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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5878


Mrs MOYLAN (Pearce) (17:10): by leave—The Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, the subject of the report which has just been tabled, was referred for scrutiny to the Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee towards the end of the last sitting week. As there was insufficient time to arrange a meeting before parliament rose on Thursday, 2 June 2011, the committee had a teleconference on Friday, 3 June—I think that teleconference went for all of about 10 minutes— to discuss the referral. The bill was also referred to a Senate committee.

Matters dealt with in this bill include family assistance measures, assessing qualification for disability support pension, extending the Cape York welfare reform trial and a Public Works Act exemption. These are serious matters. The committee system is a very important system in scrutinising bills that come to this place but in this case it has been done in unseemly haste. Frankly, with all due respect to my good colleague, whom I work cooperatively with on this committee, asking for a rubber stamping of these measures makes a complete mockery of the operation of this parliament. It really was a rubber stamping. There was very little consideration—there simply was not time. The public cannot be expected to have any confidence in parliamentary processes that treat serious and far-reaching legislation in such a cavalier and ill-considered manner.

While these are budget related bills and the opposition does not propose to prevent this legislation proceeding, there are a number of serious issues to be raised in relation to the bill which, in my view, should have been fully canvassed by the committee. Yet in a practical sense no time has been allowed for the committee to conduct a proper examination of the matters which are the subject of the bill, including time to seek submissions from those who will be affected by these provisions.

Coalition members have submitted a dissenting report and they are particularly concerned about the impact that this legislation will have on Australian families, on disability support pensioners and the proper operation of the Public Works Committee and the Public Works Act 1969. The bill seeks to freeze indexation of the family tax benefit parts A and B supplements for three years, which will see a quarter of a million Australian families worse off. Even families struggling to make ends meet on incomes of $45,000 will be hit by these changes.

Cutting $2 billion from family benefits will place more pressure on the 2.1 million families who will lose some income support. While the government has attempted to claim that these measures will only affect the 'rich', families on average wages will lose through the freezing of the threshold at which families will start losing base rate Family Tax Benefit Part A.

Families are already under considerable financial pressure. Since December 2007, electricity prices have increased by an average of 51 per cent across Australia, the overall cost of food has increased by 13 per cent and education costs such as school fees have increased by an average of 24 per cent across Australia. Family Tax Benefit Part A and Family Tax Benefit Part B, the baby bonus and Paid Parental Leave are important measures designed to support families. These measures should not be used to generate savings to sort out the government's financial waste and mismanagement. As we have recently learned, the government was working on this policy proposal right up until one minute prior to the caretaker period before the election and it should have been open with the Australian people that it was intending to introduce this freeze on the indexation of family benefits. Coalition members call on the government to acknowledge and attend to the serious impact that these policies will have on Australian families who will have their assistance payments eroded or cancelled under this legislation. Other concerns are in relation to assessing the qualifications for the disability support pension because the government will require people on a disability support pension to provide evidence that they have tested their future work capacity by participating in training or work related activities in order to qualify for the DSP. These requirements will take effect from 3 September 2011, which is not far away. The government stated that the programs of support include Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations funded employment services, disability management services and some Job Services Australia services.

Another element is the provision of incentives to encourage employers to employ people with disability. There has been no assurance by the government regarding the adequacy of services to assist people with training and employment placement. There is no assurance from the government that issues such as transport to work in rural and more remote locations have been adequately addressed or that parents of children with a disability, particularly single parents, have access to affordable, quality childcare facilities so that they can actually participate in training programs and be placed in work. As for the incentives to prospective employers, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the take-up rate by business for assistance under previous programs has been absolutely abysmal in getting them to employ people with a disability.

Little has been done to remove the considerable barriers to employment faced by people with a disability and, while the government spends millions on incentive programs to encourage the private sector to employ people with a disability, the government—one of the biggest employer groups in the country—oversees a public service whose record in employing people with a disability has seriously declined. A motion on these matters, which I proposed in this place in March and which was seconded by the member for Gilmore, was debated, voted on and carried unanimously, but I have yet to see any tangible evidence of action by the government to redress this deplorable situation.

I also want to comment on the Public Works Act exemption. The coalition agrees with the government's intent to remove the requirement for the Public Works Committee to supervise some construction activities on Land Trust land that results from individuals or groups expending grant funds for specific projects. However, the amendment goes significantly further in that it excludes all Commonwealth funded projects on Aboriginal Land Trust land from the scrutiny of the Public Works Committee Act 1969. Surely the expenditure of large sums of taxpayers' money would demand some form of scrutiny over any Commonwealth funded development on land held through the Aboriginal Land Trust, just as it does for any other Commonwealth funded project whether on government owned land or not. The question has to be asked: isn't the properly constituted Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works the appropriate body to investigate whether the Commonwealth is getting value for money and whether the planned development meets the purpose and use for which it is purported to provide? The Public Works Committee ensures transparency in government projects, ensures Commonwealth projects meet appropriate standards and ensures value for money for taxpayers. Exempting projects on Land Trust lands in mainly remote regions removes a significant safeguard. Coalition members do not support this amendment and suggest that the government takes a closer look at the operation of this amendment before it passes through this House.

The unseemly manner in which this bill has been referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs makes a mockery of the processes of this House and should be deeply concerning to every member who takes a seat in this place. I am pleased to see that the member for Moreton, the chair of the committee, has made some general comments in the report along the lines that we discussed in this morning's committee meeting. I welcome that and hope it will lead to this House considering an improved way in which these bills can be referred to committees and make sure that committees are actually able to do the job that they were intended to do.

Finally, I take the opportunity to thank coalition members on the committee, the member for Murray and the member for Bonner, for their assistance in submitting a dissenting report.