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Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Page: 4554

Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (20:53): I rise to speak on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (2012 Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2012. In doing so, I am hoping to address a number of elements but I am conscious that time is against me because of the government's decision to give democracy a severe blow and impose the guillotine. With the time I have, however, I am hoping to touch on some of the elements in the bill which are particularly relevant to Western Australia and to discuss the government's gross disregard for Western Australian families and for regional Western Australia. If there is time, I am also hoping to talk about some of the truths and myths about electricity pricing in Western Australia. As I said, however, we are facing a guillotine, so I can only do my best.

I am pleased to speak on this bill as a member of the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, a committee I have recently joined. I would also like to add to the comments of Senator McKenzie and acknowledge the contribution of Senator Siewert, who is absent this evening. She can be confident that our thoughts are with her and her family at this time.

I begin by thanking the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children and the National Welfare Rights Network for their comments during the brief public hearing phase. This bill introduces a number of initiatives of the 2012 budget. I will only highlight a few.

Firstly, this bill tightens rules for those who travel overseas while receiving income support payments and family payments. Under the change, from 1 January 2013, the length of time individuals can spend overseas while continuing to receive their payments will generally be reduced from 13 weeks to six weeks. The change will not apply to age pension recipients or to disability support pension recipients assessed, under new rules applying from 1 July 2012, as having a severe and permanent disability and no future work capacity.

Secondly, the bill limits the family tax benefit part A to children aged under 18. Families with children under the age of 18 and 19 who are studying full time may continue to get payments until the end of the calendar year in which they complete secondary education or equivalent vocational education. It is fair to say that elements of this bill are building on reforms made over previous years to ensure the family payment system is targeted to low- and middle-income families with young children on their way to completing their schooling.

The bill also amends the clean energy low-income support supplement provisions to clarify the eligibility of a group of low-income families who may otherwise not be fully compensated for the average cost impacts they are expected to suffer under the carbon price. Of course if there were no carbon tax, there would be no need to offer compensation. As we count down to the start of the carbon tax on 1 July 2012—this Sunday in fact—time is running out for the government to reverse its carbon tax insanity. Many, I think, have given up holding their breath.

As a Western Australian, I am pleased that there are some important and positive elements in this bill for Western Australians. The bill will extend permanently the current income test exemption for the Western Australian government's country age pension fuel card and the Cost of Living Rebate Scheme. The country age pension fuel card is an important initiative of the Western Australian government and they should be congratulated for it. It is worth noting the cooperation of the Australian government in previously exempting the value of the WA country fuel card and the Cost of Living Rebate Scheme from the social security and veterans income test for the three years up to June 2012. This bill now makes this exemption permanent, giving eligible Western Australians confidence that, over the longer term, their income support payments will not be reduced because of benefits received through the Western Australian government. The Premier of Western Australia and the Leader of the Nationals in WA should be congratulated on these two initiatives that support Western Australians, especially those living in regional Western Australia. I have a strong interest in fighting for regional Western Australians and I am pleased the bill extends the income test exemption on these two excellent initiatives and does so permanently.

The Western Australian state government's country age pension fuel card scheme has reached over 45,000 pensioners in Western Australia since it was introduced in 2008—a great result for Western Australian pensioners. For those interested, the 45,000th pensioner was a resident of Geraldton in the mid-west of Western Australia, a Mr Alfred Kauffman. I am not too sure if he has ever had his name in the Senate Hansard before, but I am pleased to get it in there for him. As we heard from Senator McKenzie, the initiative allows pensioners a $500 entitlement towards the cost of fuel and taxi fares each year. One of the great things about the scheme is that it benefits everyone differently—it suits people's different but individual circum¬≠stances. Importantly, the scheme helps to alleviate some, but not all, of the financial pressures faced by pensioners across regional Western Australia, especially those on fixed incomes.

The Cost of Living Rebate Scheme is an annual payment to eligible seniors card holders and was also introduced in 2009. It assists with living expenses for seniors in the Western Australian community.

I would love to have traversed some other issues dealing with—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Cameron ): Order! The time allocated for consideration of this bill has expired. The question is that this bill now be read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.