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Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Page: 4132


Senator JACINTA COLLINS (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) (11:41): I thank Senator Fifield for his contribution and other senators for the consideration of this matter. Australia provides its citizens with a strong social security safety net to support those whose circumstances mean they are unable, either temporarily or permanently, to support themselves. Successive Australian govern­ments have recognised the importance of ensuring that social security payments go to those in genuine need and not to people who seek to exploit the system through fraudulent means.

The Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2011 contains a number of amendments to protect the integrity of the social security system. The bill introduces into the Social Security Administration Act 1999 a stand-alone obligation for a person to inform the department of events or changes of circumstances that might affect the payment of a social security payment to the person or the person's qualification for a concession card. This change will operate prospectively and retrospectively to 20 March 2000, which relates to the length of this difficulty. Retrospective legislation is not pursued lightly; however, in this case there are exceptional circumstances, as it would not be appropriate for a significant number of prosecutions for social security fraud to be overturned on the basis of a previously unidentified legal technicality. This will allow the work of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions in prosecut­ing social security fraudsters to continue. Other provisions in the bill will ensure that past decisions made by Centrelink under the social security law by the operation of computer programs are not open to question.

The integrity of the social security system will be protected without adverse circum­stances for citizens. The bill is designed such that there will be no practical impact on Centrelink's business or on a person's obligations to report changes in circum­stances to Centrelink. It does not remove the requirement for Centrelink to notify citizens of their obligations to tell Centrelink about changes to their circumstances, and it does not affect citizens' rights to have decisions made by Centrelink reviewed independently on their merits.

The bill also corrects minor drafting oversights in the family assistance legisla­tion. I commend the bill to the Senate.