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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 8323

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (12:49): I certainly welcome the opportunity today to speak on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. As my constituents would be aware, I am an absolute supporter of the responsibility of government to provide that hand up to people who need such support. It is through the prism of the hand up and not the handout that we must always see welfare payments in this country. Those entitled to such support must be provided with it, and those who are not entitled to it must not receive it. My last newsletter reflected the common view of my constituents that they support such assistance; but, where anyone who seeks to obtain such assistance does so without entitlement and illegally, I certainly encourage my constituents to report such persons. It has been my experience that Australians dislike someone taking something that they are not entitled to, and that is the case with some welfare payment issues. However, I think Australians should be more willing to become involved and report such issues.

But we are not here today for that. Instead we are here today to debate how to make the system more efficient and better for Australians. I know that across the 25 suburbs of Cowan there are people in need of welfare support. There are people who have to work within the confines of their disability. There are people who are in need of the various forms of payments, pensions and allowances that are available for Australians and residents of Australia. Through Girrawheen, Alexander Heights, Marangaroo, Ballajura—basically all the suburbs—there are people who are in need of support, and I welcome that support.

There has been a lot said lately on the concept of the national disability insurance scheme. Certainly in the last couple of months I have had more and more contact with people who are involved in the disability area. I would like to thank Ann Wood, one of my constituents, who brought her son to me and made it very clear the life that she has to live with her son and the difficulties that they have had. She also made it clear that there are a lot of breakdowns and systemic problems that need to be addressed. I think we are united as a parliament in the view that a system that is broken needs to be dealt with and dealt with quickly. So I welcome the Productivity Commission report. I know from my discussions with the coalition leadership on this matter that we look forward to be giving the Productivity Commission report generous consideration in the future. We will work through these problems to try to get a better, sustainable, long-term deal for those who are labouring under the issues of disability—both families and the person who has the disability. We certainly welcome that step forward, but as we know it has been estimated that some $6 billion is going to be required to sort out a National Disability Insurance Scheme. That will be challenging, but there must be a way that we can work through it with the states to make sure that we end up with the right result.

I will now move through the bill and talk about some of the issues that are involved. This bill deals with a range of income support measures, including those for veterans and for the disabled. It puts forward a range of changes that will better ensure that Australia's income support system provides more appropriate assistance to some of the most vulnerable members of our community. These are measures which the coalition supports.

The first of these changes is to allow recipients of parenting payments access to bereavement allowance. It goes without saying that the loss of a spouse or a partner has a devastating impact upon individuals and families, and quite apart from the emotional effects that result from bereavement there is invariably a financial aspect to consider as well. I understand from changes that were made in 2009 that the Social Security Act as it currently stands prevents a person receiving a parenting payment from qualifying for bereavement allowance upon the death of their partner. A typical situation is that someone on a parenting payment who is met with the death of their partner is not able to move onto the bereavement allowance. Under the changes in this bill, and rightly so, they will be allowed to do so, and then after that period they may move back to the parenting payment (single). Before 2009, that did not place vulnerable people at a disadvantage, and this bill will remedy the situation of the 2009 changes.

This bill also makes changes to correct an anomaly in the operation of special benefit for certain visa holders by removing the family member exemption from the newly arrived resident's two-year waiting period for special benefit. As things presently stand, temporary visa holders may gain access to special benefit if their visa falls within a class of visa set out in a determination made by the minister. As a result, special benefit is payable to temporary visa holders upon arrival in Australia if they are suffering hardship, whilst other migrants on other visa types are subject to the usual arrangements. Other migrants must wait for two years before a special benefit is payable, unless they are able to prove that both financial hardship and changes to their circumstances beyond their control have occurred following their arrival in Australia. In other words, temporary visa holders whose visas fall into a certain category can receive a special benefit much earlier than those migrants coming to Australia with permanent visas. The changes contained in this bill will result in a fairer application of requirements for special benefit and will ensure that assistance is genuinely being provided to those in the greatest need.

