Save Search

Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Page: 6826


Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (09:24): This proposed legislation seeks to amend the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 to lower the maximum age of eligibility for Family Tax Benefit Part A, or FTBA, from 24 to 21 on 1 January 2012; pause indexation until 1 July 2014 for the higher income-free area for FTBA, for the Family Tax Benefit Part B, or FTTB, income limit and for the baby bonus income limit; and pause indexation of FTBA and FTBB supplements for three years from 1 July 2011. Secondly, it seeks to amend the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 to extend the commencement date for indexation of the Paid Parental Leave scheme income limit. Thirdly, it seeks to amend the Social Security Act 1991 to require people to test their future work capacity by participating in training or work related activities in order to qualify for the disability support pension. Fourthly, it seeks to amend the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 to enable a proposed 12-month extension of the welfare reform trial in the Cape York area. Fifthly and finally, it seeks to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 to clarify that the Public Works Committee Act 1969 does not apply to Aboriginal land trusts.

This bill spearheads the Labor-Greens alliance antifamily agenda. I will first cover the issue of the eligibility age for children under the family tax benefit. The bill seeks to lower the maximum age for the eligibility of a child for FTBA from 24 to 21 on 1 January 2012 to align with the age at which a person becomes independent for the purposes of youth allowance from 1 January 2012. This is to ensure consistency between the FTB and youth allowance. The measure also includes transitional arrangements so that families with a young person who is already enrolled in a course which started before 1 January 2012 will continue to receive FTBA until that course finishes.

I turn to the issue of indexation. Amend­ments to indexation arrangements for family assistance and paid parental leave are also proposed. Indexation will be paused until 1 July 2014 for the higher income-free area of FTBA—both the basic amount and the additional amount for each FTB child after the first—the FTBB income limit and the baby bonus income limit. As paid parental leave is a new entitlement, indexation of the PPL income limit will not commence until 1 July 2014. This schedule also pauses indexation of FTBA and FTBB supplements for three years. These changes will commence on 30 June 2011. The indexation arrangements for the amounts that comprise the FTBA and FTBB supplements will be amended so that these amounts are not indexed on 1 July 2011, 1 July 2012 or 1 July 2013. As a consequence, indexation will not recommence for the supplements until 1 July 2014. This will mean more pressure on families and that household budgets will again suffer at the hands of this government. Whilst the cost of living rises, family assistance will not stay in line. Instead it will be frozen. The message is clear for all to see—Labor has lost its way and has now adopted a Greens-like antifamily agenda.

Next I will cover the issue of the Paid Parental Leave scheme income threshold. The Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 provides that a person can be eligible for parental leave pay only if they meet the requirements in section 31, which include satisfying the income test. The PPL income limit before 1 July 2012 is $150,000 and is then subject to indexation. Under the Paid Parental Leave Act, indexation for the PPL income limit should occur on 1 July each year, starting on 1 July 2012. This measure will extend the commencement date for indexation of the PPL income limit to 1 July 2014. This will assist in maintaining consistency with the pausing of indexation for the baby bonus income limit under the Family Assistance Act.

I turn to the issue of assessing qualification for the disability support pension. This schedule introduces a requirement, commencing from 3 September 2011, for people to provide evidence that they have tested their future work capacity, by participating in training or work related activities, in order to qualify for the disability support pension. This new requirement will not apply to claimants for DSP who have a severe impairment, such as those who are clearly unable to work. Presently a person has a continuing inability to work because of an impairment if the secretary is satisfied that the impairment is of itself sufficient to prevent the person from doing any work independently of a program of support within the next two years, and either: (i) the impairment is of itself sufficient to prevent the person from undertaking a training activity during the next two years; or (ii) if the impairment does not prevent the person from undertaking a training activity, such activity is unlikely, because of the impairment, to enable the person to do any work independently of a program of support within the next two years.

The schedule introduces the new requirement that a person who does not have a severe impairment must satisfy the secretary that they have actively participated in a program of support. The requirement for a person to have actively participated in a program of support will not of itself answer the question of whether the person has a continuing inability to work. In addition, the person will also be required to satisfy the secretary that, as a result of the person's impairment, the person is prevented from undertaking any work and/or a training activity within the next two years. A person will have a severe impairment if the person's impairment has been assessed under the impairment tables and has been assigned an impairment rating of 20 points or more, of which 20 points or more have been assigned under a single impairment table. A person with a severe impairment will not be required to have actively participated in a program of support. However, the person will have to satisfy the secretary that, as a result of the person's impairment, the person is prevented from undertaking any work and/or a training activity within the next two years. This schedule commences on 3 September 2011. This commencement date aligns with Centrelink system requirements.

