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, 17 August 2011
Page: 8318


Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (12:25): I indicate, without detaining the House too long, that this a bill which, in a sense, makes some technical amendments to the legislation in a range of matters. These are matters which are important in terms of the legislation itself and the operation of social security legislation in this country. (Quorum formed) I apologise to those members who had to rush back to the House—not on every occasion a quorum is called but on this occasion. I thank them and the government for their cooperation in this regard.

As I said, the Security and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 will introduce several measures affecting primarily the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs portfolio. The bill seeks to amend the Social Security Act 1991 to enable parenting payment recipients to transfer temporarily to bereavement allowances following the death of a partner, remove the family member exemption from the two-year newly arrived residents' waiting period before special benefit is payable, enable the minister to make legislative instruments determining impairments tables and rules relating to the tables and clarify that payments made by an employer to an employee in lieu of a notice of termination are regarded as redundancy payments for the purposes of social security payments.

The Disability Services Act 1986 will also be amended to provide the disability advocacy services. Compliance with the disability advocacy standards will be assessed by an independent certification body over a three-year cycle. The bill also seeks to amend the Social Security Act 1991 and the Veterans Entitlements Act 1986 in relation to certain asset test exempt income streams and the provision of actuarial certificates.

Schedule 1 of the bill—bereavement allowance—would provide parenting payment recipients access to bereavement allowance on the death of a partner. The Social Security Act prevents a parenting payment recipient from qualifying for bereavement allowance on the death of his or her partner. The original intent of the legislation was that the surviving member of a couple who had dependent children would continue to receive parenting payment single rather than transferring temporarily to the equivalent of bereavement allowance and then back to parenting payment single. Historically, there was no financial advantage in transferring between these payment types.

The introduction of the secure and sustainable pension reform package in September 2009 resulted in an increase to the single rate of certain pension types, including bereavement allowance. Allowing parenting payment recipients to transfer temporarily to bereavement allowance will provide additional assistance. Schedule 2—special benefit—would align access to special benefit for certain visa holders with other migrants by removing the family member exemption from the two-year newly arrived resident's waiting period before special benefit is payable. Temporary visa holders may qualify for special benefit if the visa is included in a class of visas set out in a determination made by the minister. Currently, special benefit is payable to these temporary visa holders on arrival in Australia if suffering hardship, whereas other migrants would be subject to the newly arrived resident's waiting period and must wait two years before special benefit is payable, unless they can demonstrate both financial hardship and a substantial change in circumstances beyond their control after arrival in Australia. An exemption from the newly arrived resident's waiting period is provided to a family member under the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Newly Arrived Resident's Waiting Periods and Other Measures) Act 1997. The Social Security Act defines a family member as a partner or a dependent child. As a result, unlike other newly arrived migrants, these temporary visa holders can receive special benefit much earlier than migrants entering with permanent visas.

As a result of the changes made by this schedule, in respect of claims for special benefit lodged on or after 1 January 2012, the exemption from the newly arrived resident's waiting period will no longer apply to a holder of a visa that is in a class of visas determined under unless another exception applies. This change means that provisional partner visa holders will need to demonstrate that they have experienced a substantial change of circumstances beyond their control after arrival in Australia, in addition to financial hardship, in order to access special benefit.

Schedule 3—impairment tables for disability support pension—removes the current impairment tables from 1 January 2012 and enables the minister to introduce new impairment tables through a legislative instrument. This schedule also establishes that the minister may make a legislative instrument setting out the new impairment tables and guidelines containing the rules relating to the new impairment tables. The placement of the impairment tables in a legislative instrument will enable the impairment tables to be updated more frequently.

Schedule 4—disability advocacy services—provides for the introduction of a third-party certification quality assurance system for disability advocacy services. It is argued that the new quality assurance system will provide greater assurances about the quality of disability advocacy support by introducing mechanisms independent from government to assess the compliance of disability advocacy services against a tailored set of new disability advocacy standards. The current quality assurance system has not changed since 1997 and does not provide assurances about the quality of disability advocacy support being provided. Under the new quality assurance system, the compliance of disability advocacy services with the new disability advocacy standards—which will be set out in a legislative instrument—is assessed by an independent certification body over a three-year cycle. The quality assurance system is based on the Joint Accreditation System of Australian and New Zealand—JAS-ANZ—under which JAS-ANZ is the accreditation body that accredits certification bodies to undertake certification assessments of disability advocacy services. This third-party certification system has been successfully in place for disability employment services since 2002.

Schedule 5—asset test exempt income streams—would make a number of amendments relating to the treatment of certain asset test exempt income streams. Under the social security law, lifetime and life expectancy income streams receive concessional treatment for the assets test, provided they meet the requirements under sections 9A and 9B of the Social Security Act. This means that the asset value of the income stream is not taken into account when determining whether a social security payment is payable to a person. Similarly, the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986, in sections 5JA and 5JB, also extends a concessional treatment under its assets test when the equivalent requirements are met. Due to changes in economic and market conditions, the probability that a provider of an income stream will be able to pay the income stream as required under the contract or governing rules could fluctuate quite markedly, even over a short period of time. As a result, some social security customers provide the secretary—and, in similar circumstances, veterans affairs pensioners provide the Repatriation Commission—with actuarial certificates that fail to meet the high probability test, which results in their income stream becoming subject to the assets test, within the 26-week grace period, until they obtain a favourable certificate that meets the high probability test.

This schedule also clarifies that the grace period in which a person must provide a new actuarial certificate for an income stream applies from the beginning of the particular financial year—that is, from 1 July—and ends when a new actuarial certificate is given to the secretary or, as the case may be, the Repatriation Commission, in relation to that income stream for that financial year or at the end of the period of 26 weeks beginning on 1 July of that financial year. If a person does not give the secretary or the Repatriation Commission a new actuarial certificate in relation to the income stream by the end of the 26-week period, the income stream will lose its asset test exemption.

Schedule 6—termination payments—seeks to clarify that payments made by an employer to an employee in lieu of notice of termination are regarded as redundancy payments for the purposes of the social security law. The Social Security Act provides for an income maintenance period to be applied to people who have claimed, or are in receipt of, certain social security payments and have received a redundancy or leave payment. The income maintenance period is the period in which redundancy payments, or leave payments, are treated as income under the act. Income maintenance periods are applied because people who receive leave or redundancy payments from their employer are expected to use these payments to support themselves for a period before turning to the social security system for assistance. The amendments made by this schedule clarify that a payment made to a person in lieu of notice of the termination of their employment is a redundancy payment for the purposes of the Social Security Act. The effect of this is that a payment in lieu of notice will be included when calculating whether the person has to serve an income maintenance period and the length of that period. The changes made by this schedule ensure that people who receive payments in lieu of notice are treated in the same way as people who receive other types of redundancy or termination payments. The amendments made by this schedule apply to payments in lieu of notice made on or after the commencement of this schedule. The schedule commences on the day after royal assent.

As I indicated at the outset, these are sensible amendments that would be made, I suspect, regardless of who is in government, and for that reason the coalition does not oppose them.