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Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Page: 6830

Mr HAYES (FowlerGovernment Whip) (09:39): It is a pleasure to follow the member for Menzies in this debate on the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. The pleasure I have in following the member for Menzies is that it enables me to take a little time to mention the things that he left out. One of the things that he left out—and I know that a lot of people on that side of the chamber do—was the global financial crisis. We do not need to contain ourselves to the history books as to when it occurred and its effect. As a matter of fact, Australia had one of the few developed economies in the world that grew over that period of time. It also reflects well in our employment records. But, leaving all that aside, there are plenty who can go out there and extol the virtues of Labor's management of the economy.

I want to talk about what the opposition did when they had a chance to participate in doing something constructive for the economy at that stage. When it came to things such as guaranteeing bank deposits to ensure that small business did not go under, did they support that? No. They wanted to impose some form of limit of $100,000. That would have been very good for very, very small businesses, but for businesses that generate employment, no, they did not want to participate. Did they support the one-off payments in all areas of the stimulus package? Again, no, they did not. You have to ask yourself why. The same position on the stimulus package was put forward by every leading economist in the country. The only ones that did not embrace the package were all those opposite. Probably the reason they did not embrace it is that there is not an economic brain between them.

This bill delivers on five measures announced in the 2011-12 budget as well as some non-budget measures. Families are the core of our society. With this in mind, we must provide as much support as possible for the family unit. My electorate is in outer metropolitan Sydney. I know full well that the family unit is very much the core of the being of my electorate of Fowler. The number of families and the fact that they come from a low socioeconomic area means that they do require support. When we support those families those children go on to do wonderful things throughout other aspects of our economy. I will come back to that a little later.

This amendment introduced by the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs is a very proactive step to ensuring that the government directs its resources in the most effective manner to those Australian families who, quite frankly, need it most. That is what we do in a caring society. We do not want to go down the path of the former Howard government, which was buying votes from people and which was governed by middle-income welfare. This is a matter of realigning and doing what we should do as a caring society to ensure that our emphasis goes to helping families in need and helping people to participate in all sectors of the economy. (Quorum formed)

As I was saying, three provisions were put in practice in respect of the reform for family payments through the 2011-12 budget package. Commencing on 1 January 2012, the maximum age for eligibility for family tax benefit A will be lowered from 24 to 21. Importantly, this will bring that provision into line with the eligibility provision for youth allowance. This change recognises the fact that people aged 22 and over are considered independent—although I, like you, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, have children over 24 and I do not think that as parents we ever get relieved of that level of dependence. But for the purposes of this legislation this provision aligns family tax benefit A with the age provisions for the youth allowance. If these young adults are enrolled in full-time study they will have access to the youth allowance, independent of their family's income, subject obviously to the means-testing and academic progress rules.

By saving $29.2 million over four years, we can redirect those resources within the family payment system, with a greater focus on families with dependent children in study or who are currently undertaking training, vocational or otherwise. Again, this gets back to the central theme of what I said initially, that this is about directing resources towards those in our community who need assistance.

From 1 July this year Australian families will benefit from the indexation pause for another two years. The pause will be applicable to higher income limits for family payments and that will, over a four-year period, save an estimated $1.2 billion. This is yet another measure that demonstrates the government is committed to helping families with the rising costs of raising kids, especially in low- to middle-income households. That is precisely where these changes are directed in my electorate of Fowler and those are precisely the people who will benefit from the redirection of those resources.

To meet the increased costs of living, the government has ensured that the fortnightly payment rate for the family tax benefit and the baby bonus continue to be indexed annually. The provision in respect of parental leave payments was raised earlier but, given the link between the national minimum wage and the parental leave payment, that will not now be affected.

Under these changes it is expected that less than two per cent of families will no longer be eligible for family payments. This, however, is a necessary change as it is in line with the government's effort to ensure a sustainable family payments system not only now but into the future.

In addition to these measures, the amending legislation provides for more efficient and accurate assessments for the disability support pension and also enables the proposed 12-month extension of the Cape York welfare reform trial to 1 January 2013. Under the current system, people can apply for the disability support pension without ever having sought rehabilitation and without having demonstrated that they have undertaken various training regimes or participated in a program of support to help facilitate employment options. By requiring applicants to now provide sufficient evidence that they are unable to work independently, we are ensuring that the disability support arrangements are directed at individuals who actually need it most. It also promotes a greater focus on encouraging individuals to re-enter and participate in the workforce.

Only last week I spoke in the House about Hoxton Industries as well as the Australian Foundation for Disability, AFFORD. Both of these organisations are employers of people with disability. Hoxton Industries currently employ around 150 people with a disability. They do a fabulous job in my community. I have often suggested, particularly when I address chambers of commerce and other businesses, that, where possible, without jeopardising a return on investment, a return to shareholders or compromising a business, local businesses should use the services of organisations such as Hoxton Industries or AFFORD—people who go out and specialise in the employment of people with disabilities. They make an enormous contribution to our community. I have nothing other than praise for the way those organisations conduct themselves and provide opportunity for people with disabilities, some of them with profound disabilities, to participate in the workforce.

One thing I have learnt from my many years of working with people with disabilities is that they certainly do not want our sympathy and they do not seek handouts. People with disability expect inclusion in all aspects of our community, including employment. They are no different from anybody else—they want to feel a sense of worth through their participation in gainful employment. Encouraging and helping to facilitate that is a very good thing. By concentrating on people's abilities rather than limitations, this legislation delivers an extra saving of $49.7 million while empowering individuals to help support themselves.

Finally, these budget measures also extend the Cape York welfare reform. To demonstrate support for this trial in the communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge, in a partnership with the Queensland government, we have committed an extra $16.1 million over two years.

These budgetary measures are econo­mically responsible and they certainly strive to bring the budget back into surplus. More importantly, these changes achieve a redirection of resources to communities that need them. They certainly seek to redirect support to families in most need. As a government, we have a commitment to do all we can to assist families. I therefore commend this bill to the House.