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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5651

Ms MACKLIN (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) (4:22 PM) —If I can go back to the member for Wakefield’s remarks first, I appreciate that they were very much about the importance of income management. He understands just how important it is to make sure that we are able to deliver on income management. I will take the income management question that the member for Lyne raised, and I will come to his other questions in a minute.

One of the important things that we have in this year’s budget is the money to introduce the new arrangements for income management. Of course, all of this is contingent on this legislation getting through the Senate over this fortnight—hopefully that will occur. If it does, the government will commit $350 million over the next four years to implement these changes, in the first instance in the Northern Territory.

I want to pick up another point that the member for Wakefield made—I think very well—about the importance of income management for those people who really need help with managing their finances, getting their finances together. I have spoken to a number of people in both the Northern Territory and Western Australia, where people can be referred for income management by child protection authorities. In Perth and the Kimberley, people can volunteer to be income managed. One of the things that people always say to me is how important that has been in helping them get their finances in order. Some people will say it has helped them to pay off their credit card debt, save for a car, or meet whatever other priorities they have.

In this year’s budget, as part of the $350 million, we will be allocating an extra $53 million over four years for financial counselling—in this case, just in the Northern Territory—because we do understand how important it is for those who are having difficulty managing their money to tie together the benefits of income management and provide advice so people can learn to do that for themselves. We already fund a range of money management and financial counselling services across Australia, including in remote parts of the Northern Territory. This will add to that service that we have available.

To answer the related question that the member for Lyne asked about income management, in the first instance it will be rolled out in the Northern Territory because the Northern Territory has the largest number of very disadvantaged communities in Australia. It is not a constitutional matter and, to my knowledge, it has not been discussed at COAG. We have of course discussed this matter with the Northern Territory government. The legislation currently before the Senate will enable us to start rolling out this new form of income management in the Northern Territory. We have said that, at the end of 2011, we will do a comprehensive evaluation as to how effective income management has been in helping the sort of people that the member for Wakefield talked about and, at that point, we will consider where else we will roll it out. The legislation, assuming it goes through, will enable us to roll it out elsewhere, but the budget—given this session is about the budget—enables us to roll it out in the Territory.

To go to the separate question that the member for Lyne raised about Aboriginal Connections, I would like to take that on notice if he does not mind. I am very aware of the concerns that he raised in general about the level of disadvantage in Kempsey. We must continue to expand the services that are offered in Kempsey. The member would know that we have recently made some announcements in that regard, particularly for children. I am of course concerned about any suggestion of a reduction in the availability of employment services in the area that he talks about. I am very happy to follow that up and get back to him.

The member for Higgins asked a number of questions about the Indigenous housing program in the Northern Territory, otherwise known as SIHIP. I am not sure whether she is aware that an independent review was undertaken of the Indigenous housing program, the findings of which we published earlier this year. The press release that she referred to in fact relied on the findings of that independent review. That independent review actually said that SIHIP is now on course to meet its targets of 750 new houses, 2,500 refurbishments and 230 rebuilds. With respect to all of the questions that she asked about this review, I suggest she have a detailed look at that. These matters were problems—I am the first to acknowledge that we had a number of problems at the start of this program. We also recognise that this is the largest public housing program ever embarked upon in the Northern Territory. It is true that there were difficulties at the start but, in response to the problems that were raised, the Commonwealth sent a number of senior officials to Darwin for some months and the work done by those officials, along with senior officials from the Northern Territory government, was very important in getting this program back on track.

We now have houses being built in hundreds of locations right across the remote parts of the Northern Territory and, of course, we are very pleased that this independent review found that it is on track to meet its five-year targets. I just remind the member for Higgins that these are five-year targets. That was what was agreed between the two levels of government.

She asked about New South Wales. The New South Wales government has decided that it is more economic to buy existing houses—they are much cheaper than what they could build them for. Of course, it means that these houses will now be made available to Aboriginal families to be able to address problems of overcrowding in the places that the New South Wales government has decided are a priority for it. That is a decision that it has made, recognising how important it is to bring additional housing stock into the public housing system in New South Wales, which will now be made available to Aboriginal people in those places.

The member for Ballarat also asked me some questions about both paid parental leave and pensions. She specifically asked about the issues around the changes that are going to start on 1 July. These are additional parts to our reform package that we announced last September, but Centrelink needed a little bit more time to put them in place, given the huge package of reforms that were part of the pension changes. What is going to happen on 1 July is that, first of all—I am sure the member for Ballarat will be very pleased to know—the second annual carer supplement will be paid. That will be paid in the first payment period in July. It is the case, as the member for Ballarat outlined in her remarks, that carers no longer have to rely on whether or not a government is going to pay a bonus, which was the case under the previous government. Carers can now know that, as a result of the legislation that we put in place—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—Order! Your time has expired.

Government members interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Does the minister want some additional time?

Ms MACKLIN —I just want to answer the member for Ballarat’s questions.

Opposition members interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The minister has the call. Can I just explain to members on both sides: it is often more productive if a minister can answer several questions from people. The minister would like to complete that list of questions that have come from members. So I call the minister and I anticipate she will be finished in a minute or so. Then I will call the member for Higgins and we will have another round of questions before the minister answers.

Ms MACKLIN —Thank you. Just going back to the member for Ballarat’s questions, the carers supplement will be paid. Of course, that is now guaranteed in legislation. That is an annual $600 payment. Many carers will get double that because they are on both the carer payment and the carer allowance. I am sure that will be a very welcome payment at the beginning of July.

The other changes that are happening from 1 July are changes to the advance payments. Pensioners were also very keen that we improve the advance payment arrangements. This does not just cover age pensioners; it is also for disability support pensioners, those on the carer payment, widow B pensioners and wife pensioners. Pensioners are going to be able to get up to three advance payments a year. For singles it will be up to just over $1,000 and for each member of a couple up to $758.10. That is the maximum. Of course, they have to be repaid, but it does enable people who have big bills to get advance payments.

The second issue the member for Ballarat raised was the changes to the pension supplement, and the good news about that is that we are making it more flexible for pensioners. What we did last September was create a new pension supplement and of course we increased it. At the moment that is paid with people’s fortnightly pension but what we are enabling pensioners to do from 1 July—and it is entirely their choice—is take some of that pension supplement quarterly to help them budget and pay for their quarterly bills if they would like to. So they are two additional measures that will start on 1 July which I am sure pensioners will be very pleased about.