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Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Page: 2140

Senator STEPHENS (Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and Parliamentary Secretary for the Voluntary Sector) (6:02 PM) —I will respond to Senator Siewert’s question, as I know we rushed to the end of the second reading debate. She asked whether the measure was voluntary. It is a very important question, because it relates to this bill’s intention to create the opportunity for weekly payments of income support payments to people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. In answer to her specific concern, the recipients of a social security benefit, a family tax benefit or a baby bonus will be offered to be paid on a weekly basis provided that the customer falls within a class of persons as specified in the legislative instrument, and that instrument will specify that a person must agree to be paid weekly before the secretary can determine that he or she is to receive payment.

I go to the amendments that are before us this afternoon. The government amendments to this bill are actually unrelated to the introduction of the weekly payments. This bill is merely a convenient vehicle to make an unrelated amendment to family assistance law. I thank senators—the opposition, the Greens and the Independents—for their assistance in bringing this bill and the amendments forward in a noncontroversial manner.

This amendment is actually a necessary consequential amendment due to the timing changes in other legislation, specifically the changed start date for the youth allowance changes. These amendments will delay the start date of the new education participation requirements for family tax benefit, FTB, for children aged 16 to 20 until 1 July 2010, and this aligns with the new start date of the youth allowance changes.

Last year the parliament passed the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Participation Requirement) Act 2009 to make sure that young Australians completed year 12 or an equivalent vocational qualification. This was one element of the Compact with Young Australians agreed by the Council of Australian Governments in April last year. Under the compact and the 2009 legislation, children aged 16 to 20 need to be enrolled in a course of study that will lead them to achieve year 12 or equivalent, or need to have completed year 12, and this complements existing rules for family tax benefit part A for those 21 and over and for family tax benefit part B. These changes were due to come into effect from 1 May for existing customers. However, given the delayed start date for the youth allowance changes, it makes sense to shift those dates to 1 July 2010 so that those who transfer from family tax benefit A to youth allowance benefit from the more generous youth allowance parental income test will have it apply from that date.