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Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Page: 3400

Mr NEUMANN (BlairParliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing and Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney-General) (16:11): I thank the honourable members for their contributions to the debate on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Disaster Recovery Allowance) Bill 2013. I particularly thank the member for Moreton. He was the chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs. It looked at the response of the insurance industry and other organisations to natural disasters around the country. We went around and looked at floods in Western Australia, cyclones in North Queensland, floods in Victoria and bushfires in Western Australian in relation to this. We went all round the country.

This is important legislation. The member for Moreton and I have seen the benefit of financial assistance that the federal government provides for disaster management—not just to councils but also for income support. Passing this Social Security Legislation Amendment (Disaster Recovery Allowance) Bill 2013 will ensure that there is legislative backing—support—available to individuals whose incomes are temporarily affected by disasters over the coming seasons, whether they be fire, cyclone or flood.

The disaster recovery allowance, the DRA, will replace the ex gratia Disaster Income Recovery Subsidy, known as the DIRS. Australia is a disaster-prone country, vulnerable to bushfires. We have had disasters in South East Queensland and about 17 major floods in the Brisbane-Ipswich area since 1840. The ex gratia Disaster Income Recovery Subsidy has been highly successful and provides valuable support to employees, business owners and farmers whose livelihoods are threatened by disaster. This summer alone, the Disaster Income Recovery Subsidy was activated across 35 local government areas in response to four natural disaster events.

The federal Labor government is committed to protecting the jobs and businesses of Australians and to the recovery of communities that have been impacted by natural disasters. No Australian should lose their income or be forced to permanently close their business because of bushfire, flood or cyclone. Legislating the DRA will greatly improve the quality of disaster assistance that the Australian government is able to provide. It will ensure more efficient and responsible governance and economic management of the Australian government disaster recovery. It will ensure consistency, with clear eligibility criteria and activation processes. It will allow for review processes to be applied to other social security payments that are not currently available for an ex gratia payment. It will also allow for fraud- and debt-recovery processes in the Social Security Act to apply to those very few who try to take advantage of this sort of assistance. Passing this bill will ensure support is delivered to disaster victims quickly and effectively.

Natural disasters are devastating, unpredictable and inevitable. The full impact of any disaster is not felt straightaway, particularly the economic impacts, and recovery is a very complex process. Disaster assistance provides support to where it is instrumental to community recovery. The federal Labor government consistently tries to improve the disaster recovery assistance it provides.

This bill represents a very significant step to improving support to communities affected by disasters. The DRA will ensure that people whose income has been hit by a disaster will not need to worry about putting food on the table or whether they will be forced to end their hard-built small business. The DRA will assist not only individuals but also entire communities in getting back on their feet and putting their lives back together. By debating and voting on this legislation now we ensure that all preparatory work done by the Attorney-General's Department federally and the Department of Human Services is completed in time for the 2013-14 summer and that the payment is ready for when Australians will need it most.

I take this opportunity to thank the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, the member for Lilley; the Minister for Human Services, Senator Jan McLucas; the Minister for Families, Community Services, Indigenous Affairs, the Hon. Jenny Macklin MP; and their departments for their invaluable assistance in the preparation of this bill. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.