Schedule 4, 'Extending Cape York welfare reform trial', amends section 123UF of the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 to enable a proposed 12-month extension of the welfare reform trial in the Cape York area. 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. 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 only be subject to income management under the trial after a decision by the Family Responsibilities Commission, made before 1 January 2012. This schedule amends the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 to extend this date to 1 January 2013 to enable income management to continue in Cape York for a further 12 months.

Schedule 5, 'Aboriginal land trusts', amends the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 to clarify that the Public Works Committee Act 1969 does not apply to Aboriginal land trusts. The land rights act provides for the establishment of Aboriginal land trusts to hold title to land in the Northern Territory for the benefit of Aboriginal people entitled by Aboriginal tradition to the use or occupation of the land concerned. Land vested in an Aboriginal land trust under the land rights act is held as an estate in fee simple. Since the concept of authorities of the Commonwealth was first introduced into the Public Works Committee Act by way of amendment in 1981, Aboriginal land trusts have not in practice been considered to be Commonwealth authorities to which the Public Works Committee Act applies. The amendment made by this schedule clarifies that Aboriginal land trusts are not authorities of the Commonwealth for the purposes of the Public Works Committee Act.

When the Prime Minister said that the government had lost its way she was right. The government lost its way and now we know that it has lost its way permanently. This bill will see a quarter of a million families worse off; I repeat: one quarter of a million families worse off. Even families struggling to make ends meet on incomes of $45,000 per year will be hit as a consequence of this legislation. Labor has turned its back on families, who will have their payments eroded. Every single family receiving a family tax benefit will be hit by this change; that is some 2.1 million families throughout Australia. At a time when Australian families are struggling with a rising cost of living, cutting $2 billion from family benefits will put many under even more pressure. On top of that, many families with parents earning average wages will lose hundreds of dollars a year through the freezing of the threshold at which families start losing base rate family tax benefit A. Losing this support will hurt families, who have already seen many of their bills increase dramatically in recent years. Since December 2007, electricity prices across Australia have increased by an average of 51 per cent; the overall cost of food has increased in this country by 13 per cent; and education costs such as school fees have increased by an average of 24 per cent across Australia. Measures such as the FTBA and the FTBB, as well as the baby bonus and paid parental leave, are important measures designed to support families. They should not be used to generate savings to sort out the financial recklessness that we have become so used to seeing from this weak government.

I am sure Labor's backbench is excited that their official alliance partner, the Greens, will soon be boosted by new senators. And one of them is anti-Israel senator-elect Lee Rhiannon. She is nothing less than an extremist and she, together with her Green colleagues, will continue to pull the Labor Party away from what was once bipartisan ground; that is, supporting ordinary Australian families. Senator Brown has been so obsessed with his pet issues that he has forgotten about the 2.1 million families that will be hit by the antifamily agenda that he and Labor are pursuing with this bill and other measures. The reality is that Labor stopped listening to Australians a long time ago. If they would only listen they would hear a resounding chorus of condemnation. Labor's economic manage­ment leaves much to be desired: debt and deficit, waste and mismanagement, incomp­etence and ineptness. And it is getting much worse. This pressure on families will increase. Costs of living will increase. But, in stark contrast to these facts, family support will be frozen. If their approach to family relationship and support services is anything to go by, cuts will follow in the future.

It must be made clear that the plan to launch this attack on family budgets was planned in great detail before the election and as early as January 2010. Labor knew it needed to find money after wasting billions and its anti-family agenda led it to hit family assistance payments, freezing payments and eroding them over time when this was the last thing that Australian families needed. This was a deception on the Australian people. There was not a word about hitting family assistance during the campaign and certainly not before it, yet we know from answers provided in the Senate estimates that this was planned as early as January 2010.

The Prime Minister that lied about a carbon tax deceived Australians by not being upfront and honest about her hit on family benefits. The reality is that this government no longer has any moral authority. It does not care about families. In fact, thanks to the extremists in their own ranks and in the ranks of their Green allies, they are perpetuating an agenda that will hurt families and hit family budgets hard. For this the government stands condemned. It stands condemned for deceiving Australians and it stands condemned for hitting family budgets. Therefore, I move:

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:

(a) that over 2.1 million Australian families will lose some support as a result of the real value of the Family Tax Benefit supplement being cut in this legislation;

(b) that the Government had worked up a policy to freeze indexation on Family Tax Benefits prior to the last election and kept this a secret from the Australian people during that election campaign;

(c) that these cuts to family assistance payments come at a time when Australian families are struggling with increased cost of living pressures and will put further pressure on family budgets; and

(d) that Family Tax Benefit Part A and Family Tax Benefit Part B, the Baby Bonus and Paid Parental Leave are important measures designed to support families which should not be used to generate savings to sort out the Government's financial waste and mismanagement; and

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

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

Ms Gambaro: I second the amendment.