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Monday, 24 November 2008
Page: 19

Senator STEPHENS (Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector and Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Prime Minister for Social Inclusion) (5:04 PM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

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

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—


The Australian Government is responding to the global economic crisis by taking strong, decisive action to strengthen the economy and provide immediate financial support for Australian pensioners and families.

Four million pensioners and two million families will benefit from measures included in this bill - the key legislative component in the Government’s $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy.

It delivers a $4.8 billion down payment to pensioners in the lead up to comprehensive reform of the pension system to give them long-term security and certainty.

The bill provides $3.9 billion to help Australian families - recognising that global difficulties are placing increasing pressure on family budgets already stretched by the rising cost of living.

Payments to pensioners and families will be made over the fortnight starting on 8 December 2008 and most will be made automatically.

The payments to pensioners are an immediate down payment on long-term pension reform. They are intended to give additional support before we make essential long-term reforms in the context of the 2009-10 Budget.

These Economic Security Strategy payments will be made to people who received one of a range of social security and veterans’ entitlements qualifying payments on 14 October 2008 (the date the Economic Security Strategy was announced).

These include people receiving age, disability support, wife, widow B and veterans’ service pensions; income support supplement; carer payment; and partner, widow and bereavement allowances.

For the first time, disability support pensioners will get a lump sum payment. The Government recognises that they are doing it as tough as other pensioners.

People who, on 14 October 2008, were of age pension age and received parenting payment, special benefit, Austudy payment or ABSTUDY living allowance are also eligible for payments.

The payment will also go to self-funded retirees who, on 14 October 2008, held a current Commonwealth seniors health card, and to holders of the Veterans’ Affairs gold card who were also eligible for seniors’ concession allowance on that date.

Those pensioners and seniors not actually receiving a qualifying payment on 14 October 2008 will still get the Economic Security Strategy payment if they had claimed the qualifying payment by that date and later have their qualifying payment backdated to cover that date. Similar backdating arrangements will apply for qualifying cardholders.

The Economic Security Strategy payment for this group of Australians will be $1,400 for singles, $2,100 combined if both members of a couple receive a qualifying payment and $1,050 if only one of the couple does.

A separate Economic Security Strategy payment will go to people receiving the non-means tested social security income supplement - carer allowance.

People who were receiving carer allowance on 14 October 2008 will be paid $1,000 for each eligible person they care for. If the carer allowance for one care receiver is shared between two or more carers, the Economic Security Strategy payment will be similarly shared. Where receipt of one payment of carer allowance depends on the person providing care for two care receivers, the payment will also be $1,000.

The bill also provides for Economic Security Strategy payments to deliver immediate financial support to around two million Australian families with dependent children.

A payment of $1,000 will be made for each child eligible for family tax benefit Part A at 14 October 2008. The same $1,000 payment will be made for each dependent child who, at 14 October 2008, was either eligible for or received youth allowance, ABSTUDY living allowance or an education allowance under the Veterans’ Children Education Scheme or the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act Education and Training Scheme.

If any of these qualifying payments for families is shared between two people under the usual rules for that payment, the payment will be similarly shared.

There will be provision for payments for families to be made where the qualifying payment is not actually being received on 14 October 2008 but is subsequently backdated to cover that date. For example, the small number of families who claim their family tax benefit Part A annually as a lump sum will get their Economic Security Strategy payment when their 2008-09 income assessment has been finalised and their family tax benefit lump sum is paid.

The bill will make further amendments to allow payments for pensioners, seniors, carers and families to be made with no need for a claim. As well, they will not count as income for social security, family assistance and veterans’ entitlements purposes, and will be tax-free.

Lastly, the bill will allow the relevant ministers to establish, by legislative instrument, administrative schemes to provide payments in circumstances where the statutory regime does not produce an appropriate result.

Through this bill the Government is moving decisively to make the already strong Australian economy more resilient - at the same time supporting pensioners and families through the global financial crisis.


The global financial crisis has caused a dramatic shift in Australia’s macroeconomic outlook since the 2008-09 Budget. In response, the Government is implementing swift, targeted and prudent policy responses to reduce the possibility of a severe slowdown in the Australian economy, and to shield Australians from the impact of the global financial crisis.

As part of a coordinated response to the global financial crisis, the Government has taken swift and decisive action to deliver a $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy to strengthen the Australian economy and support Australian households through these difficult times.

The Economic Security Strategy is a discretionary fiscal stimulus package that is overwhelmingly focused on the first half of 2009 and tightly targeted at key aspects of the economy - household consumption and dwelling investment.

