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Thursday, 17 June 2010
Page: 3626

Senator FIFIELD (Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (12:17 PM) —I rise to speak on the Child Support and Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2010. The coalition has a strong record in family assistance and child support and supports this bill. Unlike Labor, we on this side of the chamber value helping families stay together and we value the services we provide in that respect and for other areas such as marriage counselling funding. That is why I am disappointed with the government’s attack on family and relationship service related funding. Here is a government that wastes billions of dollars on myriad policy failures and when it needs to claw something back it looks to pensioners, as we saw with the pensioner solar rebate clawback, where rebates they received from returning excess electricity from their solar panels to the grid was treated as income for social security purposes. Now the government has decided to target families. In fact, all that is missing today is the Prime Minister holding yet another press conference to tell us to get out of the way of this bill as well.

Labor has slashed $43.9 million from family relationship centres, which was not revealed in the budget. The government slashed $4½ million from marriage counselling services and the government decided not to replace four judges in the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court, which placed unnecessary pressure on the judiciary and means that family law matters will now take even longer to get to court, let alone be resolved. In total almost $50 million has been cut from important services which help families stay together and save marriages.

The bill before us is designed to streamline legislative arrangements. The bill will align care determinations under both the family assistance law and child support legislation and will essentially allow parents or carers who are entitled to family tax benefit and are also child support payers or payees to have the same care determinations made for a child where the care of the child involves more than one carer. Furthermore, the bill aligns the payer’s income estimate periods with financial years rather than child support years, which in effect changes the period over which income estimates are reconciled from 15 months to a financial year. This will ultimately ensure greater accuracy and efficiency as the proposed amendment will result in a far simpler process to assess a payer’s taxable income. Indeed this will also reduce delays in the automated reconciliation process.

The bill will also allow for any payments of family tax benefit to recipients who have not lodged their tax returns in the hope of having a lower assessable income to be cancelled. The amendments limit the non-payment of FTB to a claimant or the non-entitlement of a claimant to FTB so that it applies only if the claimant or his or her partner has an outstanding FTB debt as a result of relevant tax returns not being lodged. The coalition supports this bill. I know this bill is non-controversial and so I apologise as I could not help but make a few of the observations that I made earlier about the government’s hypocrisy.