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Thursday, 4 June 1987
Page: 3994

Mrs SULLIVAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security and refers to the Government's mini-Budget decision to means test family allowances. Does this decision mean that all of the 2,130,000 recipients of family allowances will be required to fill out Department of Social Security forms detailing information on joint parental incomes? What information will the Hawke Government require individuals to provide to officers of the Department of Social Security? Does this mean that family allowance recipients, 98.3 per cent of whom are women, will be held accountable for the accuracy of information supplied by the other parent? How will this be implemented in cases where parents are divorced or separated or have remarried? What checks does the Minister envisage taking to ensure that the information is correct?

Mr HOWE —Income testing comes in at the beginning of October, but over the next several months, the Government will be placing steps in train to ensure that it acquires what is not currently available to the Department of Social Security, that is, relevant information on all Australian families. It is to be understood that that is necessary, and it will be extraordinarily helpful because one of the problems in the social security system is, of course, that a very high proportion of payments are made to low income families on an income tested basis. It is a matter of considerable concern to the Government that the family income supplement scheme, which is one of the significant reforms in the social security system in recent years and which is a considerable help in terms of providing incentive for people to move into the work force, has what is generally regarded as quite a low take up rate. In the process of gathering the necessary information, it will be possible to increase the take up of some payments. A second example is the handicapped child allowance. That is also an important payment within the social security system and, for some years, there has been concern about the relevant take up.

The overwhelmingly positive response and acceptance of income testing for family allowance purposes has surprised me. After every economic statement, similar to a Budget or the May economic statement, the Department of Social Security has provided a hot line for people to ring up and make queries. On the last occasion on which I checked, something like 60 per cent of all people who rang the social security hot line endorsed the measures within the May economic statement. Something like 30 per cent of the people were critical of it but they were satisfied with an explanation and very few people were hostile to the measures. In a very tough statement, that is surprising. Family allowance was not a matter about which there was a considerable frequency of calls.

In terms of the thresholds, people will effectively be able to remove themselves on the basis of the approach the Government will take with respect to income testing. In no way is it intended to be intrusive, and I believe there is considerable acceptance of the measure the Government has introduced. Some matters have not yet been resolved. The honourable member for Moncrieff referred to cases of separation and matters of responsibility. They are matters the Government will be looking at. I remind the honourable member that there is still quite a considerable lead time before the income testing comes in in October.