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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 8958

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (11:48): Minister, as I outlined in my speech in the second reading debate, the bill has good intentions and in general and in principle the coalition are not opposed to these intentions. However, we do have some concerns about what the point is in introducing obligations where there is no effective penalty attached to them. Two of my amendments, which have been circulated in the chamber, go to this very fact. They deal with schedule 1 items 8 and 9, which is where some parenting payment over¬≠payments are not considered debts to the Commonwealth. By way of brief explanation and so as not to delay the Senate longer than we need to: where someone has been paid on the basis that a person has qualified for parenting payment and then that person fails to meet one or more of the participation requirements, therefore being deemed ineligible, they have received funding or money inappropriately—to anyone who rationally considers that particularly issue—yet the Commonwealth is saying that they have no debt obligation.

I can understand at one level that there must be some concern about attaching a debt to an individual who may already be in difficult financial circumstances, particularly where children are involved. If there is simply an obligation for someone to sign up to a plan and then not fulfil any commitment to that plan, however, I really feel that is more about tokenism than anything else. I would seek your response to my concerns in that area.