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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2347

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (17:02): I stand to speak on the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. I am not surprised to hear the opposition take such a position when it comes to savings in the budget. Savings are something that good governments make, particularly when in many of these areas the increase in funding over the last four years has been so substantial. It is a normal part of good government to review funding from time to time and make adjustments as necessary. There are some savings measures in this budget and a good government does not walk away from the need to make those savings.

The first element of this bill involves immunisation requirements for children. Currently, families are required to have their children fully immunised in order to receive childcare benefit and childcare rebate. There are exemptions in place for families that wish to conscientiously object, and those exemptions will continue to apply. This amendment extends that approach of using government subsidies to encourage families to do the right thing by their children by requiring that families have their children fully immunised in order to receive family tax benefit part A end of year supplement. This mechanism will replace the existing supplement which is paid on immunisation at the ages of two and five. These new requirements will be implemented at one-year-of-age, two-years-of-age and five-years-of-age, meaning that there will be three checkpoints for families. There will be an incentive of more than $2,100 for families that ensure their children are fully immunised.

We have worked quite considerably on the health of children. In recent years, we have allocated $25.6 million for the Healthy Kids Check, which supports families who want their four-year-olds to get a health assessment through their GP. Between 1 July 2008 and 31 March 2011 there were about 126,800 health checks delivered, which means that about 16 per cent of Australia's population of four-year-olds have received a health check through this mechanism. Between 1 July 2008 and March last year about $7.8 million was paid in Medicare rebates under the Healthy Kids Check. This extension of the requirement that families have their children immunised in order to receive childcare benefit through family tax benefit part A should ensure that a greater proportion of our children are immunised. This is a substantial improvement in the system and part of a longer term plan to which this government is committed to increase the health of our children.

The second element of this amendment concerns the baby bonus for babies born on or after 1 September 2012. The rate of the baby bonus will be reset to $5,000 and indexation will be paused from 1 July 2012 to 1 July 2015. The government is a very strong supporter of the family payment system. We have introduced paid parental leave, we have increased the childcare rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent and, from 1 July, we will increase family payments for teenagers by up to $4,200 a year. Through the Paid Parental Leave scheme, eligible working parents are paid up to 18 weeks of government funded parental leave at around $590 a week before tax, and nearly 130,000 families are receiving paid parental leave. This amendment freezes the indexation of the baby bonus for a three-year period. It is a substantial saving, but it comes on top of around $20 billion of family payments the government will make this year. Another substantial part of this amendment covers the carer allowance and the carer supplement. Currently a carer will receive a bereavement allowance under those tragic circumstances when a child passes away, but they are not entitled to that allowance if they care for a disabled adult and that disabled adult passes away. It is a rather sad state of affairs at the moment: a child is your child, whether they are 12, 18, 30 or 50. This amendment extends the bereavement allowance to a carer whose adult child passes away. This is a very good amendment and one that should have been made a long time before today.

This amendment also acknowledges that carers play a significant role in the community and that sometimes they combine paid employment with their caring responsibilities. Currently a carer does not receive the annual carer supplement of $600 for each person they care for if they work for a part of the year and if, due to the income test, their income or their partner's income reduces the rate of payments to nil during that period. Caring for a person with a disability is a very complex role at any time. We all know that the needs of the one who is cared for may vary over time, as may the family's capacity to care. A carer may move in and out of the workforce around the capacity of other family members or around the needs of the one that they are caring for. It can happen that a carer can take part-time work for a period of time and then not work for a period. If there is any group in our society that needs the maximum amount of flexibility to make their life work it is this extraordinary group of people who care for people with disabilities.

This amendment does some things that are quite significant: it acknowledges the need for flexibility in the life of a carer and it helps to ensure the income support system does not act as a disincentive to carers who work in paid employment during an instalment period that includes 1 July. If the carer qualifies for a carer payment, wife pension, partner service pension or carer service pension, the carer supplement will still be paid even if their income, or their partner's income, rises above the allowable threshold due to part-time employment in that period. It sounds quite technical, but essentially it removes the disincentive for a carer who moves in and out of paid work to make the absolute best life they can. I am very pleased to see those two amendments relating particularly to carers. The first extends the bereavement payments to carers who tragically lose an adult child that they care for and the second increases flexibility for carers by allowing them to either work part time or for periods of time in the year without losing the carer supplement.

These important bills deal with savings. As I said at the beginning of my speech, this is not something we should walk away from. Governments have a responsibility to review their spending commitments, as we did this year at MYEFO in particular. They are important savings. They build on strong growth in our support for young children, our support for parents and our support for carers. I commend the bills to the House.