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Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Page: 5346

Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (19:56): I rise to speak on the Social Security Amendment (Parenting Payment Transitional Arrangement) Bill 2011. The bill amends the Social Security Act 1991 to limit the application of the parenting payment transitional arrangement so that recipients are covered by the transitional arrangement only for children who were in their care before 1 July 2011. The Gillard Labor government seeks to amend section 500D(3) of the act to provide that a child cannot be a parenting payment child of a person under that section unless the person was the principal carer of the child on or before 30 June 2011. We all too quickly forget that it was the Howard-Costello government which, in July 2006, introduced substantial reform to reduce the age of a person's dependent child, above which the person ceased to qualify for a parenting payment, from 16 years for their youngest dependent child to eight years for single parents or six years for couples. Those who immediately before 1 July 2006 were in receipt of a parenting payment were grandfathered, or grandmothered, under the act and could continue to qualify for a parenting payment until their youngest child turned 16.

It is appropriate at this point to turn attention to the notion of real reform. This grandfathering of the eligibility of existing parenting payment recipients is called the parenting payment transitional arrangement and is given effect in subdivision AA of division 1 of part 2.10 of the act via the definition of parenting payment child in section 500D(3). In basic terms, under current legislative arrangements a parenting payment transitional arrangement can continue to be paid to a person indefinitely while a person who was in receipt of the payment on 30 June 2006 continues, to use the words of the legislation, to acquire dependent children. For example, if a person is covered by the parenting payment transitional arrangement on 1 March 2011 when they give birth to a new child, that new child could be their parenting payment child until he or she turns 16 on 1 March 2027 and be covered by the parenting payment transitional arrangement for that whole time. Through its recent, self-proclaimed Labor budget, Labor has decided that a child cannot become a parenting payment child of a person for the purposes of the parenting payment transitional arrangement after 30 June 2011, although they will still be a parenting payment child until they turn six or eight. Labor argues that this will remove an unintended inequity. The practical effect of these changes is that they will limit the ability of parenting payment recipients to extend their grandfathered status by acquiring new parenting payment children. Any subsequent children that come into the recipient's care will not be covered by the grandfathering provisions. This will mean that all parenting payment recipients will be treated equally in a shorter time frame than would otherwise be the case. This bill was referred for inquiry and the coalition will carefully consider the report of the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee, due for release on 14 June this year.

As I pointed out earlier, Labor are quick to ignore the coalition's 2006 reforms. They are quick to ignore that more than 100,000 Australians have come off parenting payment (single) and (partnered) since July 2006. Indeed, in 2005 there were approximately 618,000 people in receipt of the parenting payment. By 2010 that number had reduced to 459,000—a reduction of 160,000 people on the parenting payment as a result of the reforms which the Howard government introduced, and I was the minister at that stage in 2006. It was the coalition who pursued and who delivered significant social security reforms for this country. Labor have not given the coalition any credit for the reforms, other than by imitation through weak and directionless attempts to replicate real welfare reform in the guise of trials, reviews and of course more rhetoric.

Let me go back. In 2005 Labor were scathing of welfare reforms. They were scathing of reforms to parenting payments. Senator Wong from the other place said:

These laws allow the creation of a working poor in Australia.

And she said:

Let us be clear about this: these are the most drastic changes this country has seen in social security in decades. They will make hundreds of thousands of families worse off.

She could not have been further from the truth, as we look back on what were some of the most effective and important social security reforms in recent history—real reforms, not Labor type pretend reform. Senator Evans in the other place said at the time:

The so-called welfare reform package is confused, fails to meet the government’s own objectives, increases disincentives to move from welfare to work, is manifestly unfair and is not reform but, in large part, punishment of those on income support.

In concluding, this is another missed opportunity for real social security reform. Back in 2005, the member for Jagajaga, now the minister, said Labor opposed the welfare to work measures 'because Australia needs real welfare reform'. Well, now she is the minister and while she loves talking about reform we all now know that it is just, unfortunately, regrettably, mere talk. We need real action, not inaction. Labor are not prepared to make the tough decisions. They are not prepared to do the hard yards. Theirs is a government based on spin and slogans and it is time they brought some real plans—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): I have given a fair bit of latitude and I would really like you to come back to the bill before the House. This is not an appropriations speech.

Mr ANDREWS: Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is time they brought some real plans for welfare reform to the table beyond what is in this bill. If history is anything to go by, the next policy announcement I make will become Labor policy soon after, like our mutual obligation announcements from 2010. The coalition will not oppose this bill.