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Thursday, 18 November 2010
Page: 3000

Mr ANDREWS (1:35 PM) —I rise to speak on the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2010. This bill encompasses proposed amendments to special disability trusts, the disability support pension, family tax benefit and anomalies in social security legislation relating to pensions. The decision by Minister Macklin to withdraw the schedules relating to Aboriginal land trusts and the Indigenous Land Corporation following a request by the coalition is welcomed, and I thank the minister for her agreement to withdraw those schedules so as to ensure no delay in other parts of the bill. The ability of a Senate inquiry to provide closer scrutiny on key issues is, in the coalition’s view, of paramount importance.

Let me turn then to special disability trusts. Special disability trusts seek to assist families to make financial provision for the current and future care of a family member with a severe disability. In October 2008 the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs inquired into the lack of take-up of these special disability trusts. The committee made a number of recommendations to make special disability trusts more attractive. The bill seeks to relax the purpose and work capacity tests in relation to special disability trusts and give trustees greater flexibility. This is in response to a Senate inquiry into these trusts, the disability support pensions.

The 13-week provision in the Social Security Act was originally designed to allow DSP recipients to travel overseas for personal matters. A number of DSP recipients used the provision effectively as a loophole that allowed them to live permanently overseas so long as they visited Australia every 13 weeks. The bill amends the Social Security Act to require that a person must be an Australian resident to receive DSP.

The bill includes some grandfather provisions and allows DSP recipients who are severely disabled or terminally ill to go overseas to be with a family member or to return to their country of origin. The bill creates an ongoing requirement for residence in Australia for the disability support pension, bringing the pension into line with other workforce age payments and stopping DSP recipients effectively permanently living overseas.

Whilst limits on the portability of the DSP are necessary, these limits are proving punitive for a small class of recipients due to circumstances beyond their control—in particular, recipients with a severe disability and a legal guardian. Such recipients can find themselves travelling overseas due to a decision of their guardian. As a consequence, if the recipient travels to a country without a reciprocal social security treaty they forfeit their pension after 13 weeks. Approximately 1.5 per cent of DSP recipients have a severe disability and a legal guardian, and only a small number of these people would find themselves in the circumstances which I have described. It does not seem fair or equitable for DSP recipients in these circumstances, through no choice of their own, to lose their entitlements when their carers and legal guardians move overseas for work. The coalition is currently investigating this issue through a Senate inquiry and I hope that the government will be sympathetic to any recommendations that might come from that inquiry.

Turning to family tax benefit, the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Participation Requirement) Act 2009 introduced an activity test, for the first time, for children aged 16 to 20. The act effectively excluded those children who were studying overseas full time. The amendments eliminate this exclusion. The bill allows for students studying overseas full time to be treated for family tax benefit purposes in the same way as full-time students undertaking study within Australia. The amendments would commence on the day of royal assent.

The bill makes amendments to address two anomalies arising from the pension reform legislation enacted in 2009. Firstly, leave payments: currently, income attribution rules have meant that, depending on how income is calculated during holidays, some social security beneficiaries can find themselves on a lower rate of payment after a holiday than before, even when the holiday pay and ordinary pay are identical. Secondly, income support payments: currently, a member of a couple receiving a relevant social security payment whose partner is receiving a veteran’s payment will not receive the full benefit of the social security pension bonus amendments. The amendments seek to bring uniformity to the treatment between social security recipients.

To conclude, the coalition supports this bill. In closing, I encourage the Greens member for Melbourne, as he embarks on his campaign of coercive utopianism, to focus more of his attention on the pressing issues facing Australian families and those who require support, such as those who are covered by this bill. The coalition, as I have said before, is supportive of this legislation. There are matters which are going to Senate committees, particularly those which I indicated at the outset relating to Aboriginal land trusts and the Indigenous Land Corporation. These are not part of this bill; they are matters which will be looked at by a Senate committee. I appreciate the minister’s assistance in that regard so that these other important measures can pass through the parliament. The issue of families is one which remains important to the coalition. We are supportive of families, whatever their circumstances may be, and will continue to provide that support to families right throughout Australia and, where necessary, provide appropriate scrutiny of any measures brought before this parliament by the government that relate to families.