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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 8329

Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (13:20): I am very pleased to rise in support of the Tax Laws Amendment (2011 Measures No. 6) Bill. This bill delivers a number of different but highly important measures. It will directly assist families dealing with disability. It will ensure certainty for industry regarding the fringe benefits tax. Finally, it adds two new organisations to the deductible gift recipients register for tax purposes. I thank the Assistant Treasurer for all his efforts on these matters and I encourage all members to support this legislation.

First, I want to discuss the importance of this bill with specific focus on schedule 1 which amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to ensure that the outer regional and remote payment made under the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative is exempt from income tax. This government realises the unfortunate reality that it is harder for families who live in regional and remote parts of Australia and care for a loved one with a disability. It is much harder to visit necessary services in some remote parts of Australia. That is why the government introduced the outer regional and remote areas payment. This means that eligible recipients would receive a one-off payment of $2,000 to help manage the extra logistical difficulties that come with caring for a person with a disability—

(Quorum formed) Madam Deputy Speaker, I was talking about the needs of people with disability and the importance of assisting those people and particularly their carers. Under the current law, payments made to recipients under the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative may be subject to income tax. This bill will ensure that the outer regional and remote payment made under the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative is expressly exempt from income tax.

Schedule 2 of the bill will also provide increased certainty to fly-in fly-out employees working overseas and their employers by exempting transport from the fringe benefits tax.

Finally, schedule 3 amends the Income Tax Assessment Act to update the list of deductible gift recipients.

I would particularly like to spend a bit of time dealing with the issues relevant to schedule 1. On 29 July last year the Prime Minister made a landmark announcement in detailing the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative. As of 1 July this year, eligible children will be able to access a range of early intervention service providers, including speech pathologists, audiologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists.

Early intervention can make a huge difference to the development and lifelong learning of a child with a disability, and access to these services will help better prepare them for school. This initiative will see around 9,000 children of up to seven years of age who have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome and/or sight or hearing impairments potentially benefit from these measures. Eligible children will have access to a total of $12,000 in flexible funding for early intervention services and will be able to use up to $6,000 in any one financial year.

On top of this, those Australians living in outer regional and remote parts of the country will receive a one-off payment of $2,000 to assist with the extra costs of transport and other expenses that are incurred due to living in remote regions. By amending the Income Tax Assessment Act, the bill will ensure that families receiving the additional outer regional and remote payment under the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative will be exempt from paying income tax on this one-off payment. This government realises the added pressures, financial and otherwise, that many people who are caring for a young person with disability in regional Australia face, and we are legislating accordingly.

Schedule 2 of the bill ensures certainty for employees whose usual place of employment is overseas, specifically where they work at a remote location that is not in a state or internal territory for an Australian employer. This is otherwise referred to as a fly-in fly-out arrangement. In November last year the Assistant Treasurer announced that Australian workers in such arrangements who worked overseas would be treated the same as those in the same arrangement working in Australia. Therefore, the current fringe benefit tax exemption on travel that applies to fly-in fly-out workers in Australia will be extended to Australian workers overseas. This exemption will be backdated to 1 July 2009, when the tax changes to foreign employment income commenced. This exemption provides the certainty sought by industry regarding the fringe benefit tax implications of changes to the taxation of Australian residents employed overseas. This will improve the consistency of treatment and ensure certainty for employees and their employers.

Finally, this bill will add the New Zealand government's Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust and Cancer Australia to the list of deductible gift recipients.

I would like to mention a number of examples from my own electorate of Greenway that highlight why it is so important to address the issue of disability, as schedule 1 of this bill certainly does. In my first speech in this place, I made a commitment to try and improve the lives of people touched by disability. During my time here as a member I have been truly moved by the stories and experiences of the many people in my electorate who have a disability or who care for people with a disability. Over the winter recess, I visited a number of disability service providers and families who are caring for loved ones with a disability. Time and again, these people sat down and told me how difficult it is to provide care and support for clients and family members who have a disability.

In June this year, I met local resident Peter Mortimer and his family during a visit to the disability service provider Ability Options in Seven Hills. Peter's 25-year-old daughter, Kate, at the age of six suffered a catastrophic brain injury, causing her profound disability. After living at home with her family, Kate recently moved into a group home and receives support to manage her daily activities through the Ability Options self-managed program. Peter told me how difficult it was for Kate and the rest of his family immediately after Kate's accident and during her formative years, telling me:

Because of Kate's growth and changing posture she has needed six custom-made wheelchairs over her lifetime and these are not something you can just pick off a shelf.

For each new chair we have had to wait on average 18 months for the funding to be approved, for moulds to be taken and for the chair to be made. We even partially funded one of Kate's wheelchairs as we couldn't wait—Kate really needed it for her posture and so she could engage in activities.

Unfortunately, Kate's story is not an uncommon one, and it is exactly why we must do all we can to help Australians who have a disability, especially younger Australians during their formative years.

The Better Start for Children with Disability initiative directly aims to improve the quality of life of young people with disability. This amendment builds on this legislation by easing the financial burden on families living in remote and regional Australia who are raising children who have a disability.

I want to take this opportunity to say that it is crucial we work towards easing the pressures on people with disability and on their carers. In addition to the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative, we must ensure that all Australians with a disability have the care and support they need. That is why I and a number of other members have backed the Productivity Commission's report into long-term disability care and support, and will continue to push for the implementation of a national disability insurance scheme.

I also want to thank the Prime Minister and the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs for their support of the Productivity Commission's report. For too long, people living with disability in this country have been treated as second-class citizens. Throughout my electorate, people have contacted me saying we must address these issues.

I am advocating for a comprehensive national disability insurance scheme that will deliver lifetime care and support for people with severe and profound disability, a strong income support system to enable people who cannot support themselves through work to live in dignity and a range of measures to facilitate increased private expenditure.

Only last week I visited Northcott Disability Services, where I met an extraordinary young women named Gretta Serov—and people may have seen Gretta in the Sydney Morning Herald. Gretta has cerebral palsy. She is confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak. She told me her story by communicating through a tablet computer. Gretta told me that an NDIS would 'basically mean I could integrate much more smoothly into the community and it will increase my independence and quality of life by providing much needed support and transport'. Gretta and the Northcott staff also highlighted how pleased they were with the Prime Minister's response to the Productivity Commission's report. Gretta went on to tell me that she is looking forward to attending university to possibly study creative writing. I have no doubt that Gretta will get to university and achieve her goals, but it is up to us to remove the unfair and unequal barriers that currently stand in her way. That is why I support the implementation of a national disability insurance scheme and encourage all members to do the same.

In conclusion, as I said, this bill does three important things. The bill will amend the Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act 1986 to exempt from fringe benefits tax the cost of transport for Australian residents travelling to and from remote overseas places of employment, providing certainty to employees and employers. The bill will also amend the list of deductible gift recipients to make gifts to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust and Cancer Australia tax-deductible. Finally, the bill will ease the financial strain on families in regional and remote parts of Australia who are caring for someone with a disability, by exempting their regional and remote payments made under the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative from income tax. These are the right things to do for our community, and I urge all members to support this bill.