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Thursday, 10 May 2012
Page: 3115


Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (13:28): What we just heard in that contribution from the opposition on the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment (Schoolkids Bonus Budget Measures) Bill 2012 was again simply a list of reasons why they cannot support Australian families. No matter how they try to dress it up, no matter what sorts of mealy-mouthed words come out, the reality is that that contribution was, firstly, talking about cobbling together a government. Mr Abbott was trying to do the same thing, but the reality is Australians do not want Mr Abbott as Prime Minister. They could not do that, so now they criticise the government. They talked about the NBN, again an initiative widely supported by the Australian community. Across the states and territories, particularly in Tasmania, it is a fantastic infrastructure initiative providing jobs and boosting the economy.

They also talked about our economic expertise. Of course, they would, because we have a strong economy. We acted quickly and directly to tackle the global financial crisis and they do not like it. And we returned the budget to surplus and they do not like it.

No matter how they dress it up and no matter what they say, they do not want to support the schoolkids bonus, because they want to oppose everything. By saying that parents will not spend the money on their children's education, no matter how they word it, they simply mean that they are refusing to trust families. They are blocking this relief for family budgets, for extra money to be spent on children's education, because they do not trust families and they have no other word but 'no'. We know they have been called the 'noalition' and I am sure they are very proud of it.

What we are doing in delivering on the government's announcement to replace the education tax refund with the new schoolkids bonus is ensuring the government's commitment to help low-income families make ends meet. The new schoolkids bonus is a $2.1 billion investment over five years, which will provide assistance for about 1.3 million Australian families and for 2.2 million kids in school. The new payments will see eligible Australian families receive $410 a year for each child in primary school and $820 a year for each child in secondary school. In my home state of Tasmania, around 35,000 families stand to benefit from the schoolkids bonus, sharing in over $36 million. The bonus will help parents meet the costs of having children in school by providing a payment to assist with school uniforms, textbooks, excursions and stationery.

Because we are making the schoolkids bonus scheme automatic and upfront, parents will not have to keep receipts for months and months until tax time. It also means that parents will receive the full amount every time, so families will not miss out if they happen to lose their receipts. Parents will not have to wait for months to be reimbursed if they have to pay the expenses out of their own pocket. The schoolkids bonus will be paid upfront in two instalments in January and June each year, so families will have the money in their pockets when children's school expenses start to flow. The bonus will be available each year to families receiving family tax benefit A, to young people in school receiving a youth allowance and to families receiving some other income support or veterans payments.

As I mentioned earlier, the government is implementing the schoolkids bonus to replace the education tax refund. We introduced the education tax refund back in 2008 to help families with the cost of having children in school. However, many families did not claim the full amount they were entitled to under the education tax refund and some did not claim anything at all. Families lost their receipts or forgot to keep them, and many parents were not able to afford to pay for the school items first and then wait months to be reimbursed. So, we are now introducing the schoolkids bonus scheme, which has simplified the process and will provide upfront financial support to parents when they need it most. As part of our transition to the new schoolkids bonus on 1 January 2013, the government will pay out the education tax refund in full next month to all eligible families. We are doing this in the knowledge that many families would have school expenses that they need help with right now to make ends meet. This means that families with schoolkids will get payments straightaway, without having to collect receipts and wait until tax time to fill out the paperwork to be reimbursed. The lump sum education tax refund payment will mean eligible families will receive $409 for each child in primary school and $818 for each secondary school child. These are the maximum amounts that would have been available through the education tax refund in 2011-12.

Whilst we on this side of the chamber are implementing measures to support families to help make ends meet, what do we get from those opposite? We have already witnessed here today the negativity; we have already witnessed here today the opposition, and we have already witnessed here today the opposition's view that parents cannot be trusted. That is exactly what we would expect—mindless negativity with the view to oppose, oppose and oppose. Mr Abbott and his Liberal colleagues have revealed their true colours. They have tried to block the passage of this vital piece of support for Australian families. Why Mr Abbott and his Liberal colleagues would want to deny extra payment and assistance going to families to help them with cost-of-living expenses is a question Mr Abbott needs to answer for parents. It is clear that the Liberal Party led by Mr Abbott do not support Australian families. Instead, they want to rip hundreds of dollars from the pockets of Australian families who are putting their children through school.

We know that families on low and middle incomes are feeling the pinch and that is why we are providing them with the extra support to make ends meets. We are still waiting for the Liberal Party to drop the negativity. We are waiting on them to drop their mantle of opposing for opposition's sake and to help put some money into the pockets of Australian families to use for educational expenses. They failed last night, but today they have an opportunity to say to Australian parents, 'We understand that this money will help with your children's school expenses and we do trust you to use that money on your children's education.' Today, parents—and I know there are around 35,000 Tasmanian families who will benefit from this bonus—are looking for the Liberal Party in the Senate to say: 'Yes, we want to help you as well. We'll join with the government and pass the schoolkids bonus.' With those few words, I ask that the Liberal Party join with the government in ensuring that parents and their children receive this bonus to assist them with their children's educational costs.