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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 660

Senator SCHACHT (Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction) (4.56 p.m.) —I want to make some brief comments on the contributions made by senators in this debate. First of all, Senator Woodley criticised the complexity of the administration of the Department of Social Security. The government and the department recognise the importance of making social security as accessible as possible. The new plain English Social Security Act is a pioneering attempt to make complex legislation more accessible to lay people. Although it has its critics, the act has been welcomed by leading academics and welfare rights organisations.

  Senator Woodley also referred to the complexity of social security application forms. The department is re-engineering its existing practice with a view to having a common admission practice across all the department's programs. Senator Woodley also referred to a large volume of social security correspondence sent to the department's clients. The department recognises that there is concern on this matter and is currently reviewing this area. I suspect that only Australia Post would have a different view about the large number of letters being sent, but we do accept that there is concern in this area and that it should be addressed.

  The other area is the issue of the health care card and the assets test, which has been raised in the debate. The government will not be able to accept that amendment, and we will debate it in committee. But I would say generally that some honourable senators in this debate got a bit excited and emotional on this issue.

  We have already indicated in the Senate supplementary estimates hearing earlier this year that very few people—I think, around 100—got access to the new benefit because of the misinterpretation of information sent out. We have acknowledged that it was a mistake. The Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training, Mr Free, has acknowledged that there was an administrative mistake and has put into place a review of all those procedures.

  We believe that if the amendment moved by Senator Teague is carried, in view of the publicity now, the cost to the revenue would be quite substantial. I will deal with that in the committee stage. Therefore, we do not think the debate on the legislation itself is the most appropriate place to deal with this issue.

Senator Teague —We think it is, and we will persist with our request.

Senator SCHACHT —I am expressing my view. I do not always expect Senator Teague to agree. I wish he would. It would make his performance better, I suppose, if he always agreed with me.

Senator Panizza —From your performance this afternoon, I don't think so, Senator Schacht.

Senator SCHACHT —I know I should not provoke those opposite. It is like throwing a smelly old bone to a couple of hungry dogs. We do not believe that that amendment is appropriate, and we will explain that in the committee stage. We will oppose that amendment. The government opposes Senator Bell's amendments Nos 1 to 9 which deal with supplement loans repayments, but it does accept amendments Nos 10 and 11 which deal with concerns expressed by the Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

  Bills read a second time.


  The Bill.