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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1344


Ms MACKLIN (JagajagaMinister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) (10:19): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill implements the government's changes to family payments announced in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, as well as improved support for carers outlined in the government's National Carer Strategy.

These changes to family payments strengthen incentives for childhood immunisation and help ensure that family payments are sustainable for the long term.

This Labor government is a very strong supporter of the family payments system. We have delivered Australia's first national Paid Parental Leave scheme, increased the childcare rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, and increased family payments for teenagers in secondary school or training.

We also support a targeted family payments system that will be sustainable for generations to come.

The first measure in this bill delivers stronger incentives for parents to have their children immunised, by linking the family tax benefit part A end-of-year supplement with immunisation.

Immunisation is fundamental to a child's lifelong health and the health of other children. The government wants to make sure that children have the best start in life and are immunised at the right time.

From 1 July 2012, the end-of-year supplement, currently worth $726 per child each year, will only be paid once a child is fully immunised for the financial year a child turns one, two and five years of age.

These new requirements for the family tax benefit part A supplement will be implemented at a new immunisation check point at one year of age, along with the existing check points at two and five years of age.

This means that, over the three immunisation check points of one, two and five years old, families will now have an incentive of more than $2,100 to ensure their children are fully immunised.

The new arrangements for the family tax benefit part A supplement will replace the maternity immunisation allowance, which will cease from 1 July 2012.

Families are already required to have their child fully immunised to receive childcare benefit and childcare rebate. Existing exemptions will continue to apply. These reforms aim to improve immunisation coverage rates over time, giving greater protection to Australian children.

They build on the government's previous reforms to use family payments to help drive better outcomes for families and children, including:

new requirements for families on income support to make sure children get a pre-school health check;

new 'earn or learn' requirements; and

increasing family payments for teenagers if they stay in school or training.

The second measure in this bill will help make sure that the baby bonus is sustainable for the long term.

From 1 July 2012, the indexation of the baby bonus will be paused for three years. The payment rate will also be reset to $5,000 per child from 1 September 2012.

The baby bonus has increased by 67 per cent since it was introduced in 2004, and this measure will provide a saving to the budget of $358 million over four years.

To improve the targeting of family tax benefit and reduce the risk of debts, a further measure in this bill will end fortnightly payments of family tax benefit instalments to recipients who claim family tax benefit but are found to have no actual entitlement for two consecutive years following the end-of-year reconciliation with their income tax return.

This change will make sure that families do not receive benefits they are not entitled to, and do not subsequently have debts raised against them.

Families no longer receiving family tax benefit part A or part B instalments would still be able to make a lump sum claim at the end of the financial year, and exceptions will apply to ensure that families are not put at risk of hardship.

This bill also includes two amendments to support the Australian government's National Carer Strategy, announced on 3 August 2011. Under this strategy, the government is committed to improving carers' opportunity to take part in all aspects of society, including the chance to participate in work, community and family life.

One amendment acknowledges that carers sometimes combine paid employment with their caring responsibilities.

Currently, a carer cannot receive the annual carer supplement of $600 for each person they care for if, due to the income test, their or their partner's income has reduced their rate of payment to nil during that period.

This situation may disadvantage carers or their partners who may participate in casual or irregular work in addition to their caring commitments, and who are offered extra employment in the period that includes 1 July. These carers may be faced with the difficult decision of accepting the offer of extra employment, knowing that they may then lose their annual carer supplement because the employment income they receive in that period may, solely or partly, cause their instalment of carer payment, wife pension, carer service pension or partner service pension to be reduced to nil.

These amendments remedy this situation by making sure that, if a carer is qualified for carer payment, wife pension, partner service pension or carer service pension, for the period that includes 1 July, they will receive the supplement, even if their payment rate is set to nil due to employment income.

The other amendment will make sure that a low-income carer, receiving an income support payment as well as carer allowance for care of an adult, will be paid a bereavement payment on the death of the person they care for. Carer payment recipients and carer allowance recipients for care of a child already have access to bereavement payments, and this amendment provides equitable support for those carers caring for an adult.

Lastly, the bill makes several minor amendments to clarify provisions in the family assistance law in line with existing policy. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.