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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 8381

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (16:59): I rise to speak in support of the Tax Laws Amendment (2011 Measures No. 6) Bill 2011. This bill makes three changes to Australian tax laws further modernising our taxation system and ensuring that our taxation system takes account of the most disadvantaged in our society. I strongly support the first initiative in this bill which is aimed at promoting early intervention for children with disabilities. Under the system known as the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative, which the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs has just outlined and that was announced as part of the government's election commitments on 29 July 2010, I am proud to be a member of a government that has fulfilled a commitment to improve the long-term outcomes for children with disabilities. I have long believed that we must not consider children with a disability as necessarily placing a significant burden on the state. Indeed, as a teacher and now as a parliamentarian I have long observed the incredibly positive contribution that people with disabilities play in our community at all ages and stages of their lives. It is always important to reaffirm the vast variety of disabilities of differing degrees that people are affected by and to identify within that incredible talents and abilities as well.

Early intervention initiatives have proven immensely successful in improving the lives of children with a variety of disabilities. Indeed, intervention at the early childhood stage of development is now considered to be much more effective than later treatment. The Better Start for Children with Disability initiative funds early intervention for children with certain developmental disabilities which the minister recently outlined. This amendment to the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 ensures that the outer regional and remote payment made under the Better Start for Children with Disability initiative is exempt from income tax. I find this reform very encouraging because it will ensure that financial assistance is available and secure. Funding under this initiative is available to families after evidence is provided of confirmed written diagnosis of disability. Whilst this eligibility regime is a necessity, as a community I say again we must always remember that people, including particularly children with disabilities, are never to be defined by those disabilities. While definitions of disability are a necessity in relation to the administration of these tax and social security benefits, we have to be mindful of the inherent limitation of labels, to see the abilities of all, and to celebrate the gifts that kids with disabilities bring to their families, to their school communities and to their broader communities.

The provision I mentioned here provides a further one-off payment of $2,000 to parents and carers who are living in rural and regional communities in Australia who require assistance to get their young child with a disability to the type of care and support that they deserve and they need. This element is a vital component to the scheme because parents and carers living in remote and regional areas experience far greater difficulty in accessing services than we would like to be the case. I believe that the additional $2,000 will help remedy this by enabling additional expenses such as travel for doctors appointments and transport to be able to be covered. This social program represents a very smart investment by government.

By investing in early intervention we not only improve real life outcomes, we also save on health costs. By intervening early we are increasing the likelihood that individual children with disabilities will lead happy, independent and fulfilling lives. By establishing support services early in life, it is likely that children with disabilities will grow up much more engaged with and active in their communities. I am proud to support a government committed to improving the life circumstances for people with disabilities. It is a core Labor value to support the most disadvantaged in society. Our record shows that our policy decisions are not just geared to ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number but always retain within our legislative program compassion, empathy and a belief in supporting those who might be less advantaged. I believe that this legislation is complemented by our plan to introduce a national disability insurance scheme, a once in a generation reform that will directly improve and transform the lives of people with disabilities and those of their families.

Another important reform contained in this bill is the amendments to the Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act 1986 in particular in relation to transport from an employee's usual place of residence to their usual place of employment. This bill will provide an exemption from the fringe benefits tax for transport from an employee's usual place of residence to their usual place of employment. This amendment operates in the circumstances where the employee is an Australian resident employed in a remote area overseas under what is commonly known as a fly-in fly-out arrangement. Our taxation system should not act as a disincentive for people to work under a fly-in fly-out arrangement.

Also as stated by the minister in his second reading speech, this measure ensures that any possible double taxation is eliminated. Taxing transport provided under these arrangements may also result in economic double taxation, with an Australian employer paying FBT on transport provided to an employee employed under a fly-in fly-out situation. Our taxation system needs to take into account the fact that Australians work and engage in a global economy, and working overseas is necessarily a component of this. The amendments improve the fairness and integrity of Australia's tax system by better targeting the tax exemption for income earned by Australians overseas. As a result, most Australian residents earning employment income are now treated more consistently.

The third important change that this legislation brings is one to our recognition of charitable donations and adds a new fund to the list of deductible gift recipients. DGR status will assist the listed organisations to attract public support for their activities. It will allow those who wish to donate more than $2 to deduct the amount from their tax for that year. The Charities Aid Foundation, a body representing charities in the United Kingdom, has recognised Australia as the most giving nation in their annual World Giving Index.

The giving index aggregates three key factors: money given to charities by a nation's citizens, time spent volunteering, and how willing a nation's citizens are to help strangers. Australia and New Zealand were shown to be the most giving nations. It is a testament to the Australian character that we are so willing to give. We are willing to give our time to friends and family, to give support to strangers, and to give money to help our fellow Australians and our friends across the Tasman.

This schedule adds an organisation to the act, namely, the New Zealand government's Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust, and also the Cancer Australia Gift Fund. The New Zealand government's Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust was established to help the families and communities affected by the devastating earthquake of 22 February 2011. Listing the New Zealand government's Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust will allow Australians to donate to the appeal and claim a tax deduction for the donation.

These changes reward Australians who give to our closest neighbours and friends. New Zealand suffered greatly through the earthquakes earlier this year, and since then has suffered many tremors and frightening shocks. Nearly 200 New Zealanders lost their lives, and the resulting damage bill is in the tens of billions. The natural response from Australians is to act. Immediately, the Prime Minister pledged Australian assistance to New Zealand and gave $5 million to the Red Cross. This was accompanied by direct assistance from the people of Australia. As the Prime Minister said in her address to the parliament of New Zealand earlier this year:

That is why I say Australia has many alliances and friendships around the world. Economic and defence partnerships of every kind. But New Zealand alone is family.

This schedule does not only deal with aid to New Zealand, however; it also makes some procedural changes related to the amalgamation of the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre, the NBOCC, and Cancer Australia on 15 June 2010.

The National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre and Cancer Australia merged to create a one-stop shop to provide improved leadership to and outcomes for Australians living with cancer and their families. The new Cancer Australia will combine the experience and successes of both organisations to further strengthen the Australian government's strategic focus on cancer and create a solid platform for the coordination of cancer initiatives at a national level. Breast cancer and ovarian cancer will remain a priority for Cancer Australia as it delivers the government's broader cancer programs and research priorities. Following the listing of the Cancer Australia Gift Fund, donations made to this new organisation will be used to improve breast cancer outcomes for women, reduce mortalities from breast cancer and improve the wellbeing of women diagnosed with the disease.

This is an important bill that will ensure greater equality in our taxation system. It will support early identification and intervention for children with disabilities who live in families in remote and rural areas. They will get the assistance they need. The bill will support Australian workers that are employed in fly-in fly-out industries by ensuring they will not be taxed twice. It will also support charitable donations to new and vital organisations to ensure that Australians can contribute to, and great outcomes can be achieved for, the health of the nation. I commend the minister for his work and I commend the bill to the House.