Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 18 June 2001
Page: 27779

Mr ANDREWS (10:15 PM) —I came into the chamber tonight to speak about the technical aspects of the Family and Community Services Legislation (Simplification and Other Measures) Bill 2001 but, having heard the honourable member for Grayndler, I am moved to speak about some matters in more broad detail. He concluded his speech tonight by making reference to the government's information campaign in relation to a range of measures that have been introduced and are being publicised and advertised in the mass media—on television, in the newspapers, et cetera. All I can say to the honourable member for Grayndler, before he leaves the chamber, is that he has obviously got a short memory.

Prior to the 1996 election, when this government came into office, the then Labor government of Australia engaged in a similar campaign to advertise and publicise its measures. And there is a long convention in Australia that governments are entitled to make known to the people of Australia those measures which have been changed, particularly for their benefit. In the latest range of measures there are changes, for example, to the seniors health card provisions where it is quite clear that many Australians are unaware that they have some entitlements which they can make use of. If the government had not made and does not make the people of Australia aware of those measures, many Australians for whom these measures have been changed would not make any use of them whatsoever.

This bill comes in the context of a wide ranging debate overall about welfare. One can only put this in the long-term context of what has happened to the provision of welfare in Australia. One can go back what is now almost 30 years to the election of the Whitlam government in 1972, during the period when expenditure on the provision of welfare almost doubled in Australia—so much so that, when the Labor government of the former Prime Minister Bob Hawke came to power, we had the most targeted narrowing of welfare provision over a period of a decade that has ever occurred in Australia. So for the honourable member for Grayndler to come in here and, by implication, criticise any targeting, narrowing or focusing of welfare in this particular bill, as he suggests by way of passing, is somewhat rich. Having blown out the welfare benefits in the early 1970s, we had a Labor government under Bob Hawke and then Paul Keating that, incrementally over a period of more than a decade, continued to target welfare. In fact, if we want to look at the beginning of the targeting of welfare in this country, we can go back to the early eighties and the advent of the Hawke Labor government. So what we have is, in a sense, a proxy or a code for a debate about the type of Australia that we want.

On this side of the chamber, I would suggest that the type of Australia we have a vision for is one in which people have an opportunity to make the most for themselves and, where they are not able to do that, we provide an adequate safety net or social security arrangement for them. That does not mean there ought to be carte blanche in the sense that, if people can make do for themselves, that is the only way they can get ahead—without any social security net. Nor should it mean, on the other hand, that the social security net is so wide and so broad that there is no incentive whatsoever for people to try and improve their own situation in life.

So this particular bill, which is largely technical and mechanical in its nature, I think fits into the broader context of the overall debate about where we want to see Australia in the next decade or 20 years or so compared to where Australia has been in the last 20 or 30 years. The reality, despite any rhetoric which is uttered from the other side of the chamber this evening or on similar occasions, is that there is a degree of consensus that simply opening up welfare to the extent that people do not have to provide for themselves or that people do not have to in some way make arrangements for themselves and take some responsibility is in the end unworkable—not because it is lacking compassion and not because it is uncaring but simply because in the end, as a matter of practicalities, it does not work.

As practical members of the House of Representatives, we have to bear in mind overall what is actually going to work for the Australian people, leaving aside the ideological differences. We are simply saying, `What overall is going to be to the benefit of the Australian people and for their future?' It is in that context that this bill needs to be considered.

As I said, this is mostly a technical, mechanical bill which contains some minor yet beneficial policy provisions. The bill repeals a part of the Social Security Act 1991 that deals with the circumstances in which people receive compensation payments. It simplifies the previous provisions and removes a source of irritation to partners of people who receive periodic compensation payments such as regular fortnightly compensation from an insurance company. Currently, if a person gets a `compensation affected payment', which is a phrase defined in the act, they lose one dollar for every dollar of periodic compensation received. If this amount is reduced to zero, any excess compensation counts against their partner's compensation affected payment dollar for dollar. Under this bill, if a person's partner's compensation has to be taken into account in working out the person's income for social security purposes, it will be treated only as the ordinary income of the person.

In addition to this central feature, this bill, firstly, allows debts arising from the payment of periodic compensation to be taken directly from compensation payers and insurers; secondly, changes the taper rate for the income cut-out formula that is used in working out the preclusion period for recipients of lump sum compensation so it is consistent with changes in the tax reform package; and, thirdly, makes two minor technical amendments identified following the introduction of the tax reform package. The amendments correct a commencement provision and also a minor cross-reference.

The bill also gives effect to a number of minor simplification measures that were outlined in the 2000-01 budget. Firstly, the current treatment of gross rental income is clarified; secondly, unrealisable assets will automatically be exempt from deeming; and, thirdly, amendments will allow compensation arrears debts that are treated as income to be recovered directly from compensation payers or insurers.

In summary and in conclusion, the bill addresses longstanding criticism that the compensation recovery provisions operate unfairly in relation to partners and bring the treatment of partners under compensation recovery into line with their treatment generally under the Social Security Act. Overall, the measures will increase the amount of income support payments made to couples with low levels of income derived largely or solely from compensation payments. I support the bill and I urge its support upon the House.