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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 2906

Senator McLUCAS (QueenslandParliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (12:23): I thank senators for their contributions to the second reading debate on the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012, although, in saying that, I question Senator Bernardi's contribution in terms of its relevance to this piece of legislation. I urge Senator Bernardi to read the budget. Some of the assertions that he made in his contribution to this debate bear no resemblance to the numbers that appear in the budget papers that were tabled in this chamber this morning. Senator Bernardi's comments were in fact quite fanciful. His contribution was simply a list of the rhetoric that we have heard for months and months from that side and bore no relevance to the facts. The budget that was brought down last night in fact is a strong budget for this country. It places Australia in a good position to be able to build on the benefits of the mining boom for our children and our grandchildren, unlike what happened in mining boom mark 1, where the benefits were frittered away and were not invested into the future. With this budget, we will have an investment into the future of our country that our children and grandchildren will be able to reap the benefits of.

I remind Senator Bernardi that the response of our government to the global financial crisis has been lauded inter­nationally. Treasurer Swan was awarded the title of best treasurer in the world by the distinguished magazine Euromoney, the same magazine that awarded our Treasurer Keating the title of best treasurer in the world back in 1984. I observe that Australia has only been given two of those awards, one in 1984 and one to our current Treasurer, Wayne Swan. I have got to say that the treasury bench was not held by Labor for a lot of that time in between. I could also observe that Australia has AAA credit ratings from all three ratings agencies that participate in the ratings program. That has never happened in this country before. There are many economic commentators who recognise that our country, under the leadership of Treasurer Swan, has done a good job of dealing with the global financial crisis and putting us in the position we are now placed in to be able to reap the benefits of the mining boom which is in front of us. But I digress. Having accused Senator Bernardi of digressing, I have done the same myself.

I thank senators for their contributions to this debate. Through this bill, the govern­ment is implementing the changes to family payments that were announced in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook and the improved support for carers outlined in the National Carer Strategy. The first of the changes to family payments is to strengthen incentives for families to have their young children immunised by linking the family tax benefit part A end-of-year supplement with immunisation. We all know how important immunisation is to a child's lifelong health as well as to the health of other children. We want to make sure that children have the best start in life and are immunised at the right time. So, from 1 July 2012, the end-of-year family tax benefit part a supplement, which is currently set at $726 per child each year, will be paid only when the child is fully immunised for the financial year in which a child turns one, two and five years of age. These new arrangements for the supplement will replace the maternity immunisation allowance, which will cease from 1 July 2012. We expect these reforms to improve immunisation coverage rates over time, giving Australia greater protection for our children.

The bill's second measure will help make sure that the baby bonus, which has increased by 67 per cent since it was introduced in 2004, is sustainable in the long term as an important part of the targeted family payment system. The amendment will, from 1 July 2012, pause the indexation of the baby bonus for three years. The payment rate will also be reset, to $5,000 per child, from 1 September 2012.

The third measure in the bill will improve the targeting of family tax benefit and reduce the risk of debts. This will be done by ending fortnightly payments of family tax benefit instalments to recipients who claim family tax benefit but are found to have no actual entitlement for two consecutive years follow­ing the end-of-year reconciliation with their income tax return. Families who are affected by the change would still be able to claim a lump sum at the end of the financial year. There will also be exceptions to prevent families being put at risk of hardship.

Lastly, the bill introduces two important amendments to support the Australian government's National Carer Strategy. The first amendment acknowledges that carers sometimes combine paid employment with their caring responsibilities. Under present income-testing arrangements, a carer cannot receive the annual carer supplement, which is worth $600 for each person they care for, if their or their partner's income has reduced their rate of payment to nil during a period that includes 1 July. This situation may disadvantage certain carers or their partners who may participate in casual or irregular work in addition to their caring commitments and who are offered extra employment in the period that includes 1 July. This bill overcomes the disincentive of the current arrangements by restoring entitlement to carer supplement to this group of carers. The other amendment for carers makes sure that a low-income carer who receives an income support payment as well as a carer allowance for care of an adult will be paid a bereavement payment on the death of the person they care for. I commend the amendment bill to the chamber.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.