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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 11923


Mrs ELLIOT (Richmond) (09:25): I rise today to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. This bill introduces more generous means testing for youth payments by removing certain testing provisions.

As we have heard from speakers on this side of the House, we do support this legislation. We have made that very clear. We have also made clear that while we do support it we do have concerns in other policy areas and how they have particularly impacted on younger people. This is especially seen in regional areas, indeed, regional areas such as my electorate of Richmond on the New South Wales North Coast. I will certainly outline later some of those other concerns we have in terms of the impacts on younger people—some of the government's other policy areas are quite devastating. In my area, we do hold the National Party responsible. In fact, it is those National Party choices that do hurt people in regional areas, particularly the cuts to education and health.

The changes in this bill mean that young people living in families with higher assets will receive increased access to youth allowance. As we have said, we support these changes. Labor have consistently demonstrated our commitment to supporting the maintenance of young people in this country and that is why we welcome these proposed changes, especially for students in regional areas who receive benefits from these changes.

In the current system, people aged under 22 who are considered dependent on their parents financially have both their own means as well as their families means assessed to determine if they are eligible for payments such as youth allowance. The family means-testing system includes a parental income test, a family asset test and, in some circumstances, a family actual means test. They are each formulated to assess the resources of a family which could be utilised in supporting their dependent children. When measured over a certain level, assets, income or means can result in a reduction or a potential ineligibility for income support.

This bill introduces a 2015 budget measure to provide more generous and consistent support for families with dependent young people who qualify for certain youth income support payments. The bill proposes that in January 2016 the family assets test and the family actual means test will be removed as factors in assessing eligibility for youth allowance. This will allow around 5,300 potential claimants to qualify for youth allowance for the first time, as well as increasing payments for existing students by approximately $2,000 a year.

This means that income will become the only method of assessment for eligibility for income support. This may mean, for example when we look at regional and rural areas, that some farming families perhaps will not have farm assets counted in the means test for their dependent children with regard to youth allowance. This is an important measure, particularly in reflecting the needs of people in regional and rural Australia which, as has been pointed out many times, are often very different for those in the urban areas. I think that this is an important measure, to make sure that these are recognised—particularly when people from regional areas do have many issues associated with accessing higher education. It is estimated that by excluding the family actual means test 30,000 families will receive direct extra support as a result of this bill and that a further 200,000 families stand to be better off due to the changes.

The parental income test evaluates how many other dependent children are supported by their parent's income. The more children assessed as eligible then the less a young person's rate is reduced as a result of their parent's income. Currently, some other children in receipt of income support are eligible for inclusion in this group. However, from 1 July 2016 the family pool for the youth parental income test will be expanded to include all eligible children who qualify under the family tax benefit. This will allow around 13,700 families with dependents to become eligible for an increase in payments of around $1,100 a year. And a further 5,800 families who currently miss out on payments will also become eligible for support totalling around $1,300 a year.

From 1 January 2016 the bill will allow youth payments which are subject to parental income testing to be subject only to one test, rather than to multiple assessments. Of course, this is a good measure—particularly through the reduction of more administrative work. It is certainly good that there will only be that one application. Additionally, this will also remove maintenance income from the parental income test assessment on 1 January 2017 and will in fact apply a separate maintenance income test for the treatment of child support, similar to the family tax benefit.

These changes will also provide additional assistance to families to support their children in that transition from school on to further studies. As I have said, that is particularly important for people from regional and rural areas, such as in my electorate of Richmond, who do often face higher costs associated with further study—and many other issues, which I will turn to, in their ability to access higher education. As I have said, whilst we support this measure there are some other measures that many in the government have brought in that do make it difficult in many ways for younger people from regional areas to access further education. I will discuss those shortly. But, as I have said, Labor supports this policy and the changes being made to ensure that we can provide that support for younger people.

Whilst I have said that we support the measure regarding youth payments, we do have many concerns that so many cuts from this government can be particularly harsh for younger people. We especially feel those harsh cuts in regional areas. As I said initially, people in my area certainly hold the National Party responsible for those cuts. The fact is that National Party choices really do hurt people from regional areas, whether those are the cuts to health, or to education or the $100,000 university degrees. There are many cuts that hurt younger people and their families.

Especially, we are talking about young people accessing further opportunities and study. This is really highlighted by this government's plans to cut university funding, and especially their plans for $100,000 university degrees. I have been approached by so many families who simply say that university is just not possible for their children now. In no way can they access it. When we look at what those cuts mean for regional universities in my area—the wonderful Southern Cross University is looking at cuts of more than $64 million—of course that will result in a massive increase in fees. This means that younger people just cannot get access to it.

