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Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Page: 6045


Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (18:31): I rise to speak on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (2012 Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2012. This bill seeks to amend legislation following government announcements.

Firstly, it seeks to permanently extend the current income test exemption for the Western Australian government's country age pension fuel card and the cost of living rebate scheme. The bill seeks to reduce the length of time people on income support payments and family payments can spend overseas, while continuing their payments, from 13 to six weeks. It also seeks to reduce the age of eligibility for family tax benefit part A from 21 years to 18 years. In addition, the bill will make changes to the percentage of care for child support and family tax benefit purposes based on the actual care of the child. The bill will amend the clean energy low income supplement provisions to clarify the eligibility of a group of low-income families who may otherwise not be fully assisted for their expected average cost impacts under the carbon tax. Finally, the bill will make minor amendments, including clarifying in the child support legislation the authority for the practice of automated decision making using computer programs. I will address each of these measures in turn.

Excluded income—the bill will extend permanently the current income test exemption for the Western Australian Liberal government's country age pension fuel card and the cost of living rebate scheme. The Western Australian country age pension fuel card scheme provides an annual amount for eligible singles and couples combined living in country areas of Western Australia to purchase fuel and taxi fares. The Western Australian cost of living rebate scheme provides an annual payment for Western Australian seniors card holders. This amendment will make sure that people continue to benefit from the full value of the assistance provided by the Western Australian government under these arrangements, without incurring a reduction in their pension. The income test exemption is currently due to end on 30 June 2012. This measure will make these income exemptions operate indefinitely from 1 July 2012.

Adjustments to portability and other periods—this measure will tighten the rules for people who travel overseas while receiving certain income support payments and family payments. Under the proposed amendments, the length of time people can spend overseas while continuing to receive these payments will generally be reduced from 13 weeks to six weeks. It is important to note that the change will not apply to age pension and disability support pension recipients assessed as having a severe and permanent disability and no future work capacity, or to students studying overseas as part of an approved Australian course. The pension supplement will also be changed to allow a temporary absence for a continuous period not exceeding six weeks. Family tax benefit part A will still be paid for up to three years for a temporary absence from Australia, but it will be reduced to the base rate of payment after six weeks. These changes will take effect from 1 January 2013.

Change to the age of eligibility for recipients of family assistance payments—this bill will limit the age of eligibility for family tax benefit part A to young people aged under 18, or until the end of the calendar year for 18- and 19-year-olds who are completing secondary education or equivalent vocational education. Effectively, this change will see families with children aged between 19 and 24 years lose their family assistance payments—news which could not have come at a worse time for Australian families who are already struggling with increasing cost-of-living pressures and who are about to be hit by the world's greatest carbon tax, an issue which I will talk more about in a moment.

Non-budget measures—this bill also introduces the following non-budget amendments. Firstly, the bill corrects an inequity in the family tax benefit part A rate provisions in relation to child support. From 1 July 2012, if an individual is privately collecting child support and it is reasonable to collect the full amount, the maintenance income test for the family tax benefit part A will be based on the individual's child support entitlement, instead of restricting the rate of family tax benefit part A for a child to the base child rate when the individual privately collects less than the full child support entitlement. Secondly, this bill makes amendments that will allow a person's percentage of care for child support and family tax benefit purposes to be based on the actual care of the child immediately in special circumstances such as where there is evidence of violence or unusual behaviour.

Thirdly, the bill amends the clean energy low income supplement provisions to clarify the eligibility of a group of low-income families who may otherwise not be fully assisted for their expected average cost impacts under the carbon price. Finally, the bill also makes a number of minor amendments, including clarifying in the child support legislation the authority for the practice of automated decision making using computer programs.

Family tax benefit changes to age of eligibility—I will now return to this issue to which the bill makes some changes. The revelation earlier this morning in Senate estimates that approximately 53,000 families will be affected by this budget measure is timely, as is the revelation that 43,000 of teenagers whose families will lose their entitlement to family tax benefit part A will not be eligible for any other form of assistance. So, 43,000 teenagers will not be eligible for any other form of assistance as a result of the passage of this legislation. That is 53,000 families who are losing payments at a time when many are already struggling with increasing cost-of-living pressures and are about to be hit with the world's biggest carbon tax. It is bad news for families and it keeps getting worse.

On the government's own figures, there will be an immediate 10 per cent increase in electricity prices and a nine per cent increase in gas bills under the carbon tax, and this comes on top of the fact that, over the last four years, across Australia electricity prices have increased by 61 per cent and gas prices by 37 per cent. In addition to this, health costs have gone up by 20 per cent, education costs by 24 per cent and rent costs in excess of 20 per cent. All of this is a direct hit on Australian families. It is therefore disappointing that, at a time like this, the government has again chosen to cut family payments to try to balance the books rather than cut government spending. The families of Australia continue to bear the burden of this government's reckless spending at a time when many of them can ill afford it. Australian families deserve better than waste and mismanagement, and they deserve better than the world's biggest carbon tax.

This is a divided and dysfunctional government, a government which is at war with itself. And it is a government at war with the people that it should be representing. The Labor Party's 'just chuck it on the credit card' thinking, coupled with its desire to rip money out of family household budgets is hurting many of those already under pressure. The government's wasteful and reckless spending is hurting many families, and of course those cost increases that they have suffered over the last four years—and those which are projected over the coming years—are going to continue to have an adverse impact on many Australians. There is a better way. We on this side believe that we should be promoting hope, reward and opportunity for all Australians. We believe that government should help families, not hinder them. And we believe that integrity is paramount. Unlike Labor, we do not make promises that we cannot keep. Accordingly, I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House condemns the Government for cutting assistance for families with children over the age of 18 at a time when Australian families are struggling with cost of living pressures and are about to face the world's biggest carbon tax."

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): Is the amendment seconded?

Mrs Prentice: I second the amendment.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Menzies has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form that the amendment be agreed to. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.