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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 11888


Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (18:37): Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, before I move to the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Further 2012 Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2012, may I formally congratulate you upon your elevation to the deputy speakership. I am sure you will continue to do a wonderful job in the chair.

This is a government bill which introduces two 2012-13 budget measures in the form of the extension of the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial and increased payments for Indigenous education and also introduces a number of non-budget amendments to clarify current government policies. This bill gives effect to a number of key changes. I will address each of the schedules in turn.

Schedule 1, 'Extending Cape York welfare reform trial', amends the Social Security (Administration) Act to enable a proposed 12-month extension of the welfare reform trial in the Cape York area. The continuation of the Howard government introduced welfare reform trial will help Indigenous families budget, increase school attendance and job opportunities, make communities safer and improve care and protection of children. The Cape York Welfare Reform Trial is a partnership between the communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge; the Australian government; the Queensland government; and the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. It aims to restore positive social norms, re-establish local Indigenous authority and support community and individual engagement in the real economy.

To date, the trial has made a real difference in the lives of Indigenous people in the cape. Since it began in July 2008, the Cape York welfare reform communities have seen improved school attendance, care and protection of children and community safety. A key plank of the trial is the Family Responsibilities Commission, established under Queensland government legislation. Local family responsibility commissioners hold conferences with community members, refer people to support services and, when necessary, arrange income management.

Currently a person can be subject to income management under the trial only after a decision by the Family Responsibilities Commission made before 1 January 2013. This schedule amends the Social Security (Administration) Act to extend this date to 1 January 2014, enabling income management to continue in Cape York for a further 12 months. The Queensland government has also committed to continuing its support for the trial and to introducing legislation to extend the operation of the Family Responsibilities Commission. It has been disappointing that Labor has again allowed internal division within its ranks to dictate policy—in this case, only extending for another one-year period this very successful measure.

Let me turn now to schedule 2, 'Indigenous education payments'. This schedule amends the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 to increase the act's legislative appropriation for the 2012 and 2013 calendar years. The increased appropriation for 2012 and 2013 will provide funding for several new initiatives in addition to existing activities under the Indigenous education act. The increase in the appropriation for 2012 and 2013 will continue existing initiatives and provide funding for several new initiatives, including expansion of the Sporting Chance Program, Teach Remote Stage 2, and student education trusts delivered as part of the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial, and initiatives that support teachers, professional development and front-line services to improve Aboriginal children's access to quality education.

Schedule 3 introduces a package of minor amendments to improve the operation of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, the SSAT, in the social security, child support, family assistance and paid parental leave jurisdictions. For example, some amendments will enable SSAT members to release protected information to relevant authorities in certain circumstances where there is a risk to the life, health or welfare of a person. Other amendments address current gaps in privacy protection for information and documents.

SSAT members are currently prevented under family assistance, child support and social security legislation from informing relevant authorities of a threat to the life, health or welfare of a person where this could result in the release of protected information. Amendments permit an SSAT member to disclose otherwise protected information to a person such as a law enforcement officer or a state or territory welfare authority if the information concerns a threat to the life, health or welfare of a person. Addressing this issue is consistent with actions under the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children.

Amendments also address current gaps in privacy protection for information and documents. Currently, the Principal Member of the SSAT can direct a party not to disclose information or documents obtained at certain stages of a review. Changes are required so that a party can be directed not to disclose information or documents obtained by him or her at any stage of the review. Amendments also extend confidentiality obligations to all people providing services at the hearing of the review.

Amendments allow the Principal Member to reconstitute the SSAT in the same circumstances in which the Administrative Appeals Tribunal may be reconstituted. Several amendments are made to facilitate the SSAT's achievement of its statutory objective and to harmonise the provisions governing review by the SSAT in the family assistance, social security, child support and paid parental leave legislation. These amendments, firstly, extend the grounds on which an application for review may be dismissed and enable parties to request reinstatement of a dismissed application; secondly, permit the principal member to order the Child Support Registrar or the secretary, as the case may be, to make written submissions, rather than both oral and written submissions, to the SSAT; thirdly, clarify that the Principal Member has a discretion, exercisable having regard to the parties' wishes and the need to protect their privacy, as to who is permitted to make submissions on a party's behalf; and, fourthly, make each person who is responsible for a child to whom the reviewable decision relates a party to the review, thereby avoiding a joinder process. Further changes are made to ensure consistency of language, clearer headings and clearer definitions in the family assistance, social security, child support and paid parental leave legislation.

