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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5790

Senator MACKAY (7:22 PM) —On behalf of Senator Bishop, I seek leave to incorporate his speech on the second reading.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

We are happy to support the two separate measures contained in today's bill.

The measure to codify arrangements relating to nominees in the social security system is, on the whole a welcome one.

So too is the measure that assists children with disabilities with terminal conditions and their families.

However, our support on this occasion should not be taken as ringing endorsement of the nominee arrangements in the social security system.


The legislative formalisation of nominees of Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 of the bill are primarily administrative initiatives that provide specific guidelines for the role and obligations of nominees under the social security and family assistance laws.

The amendments grant the Secretary the authority to appoint a nominee to be responsible for correspondence and the necessary action and, participation of a social security payment recipient (principal).

Under these amendments, the role of the nominee will vary from bearing the responsibility of receiving principal correspondence to receiving a social security benefit and other payments on a principal's behalf.

A correspondence nominee has a fairly straightforward role of being responsible for ensuring that the principal will receive any notifications, requests and information from relevant government agencies. The amendments are clear on this.

The amendments however, do not provide clear protection for a nominee in relation to their obligation in ensuring a principal's compliance with requests for government required information and appointments.

Proposed section 123J outlines the responsibilities of correspondence nominees in advising principals of social security requests for information and appointments.

The amendments strongly outline a correspondence nominee's duty to notify principals of such social security requests. There is a concern however that based on available information, it is difficult to ascertain the ramifications of a nominee's continued suitability should the principal not comply with a request.

On the surface the amendments imply that a nominee can be considered fully responsible for a principal's non-compliance to social security requests. However, the amendments appear inflexible in accounting for a principal's capacity to comply with requests and a nominee's ability to ensure compliance.

Based on the amendments being considered, the onus for failing to comply with social security requirements are primarily the responsibilities of the nominee.

The nominee may therefore have to rely heavily on a good working knowledge of the social security system and an awareness of the flexibility that can sometimes be accommodated for special individual cases.

The Government has advised that each appointed nominee under these amendments will be assessed by a social worker and advised of their rights and obligations. They will also be given the opportunity to discuss and negotiate any problems that arise out of the non-compliance of a principal.

The Government has also assured that comprehensive information material will be made available to existing and potential nominees.

As it is envisaged that with an ageing population the use of nominees will increase, there also needs to be the assumption that many nominees may be new to the social security system.

A person who is naive to agencies such as Centrelink, will no doubt find the internal hostility, lack of genuine support and understanding within such agencies, can make a simple exercise quite daunting.

While there is no obligation from the Government to implement designated case workers for new nominees, it is recommended that individuals be encouraged to quickly establish a sound working relationship with an individual staff member (perhaps a Social Worker), who can at least provide continued guidance for the Centrelink novice.

Under these amendments, nominees can also receive a Principal's social security benefit directly into a designated bank account, with the understanding that any financial obligation a principal may have, such as rent, bills and daily living would be undertaken by the nominee. Existing nominees have this current ability.

There is a concern however, that a principal may be vulnerable to exploitation from a nominee who does not have the principle's interest at heart.

Proposed section 123E of the amendments grant the Secretary the ability to review and revoke a nominee's status when it is found that the nominee is unable to fulfil their obligation.

Current information does not however, provide sufficient guidance on what circumstances can trigger a review and what matters are taken into account. There is an assumption that current review processes, such as investigation based on information from another interested party, would comply with the ongoing suitability of a nominee. This assumption however, is not clearly indicated in the amendments.

The Government has advised that a significant amount of anomalies with nominee payment arrangements are usually found through administrative processes; such as returned mail or failure to comply with Centrelink request.

There is also an arrangement that Centrelink will investigate an allegation of nominee misuse from an interested party.

Although, the interested party is usually another family member and are often considered hostile to the nominee.

The government has assured us that the current process to investigate the suitability of a nominee is sufficient to sustain the new formal nominee arrangements.

We are going to revisit this issue over the next twelve months. As I said at the outset we do have some niggling concerns about the new arrangements.

However, we accept that this legislation represents a genuine attempt to codify the current administrative arrangements.

Children with disabilities who have terminal conditions

In December 1999 the Department of Family and Community Services completed a review of measure relating to carer payment in respect of parents of children with profound disabilities.

That review made a number of recommendations to address inadequacies in the original legislation.

Amongst those was the one before the Parliament today. I commend the government for bringing it forward.

The proposed amendment maintains Carer's Allowance for parents who maintain active treatment for a profoundly disabled child, even if the child is medically considered to have a terminal condition.

The addition of new subsection 197(2) also allows a less intrusive diagnostic and restrictive criteria process for a medical practitioner to advise of a change in the status of a profoundly disabled child.

Put simply this means that a person caring for a terminally ill child with a profound disability will not have their payment jeopardised.

I just want to record my disappointment that this amendment was not accompanied by a further one to address the situation of children with disabilities who have high support needs, who do not meet the qualifications to enable their parents to receive carer payment.

There are a group of children identified in the 1999 review in this category.

While the objective of the payment is to recognise the needs of those parents whose caring responsibilities to a disabled child prevent them from working, it is so narrowly drafted, the parents of many children whose disabilities are not as severe, but whose support needs are very high, miss out.

Families caring for children with chronic illnesses such as cystic fibrosis, diabetes, epilepsy and phenylketonuria continue to miss out on the payment.

Assessment for the Carers Payment should take into account the financial, social and emotional cost borne by families caring for children with severe disabilities.

The problem is that the Child Disability Assessment Tool which is used to determine the functional ability of the child does not measure the care and attention demanded of the carer.

As a result, many more families are failing to qualify for financial support.

Since the new assessment tool was introduced in July 1998 the Labor Party has received a constant stream of letters and phone calls from concerned and distressed parents struggling to care for children with severe disabilities.

These parents caring for children with disabilities such as cystic fibrosis are struggling to keep their heads above water.

Without the Carers Payment they are forced to meet the costs of pumps, masks, sterilising equipment, special diets, exercise programs and equipment out of their own pockets.

These are substantial costs.

It is often the case that the extraordinary efforts and care provided by parents is the very reason that children are able to function day-to-day even when their life-span is limited.

Ironically, these efforts may also disqualify them from receiving financial support.

These families want an assessment tool that recognises the cost and time involved in providing care for their children.

I urge the Government to expand on what it is doing for terminally ill children today.