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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1280

Mr PORTER (PearceMinister for Social Services) (10:06): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

From July this year, the qualifying age for the age pension will begin to gradually increase for both men and women from 65 to 67 years, with the qualifying age increasing by six months every two years, commencing on 1 July, until fully implemented on 1 January 2024.

This bill gives effect to a need to make a mechanical amendment aligning the existing upper age limit in the Disability Services Act 1986 to the qualifying age for the age pension set in the Social Security Act 1991.

This will ensure rehabilitation services can continue to be provided to individuals under the Disability Employment Service-Disability Management Service program (known as the DES-DMS program) until they reach the age pension eligibility age.

The DES-DMS Program is supported by the act; specifically section 18(a), which at present limits the age of the target group to persons who have not attained 65 years of age.

This mechanical amendment contained in the bill proposes replacing the existing upper age limit for the DES-DMS program in section 18(a) of the Act, with a reference to the age pension qualifying age as determined by the Social Security Act 1991.

In making this amendment, the existing Disability Services Act 1986 will be 'future proofed' and able to meet future challenges, as the incorporation of such a reference, aligns the upper age limit in section 18(a) of the act, to the pension age in the Social Security Act 1991.

This need is due to the pension reform package legislated in 2009, which brought about improvements to the longer term sustainability of the pension system, and adjusted the age pension qualification age to reflect that Australians are living longer than ever before. It is estimated that someone retiring today who qualifies for the age pension can expect to receive it for an average of 20 years.

This minor amendment ensures job seekers with temporary or permanent disability, injury or health condition who require the assistance from DES-DMS, and who may require flexible ongoing support but are not expected to need regular, long-term support in the workplace, have the best support and assistance possible to prepare for, achieve and maintain employment.

The increase to the age pension qualifying age will also mean that there will be people with disability who are aged 65 or older but who have not reached the pension age, on income support with mutual obligations to seek work, who under the current provisions of the Disability Services Act 1986, could be excluded from receiving support to meet those obligations.

Current estimations are that without the amendments made by this bill, and as soon as in this year, there are approximately 200 vulnerable people being affected and left without support, and those numbers would increase until July 2019, and further again beyond that time.

It is therefore vital that the DES-DMS program can deliver rehabilitation services and employment support to people who are expected to continue seeking work, in addition to working people with need for such support.

The amendment made by this bill ensures that the DES-DMS program can adapt to changing circumstances and future challenges, and provides confidence, ensuring that over time, the essential rehabilitation services and employment support, which people rely on, is able to be delivered.

This government is committed to supporting people with disabilities, as I believe is the common goal of the members of this House

It is imperative that this bill be passed to honour these commitments.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.