In schedule 4, amendments are made to the child support legislation to confirm the longstanding policy and administration in cases where the amount of child support payable under a child support assessment is reduced because: (1) a court decides that the payer is not a parent of one of the children in the assessment but that (2) the payer remains liable for at least one other child in the assessment. The amendments made by this schedule are designed to undo the effect of the majority's interpretation of the child support legislation in the judgement of the full court of the Family Court of Australia in the 2011 case of the Child Support Registrar v Farley reported in FamCAFC, page 207, and to confirm the existing policy and administration in giving effect to section 107 declarations made under the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989.

Section 107 of the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989 allows the court to make a declaration that a person should not be assessed in relation to the costs of a child because the person is not a parent of the child. This is in cases where paternity is challenged and it is found that a father has paid child support for a child that was not in fact his. A consequence of a section 107 declaration being made is that any application for assessment of child support for the child is taken never to have been accepted by the Child Support Registrar. The longstanding policy in such cases is that the total amount of child support previously paid—including amounts paid for the child that was found to be not theirs—would be applied to their child support liability for any remaining children in the case and to any child support debt for those children. Any excess child support they paid may be recovered from the payee by applying for a court order under the existing child support legislation.

The government argues that these amendments are required because the Family Court's decision in a particular paternity case changed the way the policy has always operated. The Family Court's decision would require, in such cases, the payer to take court action to obtain repayment from the payee of the amount attributed as being the overpayment for the excluded child as well as require the payer to make further payment to the payee of an equivalent amount attributed as being the underpayment for the other child or children for whom the payer is liable. This would be an unnecessarily complex process for 'balancing' the payer's liabilities. The amendments are being applied retrospectively to support the longstanding policy and administration so that previously-decided cases are not revisited which could significantly disadvantage parties who have relied upon these decisions in their financial affairs. The changes made by this schedule are to commence on royal assent.

Schedules 5 and 6 make clarifying and technical amendments to the schoolkids bonus legislation and minor clarifications to other portfolio legislation, such as the family assistance clean energy legislation, and to the rules for rounding of payment rates. The schoolkids bonus and the ETR payments were announced in the 2012-13 budget and replaced the education tax refund that was previously claimed through the tax system.

The revelations in the last round of Senate estimates detailed that the schoolkids bonus is paid in two instalments. The only requirement for any parent or student to receive this payment is to announce an 'intention' of attending school at least one day in the next six months. That does not pass the common-sense test. Also, the schoolkids bonus was legislated in a way which meant that it was not subject to SEAM or to income management more broadly. This is just part of Labor's plan to ensure that income management fails. If you want Howard government-style outcomes in the area of welfare quarantining, you cannot pick winners—you cannot cut and paste measures. You either commit to it or you do not. The problem is that Labor is divided. There is a bitter internal division over income management, and it is only complicated by Labor's relationship with its alliance partner, the Greens, who oppose income management.

From 1 July 2013, families receiving family tax benefit part A and part B will receive an ongoing clean energy supplement. The single income family supplement will also be paid from 1 July 2013 to assist families that have one primary earner. Both of these measures are part of the government's Clean Energy Future plan. Most of the amendments made in these schedules will commence on royal assent. Two beneficial items will commence with retrospective effect, as I will indicate below.

The drafting clarifications for the schoolkids bonus are designed to ensure that those who were eligible for the education tax rebate receive the schoolkids bonus. The department has stated that this will extend the schoolkids bonus to approximately 1,000 further recipients, with this expenditure covered by the original appropriation. The drafting clarifications for the clean energy legislation clarify rounding rules for the indexation of clean energy supplements to ensure that they increase in line with inflation.

The government continues to do what is politically demanded to ensure internal divisions are kept at bay; it does not do what is in the national interest. There is a stark contrast between coalition governments and Labor governments. What we do is in the national interest; what they do is in their own interest. It is a disgrace and, if the coalition is entrusted with government at the next election, Australia will again have a grown-up government dedicated to restoring hope, reward and opportunity. The coalition will not oppose this bill.