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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 1811

Senator FIFIELD (5:50 PM) —I rise today to speak on the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (2009 Measures) Bill 2009. This is a bill that is essentially a compilation of a number of minor amendments across the portfolio. Schedule 1 will amend the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 to schedule parcels of land so they can be granted to Aboriginal land trusts. Schedule 2 makes changes to income management provisions in social security law—and particularly in respect to Cape York—which will allow for aged pensioners and carer payment recipients to be income managed. This change, at the request of the Family Responsibilities Commission, will bring Cape York into uniformity with the other income managed areas in Australia.

Schedule 3 will amend legislation regarding the operation of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. The amendments include changes to the titles of positions from executive director and director to principal member and senior member respectively. Subsequently, the principal member will be provided with the ability to directly request, inspect, copy and retain certain documents from an individual which are seen to be relevant. It will also become practice that the Social Security Appeals Tribunal can conduct pre-hearing conferences with the relevant parties and subsequently make decisions when agreements are made in social security and family assistance law appeals.

This amendment will bring pre-hearing arrangements in line with those currently under the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988. As the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, in their 2008-09 annual report states:

… appeals in the child support jurisdiction has contributed to the improved timeliness in these areas.

The ability to conduct pre-hearings with the parties involved and resolve the issues without the need for further hearings leads to a more speedy resolution of the issues and disputes before the Social Security Appeals Tribunal.

Schedule 4 amendments ensure that, where disposed-of assets are returned to the person, they will not be double counted when assets are assessed for means test purposes. Schedule 5 amendments clarify provisions relating to beneficiaries of discretionary trusts and assessed as a private trust and not on future beneficiaries of the trust when they are not currently receiving any benefits from it.

Schedule 6 makes amendments to the baby bonus, a payment introduced by the former coalition government in recognition of additional costs associated with having a new child. This amendment requires that when there is a change of carer Centrelink is notified as soon as practicably possible to ensure that the initial carer is not in receipt of overpayment of the baby bonus. The opposition will not be opposing this bill.