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Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Page: 6832

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (09:54): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. From the title you would think there was a whole lot in this for families—more family assistance at a time when costs of living continue to rise, at a time when retail in our suburban shopping centres such as Kingsway, Newpark and Wanneroo Central is suffering. Yet the government brings in all these changes that will take away support for families—the forgotten families.

Those on the other side used to be the supporters of working families, but that was just a catchcry that served a purpose back in 2007. It created an image but now, when things are getting a bit tough, they pull back from that assistance. Thousands of Australian families will be worse off. They will lose various amounts of family tax benefit A or family tax benefit B at a time when electricity prices are rising, when the cost of food is rising, when transport costs are rising and when school fees are rising. This is the government's response.

Those opposite talk about savings, and the member for Fowler talked about the need to bring the budget back into surplus. There is no doubt about that. Spending restraint by this government is very important to keep pressure off interest rates. We know there is a lot of pressure on interest rates in this country. But, when you look across the range of government programs, it is very easy to find savings. We look back on some wonderful programs such as the pink batts scheme and some of those green programs that have been shown to be fundamental, colossal failures. There is the border protection failure which has seen costs blow out to the extent of billions of dollars. The member for Fowler talked about the redirection of resources but, when you look through what is actually being redirected and what is being saved from the cuts, the cuts far and away exceed what is being redirected.

Australian families are the ones that will be suffering at a time when the shops and retail outlets in my electorate of Cowan, across Perth and across this country are doing it tough. Not everyone has the fly-in fly-out miners. Not everyone has those guys on $150,000 or $200,000 walking into their shops. Most people are not on that sort of money, and it is wrong of the government to take away money from families that are not doing it easy. It seems that $150,000 is the magic mark for this government—families on more than 150 grand are just the filthy rich and they should have everything taken away from them. But there are a lot of families sailing close to that mark on a couple of modest salaries and they have to look after their kids, pay the bills and keep up with the costs of living. It is a sad day when this government attacks the forgotten families of this country with these sorts of measures. It is very hard to find something in this bill that you can honestly say you would support—there are indexation freezes and there is the tax on family tax benefit supplements. There are a lot of problems in this bill, and that is why I support the second reading amendment of the member for Menzies.

Some aspects of this bill relate to the disability support pension. It is appropriate that all those with the capacity to seek employment be asked to reach their capacity and be asked to contribute to society. I do not think anyone on this side would object to that. There have been some cases where the families of those with severe impairment or permanent incapacity have been unfairly required by Centrelink to continually prove disability. That is a tragic thing and certainly Centrelink needs to work something out. If someone has a permanent severe disability the family should not be put under the pressure of having to get medical certificates every couple of years to justify the requirement for the disability support pension.

In any discussion of the disability support pension it is also worthwhile talking about the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Recently the Productivity Commission's draft report was put out; we on this side certainly supported the referral to the Productivity Commission. In regard to disabilities we know that there is a wide range of support. In many state jurisdictions there is the workers compensation aspect. If someone is injured in a car accident, for instance, the level of support is quite significant in some jurisdictions. But in other areas, such as where someone is born with a disability, it is very difficult because there is a requirement for the families to reach out to a number of different agencies to try to cobble together the support they need for their disabled family member. So we have a real mish-mash of a scheme, a system that really needs to be worked on.

We need a workable scheme in this country and it is right that we look at the National Disability Insurance Scheme or in fact a scheme that would see a resolution of the longstanding problem in this country of providing true support to those who are disabled and for their families. On this side we look forward to the Productivity Commission's final report with regard to the scheme and to disability services in this country. The coalition will give generous consideration to the final report.

Across this bill there are some aspects that I am happy with, but what is being done against families in this country is not something we should be supporting. As I said before, the cost of living continues to rise. The support levels under this bill continue to fall or are planned to fall. When we look at the election campaign just 12 months ago, it is very difficult to recall where this was all forecast. It is a bit like the carbon tax that was never going to exist; it was ruled out by the Prime Minister and by the Treasurer—hysterically at one point by the Treasurer I recall. This government wants to take away family payments and create problems for Australian families. It has forgotten families. At the same time it wants to bring in this carbon tax, a tax that will do nothing for the environment and for the lowering of global temperatures. There are a number of attacks being made by this government. Conveniently, they were not forecast as part of the election campaign. In any case, these are the challenges that this government wants to impose on the forgotten families of this country.

So it is right that we on this side of the House talk about these things and remind the government that families are the most important building block of this country. They are entitled to support, and that support should not be reduced in this frivolous manner. Whilst there is virtue in ensuring that the budget is balanced as soon as possible, the government should look to many of its programs that have not worked, are expensive and have blown out and find the savings within those measures. We have been able to do it. During the election campaign we talked about the billions of dollars that we would cut from some of these many wasteful programs. So it is possible to do it without a tax on the families of Australia.

I encourage the government to re-think this bill. In any case I most certainly take this opportunity to support the member for Menzies in his wise amendment about this bill.