Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 1816

Senator MOORE (6:12 PM) —The Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (2009 Measures) Bill 2009 covers a range of different items under the family assistance area but I particularly wanted to make some comments on the SSAT. Senator Siewert and I have had these discussions on a number of occasions. In terms of the processes before us under this bill, we are seeking to make this whole process more transparent and more user-friendly for the people who are involved in it. We know, and Senator Siewert has pointed out, the statistics regarding SSAT appeals, and one of the major issues is that we do not believe generally that people have total understanding of the process in which they are operating. Certainly over many years there have been attempts for the department to ensure that people understand their rights to appeal, but consistently what we find when people are going through the social security system—through Centrelink—they are unsure of their rights and the processes, and one of things we have to do is ensure that clarity is maintained and that people are fully aware of the processes and the decision-making process within the department.

I disagree strongly with Senator Siewert’s proposition that the process put forward in this piece of legislation which asks for a pre-conference in any way puts more pressure on the people involved or makes the process less clear. The idea of having a conference before the formal hearing is exactly that. It ensures that people are able to get together. Madam Acting Deputy President, anyone who has gone through a formal SSAT hearing understands that it can be stressful and, in terms of bringing forward people’s knowledge and expectations of the process, can actually cause more stress on those people who are involved in working their way through the sometimes quite difficult process within Centrelink. The basis for bringing forward this process to the SSAT is to ensure that people understand their rights throughout the whole process. From the time that they receive a decision from Centrelink they should be in full understanding about the ways that they can question that decision, the documentation that is required and, most importantly, the appropriate process for appeal.

On numerous occasions in my past life I have been involved with people from Centrelink, and previously Social Security, and also clients of the organisation who were, through this process, able to come to some greater awareness as they were able to clarify the situation, become sure of the background to decisions and actually get the appropriate documentation. Very often under the previous system, by the time you actually started the ball rolling you were through to a formal hearing process. However, on so many occasions, by having an appropriate discussion beforehand—and this discussion does not necessarily mean that there is pressure from one side or the other—full documentation can be exchanged, people can clarify the reasons for the decision and the process can therefore be streamlined. This has been used in the child support process.

There has been much discussion between the different agencies about best practice. In no way do the changes in this legislation make it more difficult to appeal, bully someone into not appealing or put further obstacles in the way of people who are seeking to pursue their rights under the system. What they do is add a level of communication. In many ways this is the whole intent: to enforce effective communication. The department have actually put themselves on trial as much as the people who are challenging the decision, because it is in their best interests to ensure that people know what is going on and have their situation clearly understood. I feel very strongly about this element of the legislation. It would sadden me if the kinds of fears that have been put forward, in some cases by various advocacy groups in the community, were used to say that this legislation would be damaging to those involved. Any interaction between a client and the department can be difficult. Of course it is our intention that that is minimised. But this aspect of an effective appeals process adds to the way that people can understand and achieve their rights rather than in any way putting another obstacle in place.