The bill also seeks to update what are known as the 'impairment tables' to ensure that Australia's legislation reflects contemporary approaches to medical treatment and rehabilitation. In order to access the disability support pension, an individual must have an impairment that rates at 20 points or more under the impairment tables. As the previous speaker said, the tables currently being used were last subject to a comprehensive review 18 years ago in 1993. Given the advances in technology, changed approaches to medical treatment and greater flexibility in rehabilitation practices that have occurred in the intervening years, a comprehensive review of those tables is appropriate and required.

I understand that the government has consulted with medical experts, allied health professionals, medical health workers and those in the rehabilitation field as well as a range of peak bodies and professional associations in reviewing these impairment tables. I understand the updated tables will be introduced at a later time by way of legislative instrument and that the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs is committed to further extensive consultations to ensure that Australia has a system where assistance is better targeted and appropriate to contemporary medical treatment and rehabilitation frameworks. Placing these updated impairment tables in a legislative instrument will mean that they can be more responsive to changing medical and rehabilitation practices.

This bill contains initiatives that are designed to improve the integrity of particular asset test exempt income streams. Over time, inequities have arisen between social security recipients and veterans' affairs pensioners; inconsistencies in the treatment of these payments have meant that some recipients have received concessions at higher payment rates without meeting their reciprocal responsibilities. The changes put forward here are intended to provide some clarity and to strengthen existing income stream rules. Social security recipients and veterans' affairs pensioners who have lifetime or life expectancy income streams are currently required to provide an actuarial certificate stating that there is a high probability that the provider of the income stream will be able to pay the income stream as required under the contract or governing rules for the term of the income stream.

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 markedly, even over a short period of time. As a result, some social security and veterans' affairs customers are providing certificates that fail to meet the high probability test. This leads to their payments being subject to the assets test, which can create a level of uncertainty and financial problems for some of the most vulnerable in the community. It is good that the changes in this bill are designed to help provide some clarity so that these customers may provide only one certificate for each financial year to show that the fund has sufficient resources to pay the income stream for its term. In the event that someone provides more than one certificate for a particular financial year only the first certificate given will have effect.

The bill also provides some clarity in relation to the status of termination payments within social security law. For a variety of reasons some employers will elect to make a payment to an employee in lieu of notice of termination. The provisions of this bill will help ensure that people who receive such payments are treated in the same way as people who receive other types of redundancy or termination payments. Importantly, the bill will provide an enhanced quality assurance system for disability advocacy services to ensure that those Australians who live with disability are afforded the best possible advocacy support.

As we know, the current quality assurance system has been in place since 1997 but no longer provides sufficient assurances about the quality of disability advocacy support being provided. Under the system proposed by this bill the compliance of disability advocacy services with the new disability advocacy standards, to 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 Australia and New Zealand, which is the accreditation body that accredits certification bodies to undertake certification assessments of disability advocacy services. I understand that the system has been the subject of a successful trial, and was developed following extensive consultation with those working in the sector.

This bill makes a number of changes which clarify aspects of social security law, and should make it easier for those who depend on income support to understand the system. Moreover, it addresses a number of inconsistencies in the application of the law that have arisen over time and the changes proposed here should result in an income support system which is fairer across the board.

It is right that the parliament do all it can to support those Australians who, because of a disability, are unable to work to support themselves and their families. It is equally important that the services of those who have risked their lives for our national security is recognised through a stable system of veterans affairs' income support. The coalition is supporting these initiatives in the hope that they will improve the system for those who depend upon it. As I said at the start, it is right that we have a strong and viable social security system put in place to protect and to provide for those who are labouring under circumstances beyond their control—particularly the victims of circumstances who do not have the same capacity as the rest of society to benefit from the opportunities that this strong society that we have provides.

It is without doubt that we support these measures. We look forward to the passing of these when this motion is concluded.