The Strategy also provides relief to those people in the community who have been struggling in the past couple of years to meet rising costs for housing, petrol and food, particularly those on low incomes or with children and other family members to support.

In the absence of the Government’s Economic Security Strategy, economic growth would have been significantly weaker than currently forecast. The Strategy is expected to result in a boost to the level of real GDP growth of between half and one percentage point over the next several quarters, providing a significant boost to household consumption and supporting a recovery in dwelling investment over the forecast horizon.

There are two Supplementary Estimates Appropriation Bills being introduced as part of the Government’s Economic Security Strategy. They are: Appropriation (Economic Security Strategy) Bills Numbers 1 and 2.

These Supplementary Estimates Bills seek appropriation authority from Parliament for the additional expenditure of money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, in order to implement a number of measures in the Government’s Strategy.

The total appropriation being sought through the Supplementary Estimates Bills is $1.33 billion. The total appropriation being sought in Bill 1 is $146 million. I shall introduce Bill 2 shortly.

Bill 1 provides for an investment of over $117 million to create 56,000 additional places in the Productivity Places Program in 2008-09. This funding for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations is for places at Certificate II, III and IV Levels. In the next two years, this Government will provide for a total additional commitment of over $187 million to help jobseekers develop skills in areas needed by Australian industry.

This funding injection will effectively double the Productivity Places Program from 57,000 to 113,000 in 2008-09. The new places will take the Rudd Government’s total commitment to the Productivity Places Program to more than $2 billion with over 700,000 new training places created over five years.

By expanding the Productivity Place Program, we’re building on a program that’s already proved its worth. More than 50,000 jobseekers have enrolled, and over 11,000 have already completed training in an area of skills shortage. When combined with other measures, this investment means that the Economic Security Strategy is expected to create about 75,000 additional jobs for Australians. For jobseekers, it means improved opportunities for training and employment. For industry, it means better employees, with the skills they need to build a more competitive and productive Australian economy - for today and for the future.

As well as investing in Australia’s economic future, the Economic Security Strategy provides critical measures which recognise the impact the global financial crisis is having on the budgets of seniors, pensioners, carers and families.

For Australian families, the Economic Security Strategy means $3.9 billion in immediate financial support. Around 2 million families will be eligible for a $1,000 bonus payment for each child. The bonus payment is recognition that many Australian families are doing it tough - particularly as the global financial crisis comes off the back of rising living costs.

For pensioners, the Economic Security Strategy brings $4 billion in additional payments. Those in receipt of aged, disability, carer and veterans’ pensions, as well as self-funded retirees with a Commonwealth Senior Health Care Card, will receive a $1,400 payment for singles, and $2,100 for couples. These payments are one way the Government can support pensioners during these difficult economic conditions.

The legislation before the house will facilitate these payments. Funding of $17.2 million is proposed for the administrative costs in implementing the one-off lump sum payment to Australian pensioners and families I have outlined. The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs will receive some $16.5 million, with almost $0.64 million going to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. This funding will enable the payment from 8 December 2008 of immediate financial support to Australia’s four million pensioners, carers and seniors and around 2 million low and middle income Australian families.

The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs will also receive $11.55 million to conduct a public information campaign, to ensure that those eligible recipients to the one-off lump sum payment and the First Home Owners Boost are advised of their entitlement.

Through the Economic Security Strategy, we’ve acted swiftly and decisively to support the Australian economy.

I commend the bill to the Senate.


The Economic Security Strategy will strengthen the Australian housing market by providing $1.5 billion over two years through the First Home Owners Boost.

The First Home Owners Boost will stimulate housing construction and provide assistance to first home buyers to give them a better chance of owning their own homes.

In addition to the First Home Owners Scheme grant, first home buyers who purchase established homes will receive an extra $7,000 to take their grant to $14,000. First home buyers who purchase a newly-constructed home will receive an extra $14,000 to take their grant to $21,000.

The First Home Owners Boost will be available to eligible first home buyers who enter into a contract between 14 October 2008 and 30 June 2009.

To implement the measure, Appropriation (Economic Security Strategy) Bill (No. 2) 2008-2009 proposes an appropriation of some $1.2 billion for the Department of the Treasury to pay to the States and Territories. Those payments will cover the increased costs that the States and Territories are expected to incur during 2008-09.

This initiative will help strengthen the Australian economy during difficult global economic times. It will build a stronger Australian housing market, and make home ownership accessible to more Australians.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Stephens) adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be an order of the day for a later hour.