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Thursday, 11 March 2004
Page: 21359

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads) (12:06 PM) —I understood that we were debating the Democrat amendment in relation to a review. The government will oppose it on the grounds that, as part of the proper administration of all of its programs, we intend to monitor the benefits of the safety net and evaluate what it has achieved. Regular reports will be available on the number of people receiving safety net benefits, the average level of benefits and what other impacts the safety net may have, including the annual report. In relation to the proposed sunset clause, this amendment would establish a sunset clause for the amendments introduced. Unless further legislation was enacted, at the end of four years the safety net would lapse. It is the government's intention to introduce a safety net that can provide certainty to people in the long term, ensuring that they have continued peace of mind and protection against high out-of-pocket costs.

To that end, the benefits resulting from the safety nets can only be paid from the date of royal assent. Although we know from figures that 33,000 families have already incurred expenses of more than $300 and that more than 3,000 families have already incurred expenses of more than $700, we cannot pay for those retrospectively. All senators need to know that the benefits of these provisions cannot help families retrospectively. People who incur expenses between now—that is, if we can get the legislation passed today and get royal assent today—and when the parliament next sits cannot be helped. It will be a decision of senators in this place to prevent those families from receiving in some cases hundreds or thousands of dollars if we do not pass this legislation by a quarter to one. There is no reason why we cannot do that.

To assist that process, I will respond to Senator Crossin's questions: Katherine is in RRMA 6 and therefore will be entitled to the $7.50; Darwin is a capital city and therefore will not. However, the benefit of this package for Darwin—which it will not receive if this legislation is not passed today—is that it will receive the benefits of the work force measures. It will receive those if this legislation is passed; it would not have done previously. It will now receive the benefits of the work force measures.