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Thursday, 26 November 2015
Page: 13848


Ms COLLINS (Franklin) (10:56): I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Family Payments Structural Reform and Participation Measures) Bill 2015. The original bill that was introduced was designed to do several things. It was designed to introduce a new rate of payment for family tax benefit part B for families with children under one. It was designed to cease the family tax benefit part B to dual-parent families when the youngest child turned 13. It was designed to reduce the FTB part B to single-parent and grandparent FTB part B families with children between the ages of 13 and 16. It was designed to include the cessation of FTB part B for sole-parent and grandparent carers whose youngest child is 17 to 19 and in full-time secondary school. It was designed to phase out the family tax benefit A and B end-of-year supplements over two years, doing that in two stages. The family tax benefit A supplement would be reduced to $602.25 from 1 July 2016 and then down to $302.95 from 1 July 2017 and then abolished entirely from 1 July 2018. It was designed to end the family tax benefit B supplement over two years, first being reduced to $302.95 from 1 July 2016 and then to $153.30 from 1 July 2017 and then abolished entirely from 1 July 2018. The final measure in the bill was to increase the standard rate of FTB part A by $10 per fortnight for all families receiving more than just the base rate of FTB part A.

All of these measures impact on individuals. They impact on real people and families out there that are dealing with their family budgets, paying their bills, getting their groceries and filling up their cars every week. They are not just statistics and numbers that we are talking about. We have heard from the government plenty of times that these are savings, but they actually impact on families.

There are 140,000 families with children under one that would receive an increase of $1,000. This is essentially bringing back the baby bonus that Labor abolished when we were in office. We put the baby bonus payment into paid parental leave because we thought that was a better spend of funds. So it is ironic that in a savings measure we have a spending measure bringing back the baby bonus.

There are 76,000 couples with children over 13 who will have their FTB B cut entirely in 2016. There are 136,000 single parents with children aged 13 to 16 who would have their FTB B reduced to $1,000 in 2016. There are 3,900 grandparent carers with children over 13 who would have their FTB B reduced to $1,000 in 2016. Single parents with children over the age of 16 would have their FTB B cut entirely in 2016. While 1.2 million families in Australia would receive a small increase of $10 a fortnight, 1.5 million families would lose their FTB A supplements of $726 per child.

This bill would have impacted families and individuals right around the country if it had gone ahead in the way that it was designed. Of those families, 650,000 of them are single parents. Around 500,000 of these families are on the maximum rate—that is, they have a combined income of less than $51,000. So we are not talking about high-income families here. We are talking about 500,000 of these families on $51,000 a year or less that are currently receiving this family tax benefit supplement.

The government today has introduced amendments to this bill. We are really pleased to see that the government is amending the bill. We have been fighting cuts to family tax benefits now for more than 18 months, since the Abbott budget in 2014. This is the second lot of family tax cuts that have come to the parliament, and we are pleased to see the government has amended the bill. But we remain really concerned, because these cuts were linked, allegedly, to a child care package that we have not seen. What the government was proposing to do was take money away from some poor families and give some money back to some other poor families, but they would not release the details of the accompanying child care package that is supposed to be related to this. I am not quite sure why it wanted to relate it to it. Obviously they wanted to try to convince some families that they would be better off, but we know that so many families are getting cuts to their family payment. So it will be interesting to see, given that the government had this proposal and was trying to link the packages, what the government is planning to do now. Is the government going to make a third attempt at family tax cuts that will impact families right across Australia? We do not know if that is the case.

We fought family tax cuts because they were fundamentally unfair. We hear a lot from the new Prime Minister about fairness, how things need to be fair and all that sort of stuff, but, clearly, taking money off families who are earning less than $51,000 a year is not fair. These families are relying on these funds to pay their bills and groceries and to fill up their cars. As I said earlier, we are pleased to see that the government has backed down on some of these cuts, but we remain really concerned about what that will mean into the future and down the line. These cuts would have seen families thousands of dollars a year worse off and, in some scenarios, up to $4,000 a year worse off. I have not heard from the government how they expected these families to make up that difference or what they expected these families to do to cut their expenditure. There has been no inkling from the government about how they would have compensated these families.

