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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 2873

Senator BOSWELL (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Evans. How many parents will receive less childcare benefit from 1 July 2009 as a result of the Rudd government’s expanded definition of income? And I am not referring to the family tax benefit.

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank Senator Boswell for his question and our continuing discussion on these issues. I might suggest, in responding, Mr President, that I offer Senator Boswell a briefing on these matters, because I think the level of complexity and detail is hard to get on top of not only regarding the changes that are affecting the charitable sector as a result of the previous government’s 2006 budget changes but also regarding the changes that we have introduced as part of our budget this year and the confusion in the minds of the public about how the two interact.

I am able to advise the Senate that the changes that the Rudd Labor government introduced as part of the budget will focus on the salary sacrifice into superannuation issue. The changes are designed to bring that measure into line with conditions that apply to pensioners and the self-employed. This initiative will also help ensure that people cannot reduce or avoid their child support obligations.

As I have said to the Senate and to you, Senator Boswell, it is not the purpose of the social security system to provide further incentives, over and above those provided by the tax system, to make voluntary contributions to superannuation. Our view is that people ought not to be able to get more benefits, be they family tax benefits and/or childcare benefits, than they would otherwise be entitled to and that, by using the salary sacrifice into superannuation, they should not be advantaged over other citizens. In terms of the FTB, I think I told you yesterday that we anticipated about 3½ per cent of families receiving family tax benefit will be affected.

Senator Boswell —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. This is all very interesting, Senator Evans, but I asked you a specific question. There are many people who are concerned about this. They want to know what benefits they are going to lose under the childcare benefit from July 2009. I am not interested in family tax benefit A or B. I am asking you a specific question: how many parents are going to lose benefits under the childcare benefit from July 2009?

The PRESIDENT —On the point of order, Senator Boswell, I cannot direct the minister as to how he should answer the question or whether he should be as specific, and I think he is in order.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Thank you, Mr President. I am trying to be helpful to Senator Boswell. I know he has—

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I will not take the interjection. I am trying to be helpful and I know that Senator Boswell is interested in the issue.

Senator Ian Macdonald —You’re not being helpful. You are answering a different question.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Senator, you are not being helpful by interrupting. You know nothing about it—as is the case with most things.

Senator Patterson —You are not being helpful.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, I can only be helpful if I can be. If I cannot get a word in, then I cannot—

Senator Ian Macdonald —Oh, you poor little petal!

The PRESIDENT —Order, Senator Macdonald! Ignore the interjections, Senator Evans, and respond to the question.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —As I was saying, the initiative is designed to deliver savings in the FaHCSIA budget—in the families, housing, community services and Indigenous affairs area. We think it will save about $250 million over four years. The savings, I am advised, Senator Boswell, are almost entirely in the family tax benefit payments area.

I do not have details on the exact impacts in the childcare area. I am happy to take that part of your question on notice and see if I can get you better information. But I am advised that the majority of the savings and, if you like, the impacts, are in the family tax benefit area. As I said, that applies to about 3½ per cent of families who are currently receiving family tax benefit. It is a measure designed to make sure there is equal treatment of those people who are currently salary sacrificing into super and are accessing benefits that people on the same income levels would not be entitled to. I have indicated to Senator Boswell that I am happy to organise through the minister a briefing for him on the details. (Time expired)

Senator BOSWELL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I certainly will take the minister up on that offer. I do point out, Minister, that I have asked these questions twice in estimates, and on at least one occasion you were there. I again asked the question of you yesterday and the shadow minister, Mr Abbott, has also asked the question. When is the Rudd government going to come clean on how much money they are taking away from working families? You have to tell us specifically.

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —Mr President, that was not the question that Senator Boswell asked me yesterday. He asked me a separate question, which I tried to assist him with. But I do point out to him that these changes come in on 1 July 2009. There is no immediate impact on families. I am happy to brief Senator Boswell and any other senators on the details. As I told him, the major impacts are on family tax benefit B. We stand by the changes because, essentially, we do not think you ought to be able to get access to more social security benefits as a result of salary sacrificing into superannuation. We do not think that is equitable. We think people ought to be treated the same as pensioners and the self-employed and ought to be entitled to the benefits based on their income, not on the basis of some arrangement they have of salary sacrificing into super.