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Thursday, 17 August 1989
Page: 269

Senator POWELL —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. I preface my question by acknowledging the improvements to the young homeless allowance made in the Budget by indexing the allowance and raising the weekly payment by $7.50 as well as reducing the waiting period for some applicants. However, given the announcement in the Budget that a prerequisite for the receipt of the young homeless allowance will, from 1 November 1989, be the provision of a tax file number, has the Government any plans to cater for the strong likelihood that young people who have left home, sometimes fleeing from a violent situation, will not necessarily have stopped to ensure that they have the necessary documentation such as a birth certificate, school report or whatever? Is the Government prepared to negate the possible benefit of the positive Budget action of reducing the waiting period from six to two weeks for those most in need by imposing and enforcing the tax file number prerequisite?

Senator BOLKUS —There is a fair degree of inaccuracy in the information that Senator Powell has presented to the Senate.

Senator McGauran —How long will this take?

Senator BOLKUS —This will not take very long. It is probably of interest to Senator McGauran as he is probably young enough to qualify for these. In terms of the Government's commitment in this area, the Government has been keen to provide adequacy and accessibility through the youth homelessness allowance and to provide assistance. In the Budget brought down two days ago these two priorities were met. In doing so, we were mindful of the Burdekin report which asked us to address assistance levels and the waiting period problem. We were also mindful of a Department of Social Security survey on long term Jobsearch allowance recipients which showed that those who were in receipt of the youth homelessness allowance were among the most disadvantaged young people. They had the highest housing costs and were also the most unlikely to have family support. So the initiatives that Senator Powell mentioned provide for an increase in the allowance of $7.50 a week and also indexation from January 1990 in line with the annual indexation of the independent rate of Austudy for 16- and 17-year-olds. There are also changes to Austudy payments for those who qualify for the living at home rate, as well as higher rates for Jobsearch allowance recipients under provisions announced on Tuesday night.

Another part of Senator Powell's proposition relating to reduced waiting periods should also be tackled, because waiting periods are not only being reduced-generally, across the board, waiting periods will be reduced from six weeks to two weeks-but also they will be abolished in circumstances where young people cannot live at home either because of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or for comparable exceptional circumstances. In essence, that is a picture of some of the Government's initiatives in this area.

The other part of the question goes to the utilisation of the tax file number. It is true that the tax file number will be used, but it is also fair to say that under an agreement which has already been reached with the Australian Taxation Office the problems that Senator Powell raised should and will be accommodated. The problem was raised of those clients who cannot under a normal regime prove their identity. Under the existing procedures there is already allowance for that. The Department of Social Security will be able to certify as to people's identity in cases where applicants would have difficulty under the guidelines used in post offices and, in so being able to certify, the sorts of problems raised should be accommodated. We do not intend to negate the direction of our policy in this area. It is a policy which has been comprehensively worked out, and we will ensure that the people to whom Senator Powell refers, who are probably the most in need, will not miss out on benefits because of that sort of hiccup.