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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 402

Senator SHERRY (Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law) (11:08 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This bill is to make minor and technical amendments to several Acts within the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and related portfolios.

In particular, the bill makes minor amendments to the social security law and the family assistance law to improve the operation and effectiveness of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (known as the SSAT).

Firstly, the bill will allow the SSAT to give oral reasons on ‘affirmed’ social security and family assistance cases - that is, review cases that affirm the decision made by Centrelink. This will bring those jurisdictions more closely into line with child support, where the SSAT does have the option of giving reasons orally to the parties. As in the child support sphere, the oral decision arrangements will be subject to the right of the parties to request written reasons if they prefer.

Secondly, amendments will allow Centrelink to make oral submissions to SSAT hearings. At present, Centrelink may make written submissions to the SSAT, but not oral submissions. However, again, the child support SSAT arrangements are somewhat different. These allow the Child Support Agency to ask the SSAT for permission to make oral submissions at an SSAT hearing, and also allow the SSAT to order the Agency to make oral submissions.

We anticipate that this new power to allow or direct oral submissions in social security and family assistance reviews will be used in complex cases where further explanation may clarify a complicated or technical matter and help the SSAT to reach the correct or preferable decision. The facility to allow or direct oral submissions will help to avoid costly and inefficient adjournments. The social security and family assistance SSAT arrangements will gain this flexible and efficient aspect of the child support system of review and appeals through this bill.

Thirdly, amendments will allow SSAT members to be appointed for a term of up to five years, in place of the currently allowed term of up to three years. The change will bring the SSAT into line with Government policy that appointments of statutory office-holders are generally to be made for a period of five years for reasons of stability, efficiency and good governance.

The bill also makes technical amendments to several Acts, primarily the social security law, to repeal redundant provisions, or references to redundant payments or repealed provisions, to correct cross-references, to correct misdescribed amendments, and address similar matters.

Debate (on motion by Senator Sherry) adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.