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Monday, 18 October 2010
Page: 589

Mr ZAPPIA (12:23 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion put to this House by the member for Pearce. I support parts (1) to (5) of the motion but do not support parts (6) and (7) as, in fact, the government does take very seriously the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs and has responded quite appropriately. I am sure that the minister will take note of the other matters that have been raised by the member for Pearce today. As someone who has had personal discussions with members of my community about this very matter, I well understand the importance of it to those families. In fact I have relatives who are also in the very situation that this motion is addressing. Again I well understand the importance of both this legislation and the work that carers throughout our community do in whatever role of caring they are in.

Special disability trusts were established in September 2006 to assist immediate family members who have the financial means to do so to make private financial provision for the current and future care and accommodation needs of a family member with severe disability. Special disability trusts attract generous social security means-test concessions for the beneficiary and eligible contributors. The principal beneficiary’s immediate family members who are of age-pension age can gift up to $500,000 into the trust without having the social security gifting rules applied. In addition, a special disability trust currently can have assets worth up to $563,250 without these funds impacting on a beneficiary’s social security pension, such as the disability support pension. Special disability trusts are available to all people with severe disability including people with mental health conditions. To be eligible to be a principal beneficiary of a special disability trust, a person must meet the definition of severe disability under section 1209M of the Social Security Act 1991.

While the number of special disability trusts which have been set up is lower than originally anticipated, the number continues to grow. As at 30 September 2010, 119 special disability trusts were in operation. The total value of contributions to special disability trusts was $17.7 million, with $8.9 million of this amount receiving social security means-test considerations. That is effectively since 2006. This is a relatively new law that has come into place and a relatively new opportunity for people who wish to take advantage of it.

The government in fact welcomed the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs report Building trust: supporting families through disability trusts. The government tabled its response to the report on 14 May 2009 and it agrees with many of the recommendations. The government has already moved to make changes to encourage more families to establish special disability trusts. As announced in the 2009-10 budget and starting from the 2008-09 financial year, the unexpended income of a special disability trust will be taxed at the beneficiary’s personal income tax rate rather than the highest marginal tax rate. From July 2009, subject to the passage of legislation, the capital gains tax main residence exemption will be extended to include a residence that is owned by a special disability trust and is used by the beneficiary as their main residence.

As announced in the 2010-11 budget, from 1 January 2011—again subject to the passage of legislation—a beneficiary of a special disability trust will be able to work up to seven hours a week at or above the relevant minimum wage. A special disability trust will be able to pay for the beneficiary’s medical expenses including private health fund membership and maintenance of the trust’s assets and properties, and a 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 of the trust. In two years the government will undertake a review of the amount that can be held in a trust on a concessional basis and the amount that can be gifted and who can request audits of special disability trusts. This review will commence in January 2013 and will take into account the impact of the 1 January 2011 changes.

In our first term of government, this government has delivered more financial security for carers. Our achievements include record pension rises. Over the past year the pension has increased by $115 per fortnight for singles and by $97 for couples combined on the maximum rate, including through more generous indexation arrangements. A new annual and ongoing $600 carers supplement has been introduced. New rules to make it easier for carers of children with disability to get income support have been brought in. Recently we made a number of commitments for people with disability which will help to provide relief to carers. Those commitments include the Better Start for Children with Disability Initiative, which will provide more than $122 million over four years for early intervention services for children diagnosed with sight and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and fragile-X syndrome. The government will also establish a new capital fund of $60 million to build up to 150 new innovative, community based supported accommodation places for people with disability.

The government are implementing significant reforms across different service delivery systems to improve arrangements for both carers and the people they care for. We have implemented the National Disability Agreement to improve and expand services for people with disability, their families and carers, and we have doubled our funding to state and territory governments by providing more than $6 billion over five years for more and better specialist disability services. We have released a draft National Disability Strategy which outlines a 10-year plan to improve the lives of people with disability, promote participation and create a more inclusive society. And we are developing a National Carer Recognition Framework which includes national carer recognition legislation and a national carer strategy to place carers’ needs at the centre of government policy.

The national Carer Recognition Bill 2010 is the first element of the National Carer Recognition Framework. The bill was introduced into parliament on 29 September 2010. The legislation recognises and acknowledges the valuable contribution that carers make to Australian society and complements carer recognition, which is in place in some states and territories. The bill establishes a definition of a carer, sets out a statement for Australia’s carers, identifies obligations of Commonwealth Public Service agencies and service providers in respect of the statement, and sets out the reporting and consultation responsibilities of Commonwealth Public Service agencies. The statement for Australia’s carers is the cornerstone of the bill. It sets out the 10 principles about how carers should be considered in the development, implementation, provision and evaluation of policies, programs and services relevant to them and to the persons for whom they care. My understanding is that the bill is to be debated in the spring session of parliament, and I will take the opportunity to speak on that bill when it is debated in the parliament.

The National Carer Strategy, to be delivered in the first half of 2011, is the second element of the National Carer Recognition Framework. The strategy will seek to improve coordination across government so that programs and services for carers of people with disability, medical condition, mental illness and the frail aged are more responsive and targeted.

Minister Macklin has already announced that the strategy will consider the training and skills development needs of carers and the adequacy of case management and care coordination for carers. Addressing the needs of young carers and carers in rural and remote communities will also be priorities of the strategy. The strategy will be developed in consultation with state and territory governments and with input from carers, key peak organisations, advocates and service providers.

Mr Deputy Speaker, as you would probably know, we are also supporting the strategy by putting $102,000 into National Carers Week, which is happening right now. This government has done more for carers since coming to office than the previous coalition government did. We are dealing with new legislation and I have no doubt that the effects of that legislation will be carefully monitored by the minister.