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Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Page: 6049

Ms MACKLIN (JagajagaMinister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Minister for Disability Reform) (18:49): This bill introduces three measures from the 2012 budget, along with some minor amendments, to clarify existing government policies. One of the budget measures will provide a permanent exemption from the social security and veterans' entitlements income test for the Western Australian government's country age pension fuel card and cost-of-living rebate scheme. The Australian government previously exempted the value of the WA country fuel card and cost-of-living rebate scheme from the social security and veterans' income test for three years up to June 2012. This bill now makes that exemption permanent, so eligible people can have confidence in the long term that their income support payments will not be reduced because of benefits received through the Western Australian schemes.

The second budget measure will tighten the rules for people who travel overseas while receiving income support payments and family payments. This means that from 1 January 2013 the length of time that people on most income support payments will be able to be overseas and continue to receive payments will be reduced from 13 weeks to six weeks. Under this change, family tax benefit part A will continue to be paid for up to three years but will reduce to the base rate at six weeks rather than the 13 weeks of the current rules. Similarly, those payments such as special benefit and Newstart allowance that can be paid outside Australia only in limited and defined circumstances such as attending an acute family crisis will now only be payable for up to six weeks of the absence rather than for up to the 13 weeks under current rules.

The age pension will not be affected by this change, and nor will disability support pension recipients who have been assessed under new rules from 1 July 2012 as having a severe and permanent disability and no future work capacity. Portability periods may be extended in genuine exceptional circumstances such as when a person falls ill overseas and cannot return. Six weeks is a reasonable period of time for people to manage family or personal matters that take them overseas from time to time while having their absence funded by the Australian taxpayer.

As also announced in the budget, this bill limits family tax benefit part A to children aged under 18. Families with children aged 18 and 19 who are studying full time may continue to get the payments until the end of the calendar year in which they complete secondary education or equivalent vocational education. Youth allowance will be the primary form of assistance for eligible young adults aged 18 and over if they need financial support while they are studying or looking for work. This change builds on reforms over a number of years by this government to ensure that the family payment system is targeted to low- and middle-income families while their children are young, to help them finish school.

In 2011 this government delivered Australia's first Paid Parental Leave scheme, and on 1 January this year we delivered increases to family payments of up to $4,200 a year for families with teenagers in school. In this budget there is our new schoolkids bonus to help out with education costs and a boost to family tax benefit part A from 2013.

The bill also make some minor amendments to the social security law, the family assistance law and the child support legislation to clarify some existing government policies.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): The question is that the amendment be agreed to.

Question negatived.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The question now is that this bill be read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.