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Thursday, 24 June 2021
Page: 7


Mr TUDGE (AstonMinister for Education and Youth) (10:05): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill gives effect to the measure announced in the 2021-22 budget to provide a consistent four-year newly arrived resident's waiting period across welfare payments and concession cards.

The newly arrived resident's waiting period is a longstanding feature of our welfare payments system, which is non-contributory and residentiary based. It reflects the reasonable expectation that skilled and family migrants who choose to come to or remain in Australia will take steps to provide for their own financial support when they first become permanent residents.

Currently, the length of the waiting period varies from one to four years, depending on the payment.

A four-year waiting period already applies to working age payments, such as JobSeeker payment, parenting payment and youth allowance, as well as concession cards.

A two-year waiting period currently applies to carer payment, parental leave pay, and dad and partner pay, while a one-year waiting period applies to carer allowance and family tax benefit part A, with no waiting period for family tax benefit part B.

This bill will standardise the waiting period for new permanent residents across these payments. It will also ensure the existing four-year waiting period for concession cards applies equally to permanent visa holders and relevant temporary visa holders.

Applying the same uniform four-year waiting period across most payments and concession cards will ensure a consistent approach to access to income support and family assistance for new migrants.

Some family payments, including double orphan pension and stillborn baby payment, will continue to be available without a waiting period. This reflects the particular circumstances in which these payments are made and ensures migrants who have experienced the tragedy of stillbirth or are caring for a child who has lost both of their parents still have access to financial support to help them meet unforeseen costs.

Migrant families will also continue to have immediate access to childcare subsidies where they are using approved child care and participating in work, study or other approved activities. This recognises the important role child care plays in facilitating parents' engagement in the labour force.

In addition, to ensure that low-income families can access concessional benefits under Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, families serving a waiting period for family tax benefit will continue to have access to the low-income healthcare card where otherwise eligible.

All new permanent migrants, including those with children or other caring responsibilities, will continue to have access to other services and supports where eligible. This includes Medicare, schools, tertiary education, employment services, settlement services, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, child care and carer supports through the Carer Gateway.

The changes in this bill will only apply to people granted a permanent visa or relevant temporary visa on or after 1 January 2022.

Migrants already granted permanent residency or a relevant temporary visa before 1 January 2022 will not be affected by the changes in this bill. Migrants granted their visa before this date will be subject to the rules that applied when their visa was granted.

Orphan and remaining relative visa holders will also not be affected by the changes in this bill. This recognises that these visa holders are often vulnerable young people and is consistent with the approach taken as part of the 2019 changes. These visa holders will remain covered by the pre-2019 rules, irrespective of when their visa is granted.

In addition, New Zealand citizens on special category visas will not be affected by the changes to the waiting period for family payments. They will continue to have no waiting periods for family tax benefit, parental leave pay, and dad and partner pay. This recognises the unique visa and payment settings that apply to New Zealanders.

Importantly, the government is maintaining all existing exemptions from the waiting period. These exemptions are designed to provide safeguards for certain groups of migrants, including potentially vulnerable individuals and families, and people who have had a substantial change of circumstances.

Permanent humanitarian entrants and their families will continue to be exempt from waiting periods for all payments and concession cards.

This exemption acknowledges that refugees settling here under the Humanitarian Program are particularly vulnerable. They generally have no other means of support and are not usually in a position to make plans for their own support prior to applying for, and being granted, a humanitarian visa.

Maintaining access to welfare payments will help to promote the successful long-term settlement of these humanitarian entrants and their families.

While most temporary visa holders do not have access to Australian payments, holders of certain temporary humanitarian visas, including temporary protection visas and safe haven enterprise visas, can access special benefit and family payments and are exempt from the waiting period for these payments. This will continue to be the case under this legislation.

Carer visa holders who have come to Australia to care for an Australian resident with no other care options will continue to be exempt from the waiting period for carer payment and carer allowance. This will ensure that they, and the Australian resident they are caring for, can receive appropriate support.

Most other permanent skilled or family migrants—those who have come to Australia to work or be with family—are well placed to be self-reliant during their four-year waiting period. However, the government understands that some migrants may experience a change of circumstances, which means they are no longer able to support themselves as they had originally planned. For this reason, there are key exemptions for migrants in this situation.

Migrants who become a lone parent after becoming an Australian resident will continue to be exempt from the waiting period for the principal carer parent payments: parenting payment, JobSeeker payment and youth allowance. Parents granted this exemption will also continue to be exempt from the waiting period for carer allowance and family payments. This ensures that parents who no longer have the support, financial and otherwise, of their partner can access support for themselves and their children.

Other migrants who experience a substantial change of circumstances, such as illness, injury, job loss or family and domestic violence, will continue to be exempt from the waiting period for special benefit. This payment provides a safety net for people in hardship who are not otherwise eligible for other payments. Those who receive this exemption for special benefit will also continue to be exempt from the waiting period for carer allowance and family payments.

Together, these exemptions will continue to provide a comprehensive safety net for migrants who are particularly vulnerable as well as those who are placed in hardship because of circumstances beyond their control.

Conclusion

This government believes it is reasonable to expect that people seeking to come to Australia through the skilled and family visa streams should make arrangements to be financially self-sufficient when they first settle here permanently.

The changes contained in this bill to apply a uniform, consistent four-year waiting period across all relevant payments strikes a balance between encouraging migrants to be self-sufficient and maintaining appropriate safeguards.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.