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Friday, 17 December 1993
Page: 4988


Senator SHERRY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (3.15 p.m.) —We cannot support these Democrat amendments, which address the issue of joint accounts, the issue of a $1,000 rather than a $500 maximum, and the issue of whether allowees can access existing earning credit if their income exceeds the allowance cut-off point.

  I turn firstly to the joint accounts issue. One of the primary aims of this initiative is to encourage participation in the work force by both members of a couple. The introduction of joint accounts could serve as an incentive for one member of a couple to withdraw from the work force. It is recognised that both members of a couple have a contribution to make to the labour force. This initiative encourages both parties to take up short-term employment, thereby increasing their overall income. By both persons maintaining links with the labour market, they are maximising their opportunities of returning to full-time employment.

  I now turn to the issue of the $1,000 versus the $500 credit limit. The $500 earning credit for the unemployed was an election commitment announced in the election in Investing in the nation. It has subsequently been endorsed by cabinet. For that reason, we cannot agree to that change.

  Finally, I turn to the third matter. An upper limit on earnings will target the credit to low to medium income earners. The absence of an upper limit on earnings for accessing any accumulated earnings credit would be excessively generous and involve paying allowances to high as well as low income earners. Having an upper limit still represents a quite generous treatment compared with the standard income test arrangements. A married couple, for example, could have earnings of up to $677 a fortnight—and a single adult up to $416 a fortnight—and still have access to their earning credit. Credits accrued will be preserved for up to 13 weeks for those whose allowances are cancelled because their earnings exceed the upper limit.