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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 4259

Mrs D'ATH (Petrie) (10:36): I rise to proudly support the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment (Schoolkids Bonus Budget Measures) Bill 2012. This bill introduces a new payment through the family assistance legislation called the schoolkids bonus to begin on 1 January 2013. The payment will provide direct assistance to eligible families with children in school and will be paid through the family payment system twice a year: in January and July. It will be paid right at the start of the school year and just before term 3. The two payments will total $410 per year for each child in primary school and $820 per year for each child in secondary school. The schoolkids bonus will replace the education tax refund. Subsequently this bill removes the education tax refund from the taxation legislation. As part of the transitional arrangements to the new schoolkids bonus, the bill also creates a new payment in the family assistance and veterans affairs legislation to pay the maximum value of the education tax refund entitlement for 2011-12 as a lump sum. This lump sum payment will be delivered to eligible families before the end of June 2012.

What does this mean? It means parents do not need to keep receipts for months and months on end to get a guaranteed payment. It means that parents will receive a full amount every time, so families will not miss out if they lose their receipts. Parents do not have to pay out of their own pocket and then wait months to get paid back. The payment will be made upfront twice a year before the start of term 1 and term 3.

In addition, the paying out of the 2011-12 education tax refund as part of the transitional arrangements means that parents who are entitled to family tax benefit part A will be paid on 8 May 2012 for a school-age child—and for young people in secondary education a lump sum payment. The education tax refund payment will pay out the full amount of what would have been available through the taxation system for 2011-12. This means $409 for each child in primary school and $818 for each child in secondary school. The education tax refund payment will be paid earlier than otherwise would have been the case under the education tax refund, and without the need to lodge receipts for a tax return.

On many occasions in the five years I have been here I have had to shake my head while listening to speeches—yesterday afternoon while listening to a matter of public importance which the opposition treated as such a joke that they turned it into a story about Star Trek—but I do not think I have ever stood in this chamber and been as angry as I am now. The arguments being put up by the opposition—and importantly by the shadow minister, the member for Menzies—are appalling, to say the very least. Families in my electorate should be disgusted at the arguments that are being put up by the opposition today. For the shadow minister to stand there today and say that families are just as likely to go down the road and blow it on poker machines is just offensive. It is so interesting that every time this government provides financial assistance to ease those cost-of-living pressures we hear the opposition drag out that line, 'They are just as likely to blow it on poker machines.'

What is absolutely ironic in this argument is that the then minister under the Howard government, Mal Brough, was more than happy to give a $5,000 lump sum baby bonus—no checks or balances, just: 'Here's $5,000 because you've had a baby. You don't have to prove that that money is spent on that child.' You did not hear arguments from the Howard government saying, 'We're worried this is going to be blown on other things.' They trusted the families that they gave this money to. But when we want to give $400 or $800 to families for education expenses, it is: 'No, we cannot trust them. They won't spend it on their kids.' That is just offensive. The families in my electorate should be furious at the opposition for wanting to block this bill.

I have heard arguments from the opposition today that this is bad policy and that no-one is going to get any more money. That just shows that the opposition do not understand this bill and why this change is occurring. The reality is that more families are getting extra money, because many families across the country were not claiming the education tax refund despite being eligible. There were many families who were underclaiming. In my electorate there were 1,600 families out of the 9,700 local families who were not receiving the education tax refund at all. There were another 8,100 who were receiving less than they were entitled to. This is a bonus to those people. It is extra money. To say, 'It is just shifting money from one side of the ledger to the other; it means nothing; it is no extra money for families,' is either showing the ignorance of the opposition in not understanding the bill or, worse than that, misleading the Australian people. I suspect it is the latter, because there is certainly a history of that behaviour.

