Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Page: 2055

Senator McLUCAS (QueenslandParliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers) (13:35): I thank the various senators who have made contributions on this legislation. This bill introduces one 2010 budget measure and some other measures. As Senator Siewert indicated, it is an omnibus bill. The budget measure is to enhance the existing arrangements for special disability trusts. This is part of the government's ongoing commitment to people with disability and their families and carers.

Special disability trusts were established in 2006 under the former coalition government. Their purpose is to help families and carers provide for the care and accommodation needs of a family member with a severe disability. Special disability trusts are different from other types of trusts in that they have generous concessions from social security means testing arrangements for the beneficiary and eligible contributors. The effect for a person with a disability who is a beneficiary of a special disability trust is that the person will not lose any of their disability support pension unless their assets exceed a generous assets test threshold.

The Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs found, in its 2008 inquiry, that the take-up of these arrange­ments has been lower than expected. The arrangements were simply not working for people with disability, their families or their carers. The government responded to the committee's report through the 2010-11 budget with a number of changes to special disability trusts. More flexibility for trust beneficiaries will be provided to make special disability trusts more attractive to families. At present, if a person with a disability works for as little as one hour for the relevant minimum wage or above, they are not eligible to be a beneficiary of a special disability trust.

The changes in this bill address that incentive for people with disability to participate in work and in the community. The changes will allow eligible people with a disability to work up to seven hours a week at or above the relevant minimum wage and still qualify as a beneficiary of a special disability trust. There will also be a significant expansion in the purposes that trust funds can be used for, such as all medical expenses, including membership costs for private health insurance funds and maintenance expenses of special disability trust properties. The trust will also be able to make up to $10,000 a year of discretionary spending for the beneficiary's wellbeing, recreation and independence. This change modifies the restrictive rules presently in place that trust funds can be used only for specified care and accommodation expenses and will increase the social participation of beneficiaries.

The changes contained in this bill build on the taxation concessions the government announced in the 2009-10 budget in response to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee report. In a separate measure, the bill closes a loophole in qualification for disability support pension. This loophole has meant that disability support pension has continued to be paid to people who live permanently overseas but who return to Australia every 13 weeks to retain their pension. Under this bill, except under limited and specific circumstances, only disability support pensioners currently residing in Australia will continue to get the pension. Closing the loophole will bring disability support pension into line with other workforce age payments. It will also keep the disability support pension payment system fair and effective. If a pensioner has a need to travel overseas for short periods, he or she will still have access to the 13-week temporary absence rule.

Government amendments to this measure will include a delay of the commencement from 1 January to 1 July 2011 so there will be no retrospective adverse effect on those affected. The government amendments will also introduce from 1 July 2011 an extended portability period for severely disabled disability support pensioners to address concerns raised by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee. The extended portability will apply if the person accom­modates a supporting family member who has been posted or seconded by their employer to work overseas for a period. Senator Siewert in her contribution raised other circumstances where a person with caring responsibilities may need to travel for reasons other than work. We undertake to conduct a review of the operations of the DSP portability measure after one year of operation to ascertain if there are circum­stances which may need to be considered.

The eligibility for family tax benefit part A of some families with FTB children who are studying overseas full time will be clarified by this bill. If the courses these young people are undertaking do not link to an Australian qualification, it is not clear under the current legislation that they should attract family tax benefit part A. This bill puts that beneficial policy intention beyond doubt. It makes sure that young people studying overseas full time are treated for family tax benefit purposes in the same way as full-time students undertaking Australian study.

Further amendments in the bill are minor matters. In particular they address two minor anomalies arising from the pension reform legislation enacted in 2009. Both amend­ments are to make sure people get the benefit of the new provisions that they were inten­ded to have. Amendments made in the House withdrew from the bill the two schedules relating to the Indigenous Land Corporation and the scheduling of land. This withdrawal was purely for timing reasons: to allow a particular land measurement to be clarified and an inquiry into the Indigenous Land Corporation measure by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee to proceed without delaying the bill unduly. Those measures will be intro­duced in a future bill, and this current bill should proceed without them. I commend the bill to the chamber.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.