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Thursday, 25 September 2008
Page: 5692


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (4:03 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

FAMILIES, HOUSING, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (FURTHER 2008 BUDGET AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2008

This bill will provide the legislation for certain further Budget and other measures affecting the portfolios of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and Veterans’ Affairs.

The bill includes several amendments relating to maternity immunisation allowance.  This lump sum payment of $243.30 (from 20 September) encourages families to protect their small children by having them immunised.  The allowance is currently paid for children, aged between 18 months and two years, if they are immunised to the recommended level or have a formal exemption.

In the first maternity immunisation allowance measure in the bill, the allowance will be restructured to bring it more closely into line with the National Immunisation Program and give parents an incentive to have their four year-olds given the recommended boosters before they start school.

This will be done by paying the allowance in two payments for children who meet the 18 month and four year-old immunisation requirements.  The first payment will be paid when the child is aged between 18 months and two years, and the second when the child is aged between four years and five years.

The change will apply, from January 2009, to eligible families who have not already been paid the full allowance.  The new half payment rate, initially $121.65, will vary with continued indexation of the full rate of the allowance twice a year.  In practice, the second payment may be higher than the first because of any intervening indexation.

Among the important immunisations currently recommended for four year-olds that will be encouraged by this measure are diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, mumps, German measles and polio.  This measure should result in many Australian children having a better overall level of immunisation, consistent with the recommendations of the National Immunisation Program.

In a second maternity immunisation allowance measure, the bill will extend eligibility for the allowance to children adopted from outside Australia who enter Australia before turning 16.  Older adopted children will need to be immunised between 18 months and two years after arrival.

Currently, families must claim the allowance within two years of the child’s birth and must meet the recommended immunisation levels before the child turns two.  Clearly, these age two requirements are not workable for older children adopted from overseas.  This measure extends the allowance for those older children, to reinforce the message provided by this payment in support of immunisation for children in the Australian community.

This measure is an equity measure that gives effect to recommendation 10 of the 2005 House of Representatives Family and Human Services Committee Inquiry into Overseas Adoption in Australia, which recommended that ‘the Minister for Family and Community Services amend the eligibility criteria for the maternity immunisation allowance in the case of children adopted from overseas so the eligibility period is two years after the child’s entry to Australia’.

The Government is now implementing this important recommendation.

The amendments to the Veterans’ Entitlements Act included in this bill will cease eligibility for partner service pension for those partners who are separated but not divorced from their veteran spouse, and who have not reached pension age.  Under this measure, eligibility for partner service pension will cease 12 months after separation or if the veteran enters into a marriage-like relationship. 

A spouse who is a member of an illness separated couple remains the partner of a veteran and therefore does not lose eligibility for partner service pension.  A couple who are illness separated must be unable to live together in the matrimonial home because of the illness or infirmity of either or both of them.  Certain assessment criteria must be met.

The amendments will also set the eligible age at 50 years for the partner service pension for the partner of a veteran who is in receipt of the equivalent of or less than special rate but above general rate disability pension, or who has at least 80 impairment points under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.  Partners of veterans affected by this measure under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act are those where the veteran is in receipt of:

  • general rate disability pension that is increased by an amount specified in any of the items 1 to 6 of the table in subsection 27(1);
  • extreme disablement adjustment disability pension;
  • intermediate rate disability pension; and
  • temporary special rate disability pension.

Lastly, the bill will make some minor amendments to the child support legislation.  In particular, amendments are included to address some minor anomalies in relation to the child support formula reforms that commenced on 1 July 2008.

One such anomaly that was identified relates to Child Support Agency (CSA) decisions about care.  The amendments to the legislation will ensure that, in all situations where parents agree on the level of care for a child, that level of care will be reflected accurately in the assessment.

Another amendment included in this bill will ensure that the CSA can make departure prohibition orders (DPOs), which prevent parents with a child support debt from leaving the country without paying, or making arrangements to pay, those outstanding amounts.  The recent amendments which moved the DPO provisions from regulations into primary legislation unintentionally removed the ability for the CSA to issue a DPO for certain registrable overseas maintenance liabilities.  The proposed amendments would allow the CSA to issue a DPO for international parents on a similar basis as for domestic parents.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of this bill be adjourned to the first day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.