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Thursday, 30 March 2006
Page: 142

Senator McLUCAS (5:58 PM) —I do recognise that the Senate is trying to get this legislation dealt with, but I do note that it has been very difficult for the minister to defend the policy of taking $1,900 away from a person who has just been diagnosed with having a child who is going to require care for the rest their life. It is difficult to defend taking $600-odd away from a person whose husband has just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It is pretty hard to make the argument that that is a good policy or that that is a good thing when, in the same piece of legislation, we say, ‘It’s okay to allow a partner of a millionaire to get a payment from this government of $3,300 per year.’ There has to be a question of equity in the fact that those three measures appear in this legislation. How fair is that?

The minister says that the purpose of this is to standardise and to rationalise this payment. Those words do not work on people who are caring for children. They do not care about that; they did not want to be standardised. Well, maybe they would—maybe if their child could be standardised and so they did not need to spend the rest of their life caring for that child it could be a good thing. But you cannot do that. And to say to someone: ‘We’re going to standardise your payment, because then it fits neatly into the system that we operate as a government, and in doing so we will take away nearly $2,000 from you,’ is just not fair. So, Minister, it is hard to defend. I do acknowledge that, and I think you have acknowledge that in the tone that you have brought to this debate.

I am interested to know that the minister has said that he will undertake a communications strategy. I wonder if you could undertake to the Senate to table the proposal for the communications strategy within a reasonable period of time. Maybe you could indicate what period of time that would be. We would like to know whether it is going to be $50 million, like this government spent telling people what the Liberal Party policy is on industrial relations. Maybe that is a good thing we could do with $50 million. Or maybe we could just give it back to carers because of the $35 million saving every year that this government is going to take out of carers’ pockets with the passage of this legislation.

The standardisation and rationalisation inherent in this measure do not recognise the nature of the payment. It is not income replacement; it is a recognition of the cost of care. That fundamental difference is the reason the backdating has always been far more generous than for other income replacement payments, other pensions. The minister does not get it. You just do not understand that it is a different type of payment. I urge the government, and I particularly urge those senators who signed off on the report that essentially recommends this amendment, to have the courage to do what they know in their hearts is right. And that is to vote for the secretary to have some discretion when the secretary finds out about these dire circumstances: the fact that people did not know the payment existed, the fact that they waited for the child to be to diagnosed, the fact that they thought the payment was going to be income and assets tested, the fact that they live so far away from a Centrelink office that they could not get there. All of these reasons, we know, are reasons why people do not apply in a timely way—and yet we are not going to allow for a discretion to be exercised so that those individual families can have a little bit of support. It is not a lot of money that we are talking about, but we are going to take away from them. This is a sensible amendment and I commend it to the chamber.