfare of students is ultimately one of UMSU’s primary concerns and we need to observe the duty of care that we have to our community. With that in mind, it’s clear to us that the current model of prohibition does not play an effective enough role in minimising harm.

“The deaths of last summer are still in our minds and we are not ignorant of the debate that had been going on nationally,” says UMSU President, Tyson Holloway-Clarke. “We know that students at the University of Melbourne take drugs and are directly affected by policies and the actions of the police.”

We know that 82% of people aged between 16-25 are supportive of pill testing.

We know that around 27% of Australians aged between 20-29 have used illicit drugs in the last year.

We also know that research indicates that ecstasy pills in Australia have been found to be among the most dangerous in the world.

We’re tired of seeing the tragic and avoidable deaths of young people over the festival season. Australia deserves a more nuanced approach to the conversation about drug use and we’re proud to be among the first to take this step. We’d also like to commend Students for Sensible Drug Policy for spearheading this motion, for all the work they’ve done so far and the work they will continue to do. We look forward to continuing our work with them into the future.

There are still details that need to fall into place before the kits will be available. We will also be working with the local police force to ensure that this program is successful and safe for students to take part in without the fear of falling foul of the law enforcement community.

Once everything is ready, we’ll be sure to let you know how these kits can be acquired, how to use them responsibly and what this means for the future of UMSU’s harm minimisation strategy.

Please stay safe and, as always, direct any enquiries to president@union.unimelb.edu.au.