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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2345


Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (16:55): I rise to speak on the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. This bill promulgates amendments to family payments announced in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, as well as implementing changes to support for carers, which were initially outlined in the National Carer Strategy.

The first matter is immunisation requirements. The bill will introduce a measure to amend the family assistance legislation to make payment of the family tax benefit part A supplement conditional upon a child meeting immunisation requirements. These changes apply to the income years in which a child turns one, two and five years. Consequently, provision of maternity immunisation allowance will cease from 1 July 2012. The Labor Party contends that this measure will strengthen incentives for parents to have their children immunised and help improve immunisation rates over time.

The second matter in the bill is the baby bonus. This measure will pause the indexation of the baby bonus for three years from 1 July 2012 and it resets the amount of the baby bonus to $5,000 per child from 1 September 2012. I note that currently the amount payable under the baby bonus is $5,437. Effectively, from 1 July this year the government is reducing the baby bonus by $437, an almost 10 per cent decrease in the baby bonus. In addition to that, it is placing on pause the indexation that would normally occur to the baby bonus over the next three years. What we have in this bill is a direct hit by this government on families having children. This is the largest attack on families and household budgets, and it comes at a bad time for Australian families.

This reduction in support for Australian families needs to be put in context, because it is part of what can be seen as a broad attack on middle Australia. Firstly, we on this side of the House can still recall Labor's attack in the 2008 budget when it introduced a means test on the baby bonus, which limited the bonus to families with an adjusted taxable income of $75,000 or less in the six months after the birth of the baby. Secondly, in the 2008 budget Labor means tested the family tax benefit part B so that any family where the main income earner had income of more than $150,000 lost the benefit. Thirdly, in the following year's budget, in 2009, Labor froze indexation for the full payment of family tax benefits A and B, the baby bonus and the dependent spouse rebate. Labor then announced that from 1 July 2009 the income test for the Commonwealth seniors health card would include income from superannuation streams with a tax source and a salary that is sacrificed to superannuation. They subsequently backed down on this after community outrage. Then, in the 2011 budget, Labor froze indexation for family tax benefits A and B supplement payments. Then we had the flood levy: those earning over $100,000 pay 0.5 per cent of taxable income in excess of $50,000 and one per cent of taxable income in excess of $100,000. At the same time, childcare costs are continuing to go through the roof for families around Australia. This is the context of this latest attack on families in Australia.

On the government's own figures, under the carbon tax, which will come in from 1 July this year, there will be an immediate 10 per cent increase in electricity prices and a nine per cent increase in gas bills. That comes on top of the fact, as I have pointed out in previous debates, that over the last four years across Australia electricity prices have gone up by 61 per cent and gas prices by 37 per cent. We have also had health costs go up by 20 per cent, education costs by 24 per cent, and even rent costs have gone up in excess of 20 per cent. All of this is a direct attack, a direct hit, on the families of Australia, and there is no end in sight. The Prime Minister's own figures in her 'carbon Sunday' documents show that more than three million Australian households will be worse off, and these are not rich people. A teacher married to a shop assistant will be worse off under the government's package, even on the government's own figures. A policeman married to a part-time nurse will be worse off on the government's own figures, thanks to the carbon tax. A single-income family with a child—again on the government's own modelling—starts to be worse off from below average weekly earnings. And now we have the government's attack on the means test on the private health insurance rebate.

However, let me return to the bill at hand. There is a provision for nonentitlement to family tax benefit on an estimated income basis. This measure will prevent an individual and, where one exists, a partner from being entitled to family tax benefit part A and/or part B as fortnightly instalments on the basis of estimated income where the individual had no actual entitlement after underestimating their income for two consecutive years starting from 2009-10. As stipulated in the National Carer Strategy, the bill gives certain carer allowance recipients who care for a disabled adult access to bereavement payments on the death of the key receiver. A second measure from the National Carer Strategy will allow access to carer supplement for those carers whose rate of payment is reduced to nil because of income earned by them, or their partner, in the fortnight covering 1 July in any given year. The government claims this will help ensure the income support system does not act as a disincentive to carers working in paid employment. Other amendments are also made to family assistance law and social security law to clarify various provisions. Those amendments are of a minor technical nature.

The government have lost the trust of the Australian people of this country. We have a distrusted, desperate and, indeed, dysfunctional government in Australia. They stand condemned for their relentless attacks on families and their household budgets. This is just the latest example—an almost 10 per cent reduction in the baby bonus immediately, which is carried through by the pause in indexation. This directly affects the budgets of Australian families who are already facing higher living costs throughout this nation. I move a second reading amendment to the bill and commend it to the House:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes that the Government has made the decision to pause indexation and reduce the Baby Bonus at a time when Australian families are facing increasing cost of living pressures; and

(2) calls on the Government to immediately acknowledge the serious impact that this bill will have on Australian families who will have their Baby Bonus payments reduced or eroded."

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Keenan: I second the amendment.