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Thursday, 2 September 1999
Page: 9753


Mr ANTHONY (Community Services) (10:01 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill gives effect to a number of measures announced in the government's 1999-2000 budget. It also contains two non-budget measures that will assist in the effective transition to, and operation of, the new family assistance arrangements as well as the Bonuses for Older Australians scheme.

This bill ensures that, in determining the actual means of a family for youth allowance purposes, the concession relating to income from employment is available regardless of the type of employment. Currently, income derived from employment in a family's business or farm by the youth allowance applicant does not attract the concession. This is inequitable and fails to recognise the particular labour market disadvantage facing young people in rural and remote areas. This measure will extend the concession to include all employment, thus ensuring the concession is applied equitably.

This bill also provides for new income support arrangements for adults sharing the care of a child. Under current rules, only one person can qualify for parenting payment in respect of a child. When adults share care equally, Centrelink staff must decide, often on the basis of minor distinctions, which adult will receive parenting payment. If the other adult is unemployed, they may have to claim youth allowance or Newstart allowance and be subject to the normal activity test obligations. That approach fails to recognise that each adult has both caring responsibilities and a work force capacity.

This measure recognises the constraints on labour force participation imposed by caring responsibilities and requires adults to participate only to the level of their capacity. Adults with over 60 per cent care of a child or children will be able to qualify for parenting payment. Providing other qualification criteria are met, adults sharing the care of a child within a 40 per cent to 60 per cent band will be eligible for youth allowance or Newstart allowance with a modified activity test. This recognises the labour force capacity of both adults and facilitates a balance between work and caring responsibilities.

This bill also simplifies the operation of the concession that exists in relation to student boarders under the family actual means test. The existing complex formula is replaced by a fixed amount of allowable spending. The amount has been set to ensure there are no losers from this initiative. The measure increases transparency for the customer, as they will know precisely what their entitlement is, and simplifies administration.

The bill also extends the eligibility for student financial supplement scheme loans. The 1996 paper released by the National Board of Education, Employment and Training advised that the isolated student participa tion rate in tertiary education was only 57 per cent and that financial support was a key barrier to continuing education. This measure will immediately alleviate financial barriers to participation in tertiary education for rural and remote students by extending the eligibility for student financial supplement scheme loans.

The bill will also facilitate the transition to, and the operation of, the new family assistance arrangements and the Bonuses for Older Australians scheme, both of which will be the responsibility of the Family Assistance Office. As the agencies which comprise the Family Assistance Office have shared customers, this provides for the agencies to lawfully share information with the intention of ensuring the successful and smooth operation of those arrangements.

I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Martyn Evans) adjourned.