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Thursday, 29 March 2007
Page: 9


Mr BROUGH (Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) (9:30 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment (Child Support Reform Consolidation and Other Measures) Bill 2007 introduces several different measures affecting the Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs portfolio legislation.

In particular, the bill consolidates the government’s major 2006 legislation that restructured the Child Support Scheme in line with the recommendations of the Ministerial Taskforce on Child Support, chaired by Professor Patrick Parkinson. As is usual following such a substantial legislative task, a follow-up bill is needed to complete consequential amendments and make minor refinements. These consolidation measures will be in place, ready for the implementation of the new child support formula, on 1 July 2008.

Most of the consolidation amendments are to provide, in various provisions, further fine detail of the new policies passed by the parliament, such as in clarifying some of the processes to do with review by the Social Security Appeals Tribunal of child support decisions and the changed arrangements with the courts. Technical details such as how the two child support acts interact are being addressed, and consequential amendments are being made to taxation legislation.

A refinement is being made to the new formula to make sure the assessment of child support is more appropriate in certain cases in which the children are in different households. The basis of some of the provisions dealing with child support agreements between parents is being strengthened. Remote area allowance under the social security and veterans’ entitlements legislation is being extended so parents with regular care of a child (that is, care of between 14 and 35 per cent) continue to receive the allowance after the 1 July 2008 changes to family tax benefit.

In a further child support initiative, the bill relocates many amendments from the Child Support Legislation Amendment Bill 2004. That bill, which will now no longer be needed, was introduced in late 2004. However, there were many worthy measures in that bill and, now the task force reforms have been enacted, the 2004 measures still required in light of the task force reforms can move ahead.

Among the measures from the 2004 bill are amendments to move into the primary child support legislation certain provisions currently contained in regulations. These allow Australia to meet its international obligations to certain other countries in assessing and enforcing child support liabilities across jurisdictions. Mostly, the provisions are simply being relocated from the regulations. However, after some years of experience with the provisions, the opportunity is also being taken to refine some aspects of the provisions.

The 2004 bill measures also include several amendments to improve equity between the two parties to a child support case in access to court for review of any decision about whether one of the parties is a parent of the child in question. Some minor streamlining refinements are also being made to the internal review system for child support decisions generally.

The last of the 2004 bill measures are of a minor policy or technical nature, and are generally to address anomalies in the current system or improve aspects of child support administration. For example, the requirement to give information about an administrative assessment to both parents affected by the assessment is being rationalised to make sure only necessary information is given in each case, while still making sure each parent has enough information to explain fully the basis for the assessment.

This new bill also includes several family assistance amendments, some of them associated with the child support reforms. For example, the maintenance income test provisions for family tax benefit are being refined. This is partly to reflect the new treatment under the child support reforms of child support agreements and lump sum child support. Refinements are also made to certain elements of the formula used to work out the notional amount of maintenance income an individual is taken to have received under a child support agreement or court order where there is an underpayment of child support registered for collection by the Child Support Agency. It is also being clarified that maintenance income received by a payee for one or more children would reduce the payee’s amount of family tax benefit part A above the base rate for those children only.

Separate amendments to the baby bonus provisions will ensure that under-18-year-old claimants are paid the baby bonus in 13 instalments rather than in a lump sum, will introduce registration of birth as a condition of eligibility for the baby bonus, and will formally rename the payment from ‘maternity payment’ to ‘baby bonus’ in line with most people’s understanding.

Under this bill, the usual 13-week period for full payment of family tax benefit while temporarily outside Australia will be extended for members of the Australian Defence Force and certain Australian Federal Police personnel of the International Deployment Group, who are deployed overseas as part of their duties and, as a result, remain overseas for longer than 13 weeks.

The bill will extend the asset test exemption of principal home sale proceeds from 12 months to up to 24 months. The change will assist people who cannot purchase or build a new home within 12 months due to factors beyond their control. The bill will also extend the current 12 months principal home temporary absence rules for absences of up to 24 months for people who have suffered loss of or damage to their homes due to a disaster. Cyclone Larry has shown that a year may not be long enough where the rebuilding efforts of a disaster affected community are stretched.

Lastly, the bill will make minor refinements to the operation of the income streams provisions of the social security and veterans means test.

Debate (on motion by Mr Edwards) adjourned.