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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6176

Mrs MOYLAN (8:23 PM) —I am sorry that I will only have a few minutes to begin my contribution to the Tax Laws Amendment (2010 Measures No. 3) Bill 2010 debate. I do so to address the fourth schedule of this bill which relates to the special disability trusts. I have to say that I am deeply disappointed that, notwithstanding the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs releasing a report entitled Building trust: supporting families through disability trusts in October 2008, which made, I think 14 recommendations, the government is really only tinkering at the edges of this and has not responded very satisfactorily to those 14 recommendations.

Of course, we are grateful for any measures that adjust some of the worst elements of the tax provisions of the special disability trust. The other thing I am concerned about is that the report came down in 2008, we are now getting toward the second half of 2010 and we are going to go on a long break, and these few minor measures, which have been addressed in this bill in relation to special disability trusts, will not come into effect until 1 January 2011. I do not know why we have this delay. Why do we have this mean-spirited approach to families who take on some of the biggest burdens in caring for this country’s profoundly disabled people? We are not talking about people with mild disability—any disability is difficult to deal with—these are families who are dealing with profoundly disabled children or dependants.

Having said that, I would like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services for assisting me to work my way through these changes. As I said, we do welcome whatever incremental changes we get. I know that the parliamentary secretary is committed to real change in this area. I fear, as happened in our government, that these things end up in the hands of people—and maybe some of the officials are here in the gallery tonight—in Treasury and finance and they become so difficult that nobody can figure them out. Even the minister’s office has difficulty figuring out what they actually mean for families who want to establish these trusts. Please let us have clarity around this. Let us give some hope to those families who care for profoundly disabled children. Those measures have been addressed to some extent in this bill. As I said, of the 14 recommendations, very little has been picked up. These few items in the tax bill are still very difficult to work out.

People with a disability, who are beneficiaries of a trust, will be able to work up to seven hours a week in the open labour market and still qualify. The special disability trust will be able to pay for the beneficiary’s medical expenses, including membership costs for private health funds, and the maintenance expenses of the trust’s assets and properties. The special disability trust will be able to spend up to $10,000 in a financial year on discretionary items not related to the care and accommodation needs of the beneficiary trust.

Parents caring for disabled children commit their lives to ensuring their loved ones enjoy the highest quality of life possible. Such care is intensive, emotionally draining and financially onerous. Added to their daily struggle, families face an abysmal lack of equality in endeavouring to make provision for their dependants. When I have an opportunity to come back into this place and complete, hopefully, my speech on this bill, I will point out that I think some of the things that we do to people in this trust set-up are positively discriminatory to people with a disability. It is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.

In 2006, the coalition government attempted to ease the financial concerns and legislated for special disability trusts. From their own funds family members could make provision for the current and future needs of family members with severe disability without impact to social security entitlements for either contributors or the individuals. As I said, I think ministers in both the Howard government and the current government have the interests of people with a disability at heart, but it seems to get bogged down when it leaves this place, and the detail becomes completely unworkable.

Experience has revealed significant shortcomings in these measures. Initially it was estimated that 5,000 trusts would be established by 2010. As at 31 March 2010, only 91 trusts have been established despite 423 people being assessed as eligible. Special disability trusts are regarded by parents of disabled dependants as an option of last resort and are often established against informed legal advice. That is because they are basically unworkable and extremely complex and difficulty, even for professionals in the field. We have been waiting for advice back from the department, which we still have not got, to clarify some issues of tax.

Madam Deputy Speaker May, I think the time is about up and we are going into the adjournment debate, and I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

Debate interrupted.