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Monday, 2 December 2019
Page: 6548

Dr MARTIN (Reid) (13:07): I rise to speak about the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Payment Integrity) Bill 2019. This government is committed to ensuring that our welfare system is delivering support to Australians who need it most and that payments are fair and sustainable for Australians for many, many years to come. This bill will reintroduce three measures that are just residency requirements for a number of payments, including the age pension and disability support pension, as well as adjustments to the liquid assets waiting period on a number of welfare payments.

In adjusting the residency requirements for migrants at retirement age, the government is bringing this requirement closer into line with other OECD nations and meeting community expectations that migrants could not expect immediate financial support from the Australian taxpayer, particularly if they arrive close to retirement age. Currently, to receive the age pension or disability support pension, an individual must be able to demonstrate 10 years of residency, of which five must be continuous. This new measure will require that applicants for these payments demonstrate at least five years of residency to have taken place during their working life or at least five years of their residency not receiving income supports. If an applicant cannot demonstrate this requirement, they will need to have 15 years of continuous residency. This will impact upon less than one per cent of people claiming the aged pension or disability support pension. I note exemptions are in place for a number of groups, including humanitarian arrivals and individuals who are incapacitated after their arrival in Australia.

This bill will also suspend payment of the pension supplement for pensioners who spend an extended period of time overseas. The pension supplement aims to minimise the impact of GST on pensioners across the cost of telephone bills, utilities and pharmaceuticals. Currently this payment is reduced after a six-week absence. This measure will result in payment of the pension supplement being suspended entirely after six weeks. This is because pensioners who spend extended periods of time overseas are unlikely to be impacted by the cost of GST during their absence. This is a minor adjustment to payments—currently $23.80 per fortnight for singles and $39.20 per fortnight combined for couples. Importantly, this will not impact the base rate of pensions being paid. Affected welfare recipients will still receive their core income support payment.

The final component of this bill is extending the waiting period for applicants where liquid assets are reported during the application period. This will impact applicants for a number of payments, including youth allowance, Austudy and Newstart allowance. While we want to support Australians who are doing it tough, it is fair to expect an individual to support themselves for a period of time after the loss of their job or income if they have the financial resources to do so. The vast majority of applicants for income support payments do not have sufficient liquid assets to support themselves for an extended period and so do not face any waiting period following their application. Under this measure, the current liquid assets waiting period will be extended from 13 weeks to 26 weeks. A significant proportion of claimants who serve the current maximum liquid assets waiting period of 13 weeks have liquid assets that far exceed the point at which the maximum liquid assets waiting period applies, with 18.3 per cent of people serving the maximum 13-week liquid asset waiting period having liquid asset reserves above $100,000. Different thresholds for the waiting period apply, depending upon the applicant's circumstances, but, as an example, it is currently $5,500 before you serve any liquid asset waiting period, and that's for a single person with no dependent children.

It is estimated that these measures will return over $290 million to the budget bottom line. They are sensible adjustments to the welfare system. We on this side of the House understand our duty to the Australian taxpayers to ensure that their taxes are spent responsibly and fairly and that welfare is available to those who need it most. I strongly support these measures as a means of safeguarding our welfare system.