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Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Page: 2705


Mrs D’ATH (5:23 PM) —It is my pleasure to be speaking in support of the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Election Commitments and Other Measures) Bill 2011. Labor has always been at the forefront of ensuring fairness for those most in need in our community. We saw it in our first term of government—2008, 2009 and 2010—with the reforms that we took up in relation to families and pensioners. We saw an increase in the childcare benefit to assist those families most in need with their costs. We saw it with the increase in the base pension rate and the change to the indexation to ensure that adequate increases were occurring in line with cost-of-living pressures. We saw it, when the government needed to step forward to deal with the global financial crisis, in how it gave money to individuals and homeowners through the stimulus package. That stimulus package went to those most in need in our communities.

This is just another step in Labor’s commitment to those most in need in our community to ensure fairness in how we deal with them and also how we provide support for them in the workplace and in the home. That is why it is my pleasure to support all of the initiatives in this bill—for example, the work bonus. My electorate has a large elderly population—over 20 per cent of my electorate are 65-plus—and they welcome this initiative. The groups that I have had the opportunity to talk to at retirement villages about these improvements in the work bonus certainly look forward to these changes being implemented. We came a long way with the Secure and Sustainable Pension Reform package in 2009, when we introduced the work bonus. Now, arising from our commitment in the 2010 election, we take that even further to help those in our community.

So what does this bill provide for? The amendments contained in this bill have two main components in relation to the work bonus. Firstly, the first $250 of employment income a fortnight, rather than 50 per cent of the first $500 as it is currently, is excluded from assessment under the income test for pensioners of age pension age or qualifying age. Secondly, an employment income concession bank is introduced to enable pensioners to accrue any unused amounts of the $250 fortnightly exemption to a maximum of $6,500. Any credit in this bank could then offset employment income that would otherwise be assessable in the future. This is a great benefit to those in our community who are retired and on the pension and want to supplement their pension but who quite often do it irregularly. For example, they may pick up some extra work at Christmastime. We have heard the example that many may help with tax returns at the end of the financial year. This will give them the benefit of being able to accrue that concession bank and offset up to a maximum of $6,500. I am very proud of the improvements to the work bonus that will come about in accordance with this bill and that those changes will occur from 1 July 2011.

Second is the assistance for families with studying teenagers. As parents, whether your child is a teenager or not, we remember when we were teenagers, and the fact is that teenagers certainly do not eat less and certainly do not cost less when they are still living at home. I think this is an important amendment that is probably long overdue. We will probably all sit back and go, ‘Why wasn’t this done earlier by anybody?’ but the fact that it is a Labor government doing it should not surprise anyone. The fact is that we have acknowledged that children from 16 to 19 years old do cost more money, not less than and probably not even equal to younger children. We are bringing some equity to this.

And what does this amendment mean? From 1 January 2012, the maximum rate of family tax benefit A will increase by around $160 per fortnight for teenagers aged between 16 and 19 who are in secondary school or a vocational equivalent or who are exempt from this requirement. And it is important that we emphasise that these young people still need to be at school or in full-time vocational studies to be getting this, because we want these young people to be going out to get their education. But we need to support these families at home to help them deal with that. Under the existing system, the maximum rate of family tax benefit A drops from $214 per fortnight to $53 per fortnight when a child turns 16. It is unbelievable that that is the drop in the rate. It is with great pride that I stand here today as part of a Labor government to say we are going to bring equality in family tax benefit A for families with children up to the age of 19. Importantly, those children are still at school or in full-time vocational equivalent. So this is a great benefit that will assist families in my electorate.


Mr Tehan interjecting


Mrs D’ATH —The member for Wannon may not care whether families in his electorate benefit from this—


Mr Tehan interjecting


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—The member for Wannon! You may want to get your chance to speak.


Mrs D’ATH —I can say very confidently that the families in his electorate who have teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 will appreciate this change that the Labor government is bringing in.

In addition, we are making improvements to the baby bonus. I am a big supporter of the changes we previously made to the baby bonus—that it be fortnightly payments. We also need to acknowledge that, when you are having a baby, there are up-front costs. There are costs involved in purchasing cots, nappies and all the things that come with having a baby. As any parent knows, although they do not eat a lot of food at that age, the family certainly do need a lot of things at home in those first few days and weeks. That is why it is important we are making these changes to the baby bonus.

There will be a part lump sum up front to assist families and the remainder of the payments will be made over a period of time. The baby bonus will be paid in 13 fortnightly instalments. As a result of this change, from 1 July 2012 claimants will receive $500 more in the 2011-12 financial year in the first fortnightly instalment, and then in the 12 subsequent fortnightly instalments they will receive the remainder of the baby bonus. I think that is a fair way to provide this assistance to families, and I certainly support it.

There are other important amendments. I guess too often across our society now we forget about the people who were affected by thalidomide. We should not, because there are still survivors of thalidomide in Australia. There are 36 Australians who are dealing with the devastating effects of the drug. They have birth defects as a consequence of their mother taking that drug. It is important that amendments are made to ensure fairness in relation to how the payments made to the survivors under the arrangement entered into by Diageo plc, which acquired the company that initially distributed the drug, affect their social security payments and the income and assets test. This is a really important amendment, and I certainly support it.

There are some other amendments in this bill in relation to income management. I do not intend to go through those in detail, but they are important measures that again go to improved administration and support for families and pensioners across my community and across the country. On that note, I reiterate that all the initiatives in this bill are important. They will see benefits flow to people in my electorate. They are commitments that the government made in the 2010 election. There are three election commitments and two non-budget measures dealt with in this bill. It is my pleasure to support this bill before the House.