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Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Page: 6047

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (18:40): It is a bit rich being lectured by those opposite, who opposed the schoolkids bonus in the last week or so and who would actually claw back the family tax benefit assistance that families are getting, the pension assistance they are currently getting and also the assistance that they are getting in supplementary allowances. Those opposite would do all of those things if they were in the Treasury benches.

With respect to this legislation, the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (2012 Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2012, unlike those opposite, we believe in supporting families. We trust families with their budgets. Those opposite think that families will spend whatever government assistance they are provided on the pokies, booze and those kinds of things. That is what they think of families. This particular legislation deals with a number of important reforms, some of which are savings measures such as the age/study rules for children, family assistance payments, portability of income support, family payments, the cost to the budget in relation to the income test exemption for WA fuel card holders and minor amendments to social security and family assistance legislation.

First, in relation to the Western Australian situation, the exemption is a form of assistance that is received by people in regional and rural areas. The exemption currently benefits about 13,000 recipients of the WA country fuel card and about 60,000 recipients of the cost-of-living rebate scheme who are in receipt of social security or Veterans' Affairs income support payments. The fuel card scheme is worth about $500 a year for singles or couples, and in 2012 the cost-of-living rebate scheme payment was $155.25 for singles and $232.90 for couples. The scheme would expire on 30 June. We are making sure it continues and is permanent. We are making sure that those people who are eligible will continue to receive it and that their eligibility will not be reduced as a result of payments which we are providing in the budget to help their household budgets. That is what we are doing in relation to this particular assistance.

The second measure deals with the portability of income support and family payments. We are tightening the rules for people who travel overseas while receiving income support and family payments. We are cutting that back from 1 January 2013, reducing the amount of time a person on income support or family assistance payments will be able to be overseas and continue to receive those payments to between six and 13 weeks. There are people who are exempt from this. It will not affect the age pension, which will continue to be paid indefinitely while overseas. However, the pension supplement will be reduced to the basic rate after six weeks rather than after 13 weeks, and some disability support pension recipients will not be affected if they are severely disabled and have no future work capacity. We think that is a reasonable measure. We understand that people have relatives and friends overseas but we believe that six weeks is an appropriate time.

The third measure I want to talk about relates to the change to age of eligibility for family tax benefit part A in relation to young people over the age of 18 years. This government has provided a tremendous amount of assistance to those types of people. For example, in my electorate alone there will be about 5,700 local teenagers in the next five years who will benefit from our additional $4,200 a year to family tax benefit families with teenagers of 16 to 19 years who are currently in full-time secondary school or equivalent vocational education. The family tax benefit scheme in this country is to assist low- and middle-income families with the cost of raising children when they are at school or at a school equivalent. When a child turns 18 years of age, we think it is reasonable that the family assistance stops when they leave school. If they leave school or the school equivalent, young people seeking financial support if they are studying or looking for work can always apply for youth allowance. There are stricter conditions, we acknowledge that, but we believe that learning or earning is the way to go for young people. We want to make sure they look for jobs or are engaged in study. This particular reform will save about $361 million across the forward estimates over four years.

There is a lot this government is doing. The member for Menzies was talking about how we are not helping families. Regrettably, he does not understand constituents in his electorate get equivalent payments, which I am going to outline, to my constituents in Blair. For example, there are 11,256 local part FTB A recipients eligible for an advance payment of $1,000 to meet unexpected family expenses. There are 6,864 local families benefiting from a 73 per cent increase to the childcare rebate. Blair has 14,000 local families getting extra money through family assistance payments from this government, which those opposite would tear away from those families. Typically a family in my electorate gets $529 through tax cuts and family assistance measures through our clean energy legislation and budget measures. There are 13,500 FTB A recipients who are getting an extra $110 per year per child and 11,600 FTB recipients receiving $69 extra a year from May this year.

I could keep going and going, but I will not bore the House. I gave those figures entirely to show just what sort of assistance we are providing for local families in my electorate. I dare say, for the 150 members of this place that is the kind of assistance being rolled out in their electorates. I wonder what those opposite are going to say to their constituents about those tax cuts, about the family tax benefits, about the assistance to the 20,000 pensioners in their electorates when they meet them at mobile offices, street stalls or in their electorate offices. Their electorates would be similar to mine. I cannot believe they would not have between 20,000 and 40,000 pensioners in their respective electorates getting assistance. I am amazed those opposite would come in here and have the hide to lecture us about what we are doing when they themselves are hell bent on ripping away and clawing back the assistance for families. We have made it clear that we have taken some tough measures in this budget, but they are measures which we believe are necessary.

The final thing I will say in relation to this particular legislation is from my experience when I was practising as a lawyer. Particularly in family law, a change in actual care of a child results in a change to child support. The changes we are making here would allow a person's percentage of child care support and for family tax benefit purposes to be based on actual care of the child immediately in special circumstances where there is evidence of violence or other unusual behaviour. That is always a vexed question. I can recall many occasions being at the Family Court or the Federal Magistrates Court and discussing the issues and implications of what we used to call custody or access arrangements and the implications for social security payments for child support and what impact the consequences of a consent order might have for the mother or father of the children. So acknowledging the actual care immediately in special circumstances is a good measure, it is a sensible measure and it is something that reflects reality. Regrettably, in too many cases involving family law there is violence. I commend the legislation to the House.