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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2263

Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (11:06): I rise to speak on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Disability Support Pension Participation Reforms) Bill 2012. This bill implements two participation reforms to the disability support pension as outlined in the 2011-12 budget. The changes include amendments relating to overseas travel for Australians with a severe disability.

The bill incorporates a range of measures. The first is the work rule for disability support pension. This measure allows all recipients of the disability support pension to work for a total of 30 hours per week without jeopardising their pension payment. The measure essentially extends the 30-hour rule to those participants who were granted disability support pensions since the introduction of the Welfare to Work program—that is, on or after 11 May 2005—and who currently have their pension suspended or cancelled if they work more than 15 hours a week. This is an important change which is designed to encourage DSP recipients to re-enter the workforce or engage with it in a greater way. For too long the DSP has been viewed as a 'destination payment'. This measure will go some way to encouraging greater productivity from those who can contribute without penalising their payment.

The second is the amendment relating to participation requirements for the disability support pension. This measure will also boost productivity by mandating new requirements for certain disability support pensioners under the age of 35 who have a work capacity of at least eight hours a week. These recipients will now have to engage with Centrelink, through a participation interview and the development of a participation plan, to assist them to develop their work capacity.

The third measure addresses the issue of portability of the disability support pension, first raised by my colleague in the other place, Senator Fifield, who aired the coalition's concern after a diplomat was unable to accept an overseas posting without jeopardising the DSP of their dependant. This set of amendments addresses some of those concerns. It does so principally by providing more generous rules for disability support pensioners who have a severe impairment that is likely to continue for at least five years, and therefore result in the recipient having no future work capacity, allowing them to continue to receive their pension payments in the event that they travel outside of Australia for 13 weeks or more.

The fourth measure promulgated by this bill relates to average weekly earnings and a range of other amendments. These include amending references in child support legislation to average weekly earnings data derived from an Australian Bureau of Statistics publication, due to a change in the frequency of that publication, as well as some other minor amendments and corrections.

The next measure amends pension ages. The pension loans scheme debt recovery provisions currently stipulated in division 4 of part 3.12 of the Social Security Act provide that in certain circumstances a debt that is owed to the Commonwealth is not recoverable. Section 1139(2)(b)(iv) of the Social Security Act provides that one of the exceptions to the Commonwealth being entitled to recover a debt until after the person's death is that the person's partner has reached pension age. Sections 1139(2)(b)(iv)(A) and (B) define pension age for a woman as 60 years and as 65 years for a man. These ages are incorrect. The amendments will remove these incorrect references. Indeed, the changes will mean the Commonwealth will not be entitled to recover a section 1135 debt until the conditions of section 1139(2) are fully met.

This bill also seeks to align the provisions of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 used to calculate the minimum instalment payment for a service pensioner in receipt of either the pension supplement or the clean energy supplement, or both, with corresponding provisions promulgated in the Social Security Act.

Let me turn now to disability reform. The approach of the government to disability support has been disingenuous. They talk about the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which I reiterate has bipartisan support; however, they are yet to fund the scheme. They are even yet to identify how they are going to fund the scheme. What they have done is announce it and reannounce it. In fact, all the government has announced is that they will 'lay foundations' for such a scheme. They have announced that they will 'support such a scheme.'

Let us turn our mind to the timeline of the government's announcements. First, on 10 August 2011, Labor announced they would work immediately with the states and territories on measures that would build the foundations of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. On 7 October 2011, the government tried to reannounce the establishment of foundations for an NDIS advisory group. A week or so later, on 20 October 2011, Labor reannounced the laying of the foundations for the NDIS, this time adding that they would lay such foundations in mid-2013. A couple of months later, on 3 December 2011, Labor again reannounced the need to lay foundations for the NDIS, this time announcing a new agency would be created to lead the design of the launch of the NDIS. Three days later, on 6 December 2011, Labor announced the government's progress in laying the foundations for the NDIS. Six days later, on 12 December 2011, the Prime Minister said that she was appointing Ms Macklin as the Minister for Disability Reform. Labor decided to play catch-up with the coalition on this front, recognising that we have had a shadow minister for disabilities in the coalition shadow ministry since the 2010 election. On 19 December 2011, Labor announced that they would work with the South Australian government on measures to help get the state ready for the NDIS, despite having already announced that the Commonwealth would work closely with all state governments.

My challenge to the Labor government here and now is very simple: tell us how you are going to fund this important scheme. Identify how you will fund it. If you are serious about the National Disability Insurance Scheme, do not be disingenuous by reannouncing and reannouncing and reannouncing your support for laying the foundations. Give us real detail. Australians, particularly those with a disability and those caring for loved ones with a disability, deserve to know the real facts—that is, how it is going to be funded and a timetable for that funding. Labor have promised big things on this front. It is time they told us how they are going to deliver.