Interestingly, in the fairness debate that we have been hearing from the Prime Minister of late, we have the GST issue being raised, and they have been saying that they would not increase a GST without compensation for families. Before the parliament we have a bill to cut family tax benefits while the Prime Minister is talking about a GST and compensation. One could expect that what they were trying to do was cut family tax benefits, introduce a GST, then compensate families and try to tell families that they were no worse off. But we know the families were worse off because they already had the cuts. I think that that is what the government was planning to do. I think it was all a bit of trickery and a little bit of accounting to try and say to people, 'We will cut the payments now and then we can give you some compensation later' and then go out and say, 'You are no worse off.' But they would be worse off. They would be worse off if you increase the GST or broaden it, and they would be worse off because they are getting a cut to family tax benefits.

The government will need to explain to families, particularly low-income families, in the lead up to Christmas what they intend to do with the family tax benefit cuts. We now have families doing their budgets, trying to work out Christmas presents and what they can afford to spend on their children and their families into the future, and they do not know what next year is going to bring in terms of their family tax payments. I hope that the government, in coming in here and moving amendments today, will tell people what its future plan is for family tax cuts. This money, as I indicated earlier, is really important to these families. It is really important, particularly to low-income families. It will make a massive difference to them on how much they can spend on things like Christmas presents, because Christmas presents are one of the few discretionary items that some of these families have.

We are one parliamentary week away from Christmas. I hope in that time that the government has the guts to stand up here and explain to families what its future plan is for family tax cuts. Perhaps they would also like to tell us the details of their childcare proposal, which they have also been keeping under wraps and which they keep trying to link to these family tax cuts, although I am still not convinced about why they need to link them and why they intend to take money off some poor families and then try to give it to other poor families. It does not seem to add up at all.

We have had some criticism from those opposite during speeches in the chamber today that spending is out of control in terms of government support payments. These are vulnerable people. They are vulnerable people who get government support payments because all Australians think that people in this country deserve a fair go and that those people that are doing it tough should get support. When we are talking about 1.2 million families, with half a million of those families on incomes of $51,000, we are not talking about wealthy families here. We are talking about families that are really doing it tough—and I think the government needs to go back and have another look at this.

The government cannot say that Labor has not been prepared to support some really tough measures, because we have. To date we have supported around $2 billion in cuts to family tax payments. We have supported the FTB A large families supplement changes. We have supported the lowering of the FTB B income threshold, the removal of the FBT A per child add-on and the ending of the large family supplement. That is $2 billion in savings that Labor have already agreed to. We have said that we will agree to the one change that will still be in the bill after the amendments on this bill are moved later today. We have said that we will reluctantly support that. So we are prepared to have a discussion, as the shadow minister said, about reforms. We are prepared to talk about some changes. But we are not going to sit around and allow the government to attack vulnerable low-income families, because that is what it is doing. If it wants to stand up, talk about fairness and say it will not do anything that will affect low-income people, it needs to understand that these cuts do exactly that.

Today, we are pleased to see these changes, but those opposite still need to explain to families what their future plans are, because, as I said, families are out there making decisions in the lead-up to Christmas about what they are going to be spending on the families in a tough time when they do not know what government's plans for their future payments are. I think that the government really needs to come clean with families now that it has made these changes, which we are really pleased to see, and tell families what its future plans are. At the same time, perhaps, it should unveil some of its childcare package, which it keeps talking about. The government keeps saying that some families will not be worse off because, while the government takes some family payment off them, it will make it up in child care. It is a bit hard for us to judge that when we have never seen the details of the package. The package has been talked about for several months now, and we still have not seen the detail of it. We have seen some of it leaked to a newspaper, but we have not been provided with any detail on it. The government really needs to explain to the parliament and to the people of Australia what its future plan is when it comes to families and supporting low-income and vulnerable families in our community.