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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 8326

Ms MACKLIN (JagajagaMinister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) (13:02): First of all I would like to thank all of the speakers for their contribution to the debate on this bill, because the government is working very hard to support people with disability to fulfil their potential.

Just last week the Prime Minister released the Productivity Commission's final report into long-term care and support of people with disability. As members would know, consistent with the Productivity Commission's recommendations we have already started work to transform the way care and support is provided to people with disabilities. We are working to deliver results for people with disability right now, including by improving support for Australians with a disability to help them into work wherever that is possible.

The disability support pension is an essential element of Australia's safety net, and it is vital that it supports the people who need it: those Australians who, through disability, are unable to work to fully support themselves. In the 2009-10 budget the government committed to update the impairment tables used to assess eligibility for the disability support pension to bring them into line with modern medical and rehabilitation practice. The current impairment tables have not been comprehensively rewritten since they were introduced in 1991. It is essential that the level of someone's impairment is assessed using the most up-to-date medical information and with reference to modern rehabilitation practices. This is an important element of the government's reforms to the disability support pension, to make it simpler, fairer and sustainable for those who need it.

An advisory committee of medical, allied health and rehabilitation experts, representatives of disability peak bodies, mental health advocates and relevant government agencies was established in 2010 to provide advice on updating the impairment tables. Following a thorough review the advisory committee has provided its final report to the government, which I released publicly last month. The report finds that the current impairment tables are out of date. The advisory committee has developed new impairment tables in close consultation with the medical profession and disability stakeholders. These proposed new tables have also been made public. The advisory committee's report recommends the new tables be used to assess eligibility for the disability support pension from 1 January 2012. In line with the advisory committee's recommendations the government is consulting with disability stakeholders, mental health advocates and experts to ensure the recommended new tables are implemented fairly and effectively.

This bill removes the current outdated tables and enables new tables to be introduced through a disallowable legislative instrument. This change will occur on 1 January 2012. Putting the impairment tables into a disallowable instrument allows them to be updated regularly in response to developments in medical and rehabilitation practice, and will also retain the parliament's role in scrutinising any changes.

The bill also introduces a stronger quality assurance system for disability advocacy services to make sure that people with disability receive the best possible advocacy support. The current quality assurance system has not changed since 1997, and the need for improved quality assurance for disability advocacy services has been highlighted in a number of reviews. This bill requires disability advocacy services that receive financial assistance under the Disability Services Act to be reviewed and assessed by independent, accredited certification bodies against disability advocacy standards. This quality assurance system has been in place for disability employment services since 2002. It involves people with disability at all levels in the system, including as members of audit teams. The new system has been successfully trialled and independently evaluated in consultation with the disability advocacy sector. The evaluation recommended formal implementation. These changes will help meet the objectives of the National Disability Strategy and will also help meet Australia's obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This bill also gives effect to a 2011-12 budget measure by enabling parenting payment recipients to access bereavement allowance on the death of a partner. Allowing a parenting payment recipient to transfer to bereavement allowance on the death of their partner will provide additional financial assistance during a very difficult time.

The bill also gives effect to another 2011-12 budget measure, to more closely align the rules for accessing special benefit for provisional partner visa holders with the rules for other newly arrived migrants. Under current policy, provisional partner visa holders are able to access special benefit from when they are granted the visa and are in Australia if they can demonstrate that they are suffering from financial hardship. This is not consistent with other newly arrived migrants subject to the newly arrived residents waiting period, who need to demonstrate both financial hardship and change in circumstances outside their control in order to access special benefit. From 1 January 2012, the rules for provisional partner visa holders will be consistent with those for other newly arrived migrants. The new arrangements will continue to ensure adequate protection for vulnerable migrants—for example, where there is domestic violence, death of a partner or an injury or accident after their arrival in Australia.

The bill also makes changes to the social security law and veterans entitlements legislation to enhance the integrity of treatment of certain asset-test-exempt income streams. These changes strengthen the existing rules that require lifetime and life expectancy income streams to provide an annual actuarial certificate in order to benefit from concessional treatment and address inconsistencies in the treatment of these income streams that have arisen over time.

Finally, the bill also makes amendments to the social security law to clarify that payments made by an employer to an employee in lieu of notice of the termination of his or her employment are redundancy payments for the purposes of social security law. This ensures that, in calculating income maintenance periods under the act, people who receive these payments are treated in the same way as people who receive other types of redundancy payments. I thank the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.