We have also seen the government bring in many cuts to training and to TAFE. We have seen them cut support programs for younger people—again, all just limiting their opportunities. So there are so many concerns about this government's action. At the state level too, we have seen in my area the Liberal-National government moving to close TAFEs. It is just devastating for young people and their future opportunities. There is also a lot of worry about the government's plan to cut penalty rates. This will affect many young people, just as it will also impact on many working families who rely on penalty rates.

I will always stand up for local families against the National Party's plan to cut penalty rates, which directly threatens the living standards of many workers, their families and, especially, our young people—indeed, of our local community and our local economies as well. When we talk about the impacts on some of our younger people, who can forget the government's rather heartless attempt to ram through legislation that would have left young people without any support for a month? Of course, this second version of the policy was aimed at leaving those most in need with nothing to live on. Labor stands with the community and will continue to reject many of this government's cruel and unfair measures. When they tried to force young job seekers to live on nothing for up to six months, we stood with the community in rejecting what was essentially a very bad and unfair policy.

Despite this defeat, the government persisted in pressing their ideological attack on young people, this time trying to force them to go without any payment for a month. Again that was rejected. With complete disregard for public sentiment on this issue, the then minister—after the Senate had rejected these changes—said the government was 'absolutely committed' to pushing its policy through. One thing is very clear: they certainly did not get the message. The same legislation even proposed cuts, totalling around $46 a week, to income support for young people between the ages of 22 and 24. Labor will continue to resist any attempt to take away from those who can least afford such a loss—particularly the targeting of young people.

We constantly see unfair cuts and tax increases from this government. I tell people in my electorate that I am fighting hard against the unfair cuts of this Prime Minister and the National Party, whether they be to the age pension, to health services or to education. They are really hurting people in my area on the New South Wales North Coast. It is a magnificent region with great potential, but every school and every hospital in my region is worse off because of the National Party's cuts to health and education. That is the reality. We have seen so many cuts from this government.

I understand the minister introduced some legislation this morning—we will be looking at the detail—to water down some of the savage cuts to family tax benefits. This is in response to community concerns. Families and community members right across my electorate raised their concerns about these very harsh cuts to family tax benefits. The government will try to take credit for watering down their cuts a bit, but they have only done so in response to widespread community concern about how severely those cuts would impact families.

This government's cuts to paid parental leave are also unfair and cruel. We know how important paid parental leave is, but up to 80,000 women a year will lose as much as $11,800 because of the government's cuts. Those cuts will hit the lowest paid female workers, which is particularly unfair. Labor introduced Australia's first national paid parental leave scheme, set at the minimum wage, for parents earning less than $150,000—a scheme that has benefited around 500,000 Australian mothers since it was introduced in 2011. That shows that we on this side of the House understand how important it is to have an effective paid parental leave system in place. Indeed we understand the importance of providing effective support and services for families right across the board. During the paid parental leave debate, it was insulting how many government ministers had the gall to suggest that parents negotiating additional paid parental leave were somehow 'rorters' or 'fraudsters'. I think many people found that offensive. We will continue to stand up for Australian families. We know how important paid parental leave is.

I have listed all the reasons we support the bill before the House and why we see it as beneficial to younger people and to those from regional and rural areas. But we must remain mindful of how so many of this government's policies are detrimental to those very same people. Whilst we support the bill, we cannot ever step back from the grave concerns we have, particularly about the $50 billion in cuts to health and education. Their Medicare rebate cuts, a GP tax by stealth, are a huge concern to people in regional areas; their cuts to the age pension severely impact areas like mine that have a high proportion of older people; and we continue to have concerns about the family tax benefit cuts. As I said, apparently those family tax benefit cuts are being watered down, which is good, but we will look at the detail of that. We have concerns about their harsh treatment of young job seekers, who will be left without any payments for a period of time. This is at a time when youth unemployment, particularly in regional areas, is very high: as high as one in four. And at the same time we have a government that has cut most of the training—TAFE and apprenticeships—for those young job seekers. We have seen them looking to move to bring in $100,000 university degrees. We have seen a lot of programs that provided a good transition for younger people from school to study or work cancelled as well. This government has had a whole suite of measures that have made it very difficult for younger people, and I have grave concerns also about some of their plans to abolish penalty rates. That will indeed make it very hard as well for younger people

In conclusion, Labor does support this bill, but at the same time we are very mindful of the fact that there are so many other government policies that continue to impact younger people severely and also impact their families. We will always continue to raise those concerns. We do have instances where we see a benefit, such as this bill, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (More Generous Means Testing for Youth Payments) Bill 2015, where we see a benefit of the more generous means testing for youth payments. We think it is important that those testing provisions are removed. We indeed support this bill.