It was interesting to hear the member for Aston today say that the education tax refund's intent—which they supported—was to help families with education expenses. He went through a list of different expenses. He mentioned textbooks, uniforms, music, art and other extracurricular activities. It is very interesting that the member for Aston would say that, because he is absolutely right that families are weighed down with those expenses; they are having to pay for all of those things. What he is wrong on is thinking that the education tax refund covered those things, because it did not. In fact, the education tax refund was limited to what families could claim, and I bring the chamber's attention to the education tax refund eligibility:

Eligible expenses include the cost of buying, establishing, repairing and maintaining any of the following items:

home computers and laptops

computer-related equipment such as printers, USB flash drives, and disability aids to assist in the use of computer equipment for students with special needs

computer repairs

home internet connections

computer software for educational use

school textbooks and other printed learning material, including prescribed textbooks, associated learning materials, study guides and stationery, and

prescribed trade tools for secondary school trade courses.

More recently, in the 2011-12 budget, the government extended that to include school uniforms, hats, footwear and sports uniforms purchased from 1 July 2011—all very important expenditure for families. But it did not include the sorts of things that the member for Aston talked about. That is why—despite the opposition claiming that this is just a 'sugar hit'—this is a much better program. It is much better than the education tax refund, not only for the obvious reason that families are getting the full amount and they are getting it when they most need it, but also because it recognises that education expenditure goes much broader than textbooks, computers and uniforms. There are a lot more expenses for families. The member for Aston is right in saying that kids who want to do music have to buy their own equipment. Whether it is government or non-government schools, whether it is part of the normal curriculum within the school or an extracurricular activity after school, they still have to buy their own equipment. If the kids want to learn violin, mum and dad still have to find the money to buy that violin. This program means that that money can go towards those expenses. It can go to art courses, to music and to other things, but importantly I want to give a couple of examples why this program is so much better and more important for families.

The reality is that there are students who need more support than the education system can provide, wherever they go to school. Sometimes those children need some external tutoring. Sometimes because of learning difficulties those students need speech therapy, and I have met many families whose children need speech therapy. That is not readily available in schools. In government schools in Queensland, if your child is assessed and they need speech therapy they may get one session a week or fortnight, and it may even be less than that. If you talk to any parent whose child needs speech therapy, they will tell you that is not sufficient to bring their child up to the level they need to be at to further their learning. This money can actually assist in those kids getting speech therapy lessons outside of school. I am very proud of this program because it recognises that there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to education expenses. It is up to the family to decide that.

To argue that we do not know where this money is going to be spent ignores the fact that this money has already been spent, that these parents have already put their hands in their pockets and spent the money on their children, and it is okay to reimburse them for those costs. But there are also families out there who have not been able to put their hands in their pockets already. I will tell you, for example, of the mum in my electorate who could not afford to buy new shoes for her daughter who was starting high school. The daughter had to wear her existing shoes from the previous year. The shoes were too tight, and she came home in the first week with blisters on her feet and in excruciating pain. The mum did not want to send her to school in other shoes because she might get picked on. Her solution was to pull her daughter out of school until she could afford to raise the money to buy new shoes. No parent should have to do that. She turned to one of our local not-for-profit community organisations for help, and she got that help. But I do not think she should have to turn to that community organisation for help. We should be supporting that family, and that is what we will do through this financial assistance.

Many benefits come from this bill. Despite my anger, I do in part feel sorry for those members who stand up on the opposition side and speak to oppose this bill, because they have to go back to their electorates and face those families. They will do one of two things: either they will pretend they are not opposing it and go out and say this is a great initiative—a bit like the BER, when they went out and said how great it was locally, but then came here and opposed it—or they will have to tell those families why they do not deserve this money and that they do not trust those families to use this money on their own children.

This government, through this bill and the budget initiatives, is doing a lot for families including the Paid Parental Leave scheme, the family tax benefit part A, the teenager boost that we have previously provided, the childcare rebate and the assistance that we are giving parents in their childcare and their training needs to get back into the workforce. These are all positive measures, but I stand here today to say that there is no more positive measure that we can do for families in relation to cost-of-living pressure. We hear those on the other side constantly arguing about cost-of-living pressure, but this is the test: when they talk about cost-of-living pressure on families, is it about the politics or is it genuinely about helping families? If you are genuine about helping families, you will support this bill. You will go back to your communities and say, 'I will stand up and support this bill,' just as the government is doing with the clean energy future household assistance package. We will support families. That is what a Labor government does. That is what this government is doing, and I support this bill wholeheartedly.