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Monday, 25 February 2013
Page: 656

Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaParliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) (11:07): I rise to speak on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support Bonus) Bill 2012. This particular bill was announced as part of the government's 2012-2013 budget. The Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support Bonus) Bill will provide many disadvantaged Australians with extra funds to count on in tough times. The bill amends the Social Security Act 1991, the Social Security Administration Act 1999, the Farm Household Support Act 1992 and the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 and creates a new indexed, tax-free income support bonus to be paid to recipients of ABSTUDY, living allowance, Austudy, Newstart allowance, parenting payment, sickness allowance, special benefit, youth allowance, transitional farm family relief payment and the exceptional circumstances payment.

The government understands that it is very tough living on unemployment benefits. Making ends meet when you cannot get a job is incredibly difficult. Many Australians are feeling the pressure on their household budgets, and families receiving government allowances are some of our most vulnerable citizens. Some recipients of allowances can find it hard to manage unexpected costs. The income support bonus will provide $210 extra per year for eligible singles and $350 to most couples, where both partners are eligible. The bonus will be paid in two instalments each year, in March and September, with the first payments on or soon after 20 March 2013, subject to the passing of this legislation. For single recipients the initial income support bonus payments will be $105. The payment to most people who are a member of a couple will be $87.50. As is the case with other supplements, each entitled member of a couple separated by illness, or a couple where a partner is in respite care or a couple where a partner is in jail will be paid the single rate of $105. Recipients will not have to apply to receive the income support bonus. Payments will be made automatically by the Department of Human Services to those who are eligible.

As I said, it is very tough living on a Newstart allowance but long-term unemployed, intergenerational joblessness and welfare dependency is beyond tough; it is a tragedy. It is vital that the Newstart allowance continues to provide a strong safety net for people who have lost their job. We know Newstart allowance now supports a more diverse population than it used to, so it is even important that we keep the focus on work because having a job is the best safeguard against poverty. It is the only permanent solution to unemployment. That is why we have invested $5.9 billion and reformed Job Services Australia to target assistance to those who need it most. The government is focused on creating jobs. Helping people back into the work is partly about targeted assistance, but more about strong economic management to create the conditions that support jobs.

The government recognises that the issue of adequacy is about lives, and it will not turn its back on the issue or the people who are doing it the toughest—some of the most vulnerable in our community. It is also why with this measure the government is providing more than $1.1 billion over the next four years to help people who receive these income support allowance payments to manage unexpected cost-of-living expenses. People on Newstart allowance will continue to have access to a range of additional payments and supports, depending on the person's circumstances, including rent assistance, the family tax benefits, childcare support, payments to help with specific costs like medicine or telephone bills and, of course, concession cards.

The budget bottom line always has to be a central consideration, which this government does not walk away from for a moment. The modest extra assistance provided through the income support bonus strengthens the existing support whilst being framed against a background of fiscal prudence, given the tough budgetary considerations of the government and the ongoing priority on jobs. This new payment, along with related measures such as the doubling of the liquid assets waiting period and the increase in the tax-free threshold, will assist some of the most disadvantaged in our community to manage their budgets as they deal with rising living costs.

The government has welcomed the report of the Senate Education Employment and Workplace Relations Reference Committee on the adequacy of the allowance payment system. The government is careful and is seriously considering the recommendations of the committee. Any increase in the rates of Newstart and other payments would come, obviously, at a significant cost. We cannot simply ignore the cost pressures in the current budget environment, and we will need to make some difficult policy choices. This measure will help both new and long-term income support recipients, including those in receipt of the Newstart allowance, to manage and be more resilient to unanticipated expenses. I thank those senators who have spoken on this bill, and I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.