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Tuesday, 12 September 2023
Page: 2

Mr LITTLEPROUD (MaranoaLeader of the Nationals) (12:05): I'm pleased to inform the House that the federal coalition will be supporting the Social Security Amendment (Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment) Bill 2023. This is because the amendments outlined in this bill aim to deliver faster automatic processing of the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment, the AGDRP, by Services Australia to eligible people in the event of a natural disaster. This is especially important given that the anticipated 2023-24 high-risk weather season could potentially pose processing delays to Services Australia if there are widespread fires or floods.

Overall, the bill includes a number of minor technical changes to strengthen quicker and more efficient assessments of online claims, and this will be achieved by legislating more consistent objective criteria. For example, this legislation has an amendment which allows the Minister for Emergency Management to determine by notifiable instrument an amount of time that an applicant must have been in Australia before a major disaster in order to qualify for an AGDRP. Until now, the accepted minimum time was 13 of the last 19 weeks. Meanwhile, another amendment will provide changes to how the payable rate for the AGDRP is calculated with respect to a person who qualifies for a payment and has a child or children in their care. Both of these changes will secure faster automatic processing of online claims.

It's on this important basis that the federal coalition will not be standing in the way of this bill's passage through the parliament. We appreciate that it's vital for financial payments to flow quickly and effectively to those Australians who need them the most during times of natural disasters, whether they be floods, fires or cyclones. Given that the government has claimed the amendments in this bill will improve and speed up the existing online processing for the AGDRP, we therefore expect that this legislation will deliver exactly that. In terms of how emergency management is structured in Australia, it's worth recognising that the federal government provides financial assistance for those impacted by natural disasters through the following measures: indirectly, via the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements with state and territory governments, or directly, through disaster recovery payments which are made under the Social Security Act 1991. On the second measure, there are two main assistance payments managed by the Australian government, which are provided by Services Australia to people in need during or following a disaster. It's these two payments which are impacted by this bill.

The first of these payments, the AGDRP, is a lump-sum non-means-tested payment of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child. The second is the Disaster Recovery Allowance, which is a short-term means-tested income support payment with rates equivalent to JobSeeker or youth allowance to help Australians whose income has been affected by natural disaster. The Minister for Emergency Management makes determinations to activate these payments, and they are paid by Services Australia. Indeed, Services Australia has an integral role in delivering these government assistance payments, and the numbers reflect how high demand currently is for the sort of financial assistance provided. At Senate estimates in May this year, we heard that over the past 12 months alone this agency has processed over 160,000 claims for emergency assistance and paid over $105 million in financial support to more than 105,000 Australians affected by floods, fires and cyclones.

It is expected that our nation's high-risk weather season will begin in October. We already know that there are drying conditions across northern New South Wales and Queensland in particular. In fact, last week, Queensland was issued with the highest fire danger ratings the state has seen since 2018, ahead of the upcoming bushfire season. The Darling Downs and Granite Belt regions have been issued with catastrophic fire ratings, while an extreme fire danger has been predicted for the Maranoa, Warrego and Channel Country districts. Frequent wind and consistent 33-degree weather have caused vegetation growth in these areas to dry out, while a lack of rainfall following La Nina has also contributed to this. But, of course, it's not just Queensland. All levels of government across our nation need to be vigilant because Australia will face a potentially dangerous spring and summer bushfire season. According to a warning from the Australasian Fire Authorities Council, parts of the Northern Territory, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia will all face an increased bushfire risk during spring. Significantly, areas impacted by bushfires in recent years, including the devastating Black Summer bushfires, can expect an increased risk as a result of more vegetation growth. As the CEO of Australasian Fire Authorities Council, Rob Webb, has said:

Almost the entire country can expect drier and warmer conditions than normal this spring, so it is important for Australians be alert to local risks of bushfire over the coming months, regardless of their location … Understand your risk, know where you will get your information, and talk to your family about what you will do.

As we prepare for this year's upcoming high-risk weather season, we must have an emergency management system that is strong, responsive, fit for purpose and efficient. Given that the amendments outlined in the Social Security Amendment (Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment) Bill 2023 will aim to secure quicker processing of support payments for individuals and families impacted by natural disasters, the federal coalition will be giving our support to this legislation, and we commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.