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Monday, 7 September 2015
Page: 6142


Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (20:16): I too rise today to make a contribution in support of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (No. 2) Bill 2015. As has previously been mentioned, this bill has three particular measures that are affecting the Social Services portfolio. Firstly, the bill seeks to amend social security law to streamline the current income management program under a two-year continuation. The bill also makes amendments to reflect two measures relating to aged care, which were included in the 2014-15 May MYEFO announcement. What I particularly want to talk about tonight are the income management changes and the need to ensure that income management is something that can be continued into the future, because it is such an important tool in our community. It is also a very valuable tool in a community in the state that you, Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher, and I come from.

Basically, income management works by managing payments from government departments in such a way as to prioritise the needs of people who are on lower incomes but particularly those people who have had some difficulty in managing their incomes and meeting their requirements and commitments—such as rent, general bills, utility bills, food and education, which are some of the pretty basic requirements of life. These people have proven over a period of time that they have not been able to manage these payments and so income management has become an extraordinarily important tool in their lives to ensure that they do not get themselves into financial trouble or, more particularly, that they do not end up subjecting their families and particularly their children to some really unpleasant circumstances because of a lack of income to be able to afford to provide these basics.

Income management means that as a rule you cannot spend your money on such things as alcohol, tobacco or tobacco products, pornographic material, gambling, home brew kits et cetera—all of those are things that I think the majority of people would consider to be non-essential items in the daily or weekly budget and things that are luxury items that one is only able to have when one has excess income and is able to afford them. People can voluntarily elect to use income management or, in more extreme cases, people can be referred or requested to use it as part of a process that they undertake. Income management could possibly be a form of rehabilitation or it could simply be used because there is a need to protect the interests of those people that are unintended bystanders or are implicated in the actions of somebody who may require income management. Social workers, private protection agencies and even an approved housing authority can refer somebody for consideration for income management.

Income management has been around for a number of years, and Australia certainly leads the way in using income management as a tool—that is why it is important that the ongoing sustainability of income management is ensured and that we continue to look at the existing programs to make sure that there are ways that we can make them better, that we can make them more efficient and that we can make sure that they are affordable into the future. The Social Services Legislation Amendment (No. 2) Bill is one such piece of legislation that is seeking to make sure that we can continue income management into the future.

As I said, Mr Acting Deputy President, in a community in the state that you and I come from we have seen the introduction of an income management tool that has been welcomed with open arms by the whole community—the community that I am referring to is Ceduna on the west coast of South Australia at the start of the Nullarbor Plain, just before the Western Australian border. This program was introduced about 12 months ago at the request of the local community and a number of different residents in the local community. It was interesting that before the introduction of this program was proposed, there was a massive amount of community consultation—not just with the people in the community who potentially were the recipients of this particular scheme but also with those people who were impacted on by the behaviours and the like of those that this scheme is now applying to. The response that was received from these consultations was quite overwhelming—over 50 meetings took place in the communities that surround the Ceduna area, not just in the township of Ceduna. It was basically aimed at trying to stop the cycle of alcohol, violence and abuse that occurred in the community. I have had the pleasure on a number of occasions of visiting this community, particularly to look at the incidences of the alcohol-fuelled activity that was occurring in the community and the consequences of that activity.

After spending a number of days with the police, with the patrol squads and with the medicos, attending the hospitals and the clinics, it became very obvious that the behaviour of the few, who subsequently have gone on income management, was having a major impact on the entire community. The community was almost brought to its knees by these activities.

The interesting thing was that the people who seemed to be most keen for the introduction of an income management scheme were not the people actually indulging in the excessive consumption of alcohol. More often than not, they were the people who were suffering the consequences of that—the ones whose children were going without food, the ones who were the recipients of the violence. So it was interesting to see, when the program was introduced, how widely it was taken up in the communities. I commend the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, who is in the chamber, for the massive amount of work that he has done, not just with the community in Ceduna to which I refer but with communities around the whole of Australia where income management systems have been put in place and have served to improve the conditions for everybody in those communities. It is a highly commendable program and the reason I am so keen to be here to support an amendment bill that would assist in making sure that this particular program continues to be sustainable into the future.

The bill seeks to continue a level of income management and to streamline the measures contained within the income management system so that the operation of the program can become more efficient and effective. For example, certain incentive payments relating to income management will be abolished, the operation of the vulnerable measure of income management will be refined, and there will be a series of other minor amendments to remove ambiguities and improve the program's efficiency. Initially, we were hopeful that these amendments might be able to come into effect on 1 July 2015. However, given the delay in the bill's introduction into the House and the fact that, obviously, the bill cannot come into effect until after royal assent, the savings will only accrue from that period.

The other two measures contained in this bill relate to aged care. One relates to the residential care subsidy for pre-entry leave, and the other relates to aged-care planning advisory committees. Schedule 2 concerns the residential care subsidy for pre-entry leave. These amendments seek to formalise the cessation of the payment of the residential care subsidy to residential aged-care providers for holding a place open for a care recipient. Basically, these changes seek to better target aged-care expenditure by only paying a care subsidy for people who have actually entered permanent residential care. The savings associated with this measure, which are quite clearly outlined in the explanatory memorandum, have largely been realised through amendments to other pieces of legislation, such as the Aged Care (Subsidies, Fees and Payments) Determination 2014 and the Aged Care (Transitional Provisions) (Subsidy and Other Measures) Determination 2014. The amendments in the bill formalise these changes in the principal act.

Previously, the subsidy for the pre-entry period was paid to providers for up to seven days, at the rate of 30 per cent of the full residential care subsidy. That will be payable once the care recipient enters care. The care recipient will still be able to take pre-entry leave prior to entering the aged-care service, but the provider will not be able to recoup any lost residential care subsidy from the care recipient. However, the aged-care provider will be able to charge the care recipient the standard resident contribution for the pre-entry period. In the past, any days taken as pre-entry leave were counted as part of the care recipient's entitlement of 52 days of social leave from aged-care services. Under the amendments that we are seeking today, the 52-day cap on social leave will not include any leave that was taken as pre-entry leave. This ensures that any pre-entry leave taken by a care recipient does not negatively impact on their ability to take other forms of leave from the residential care service.

The lost pre-entry leave payment revenue should be considered in the context of other recent aged-care changes, such as the redirection of the former government's aged-care workforce supplement into the general pool of aged-care funding, and the introduction of a higher level of accommodation supplement. The government is expected to provide probably around $11 billion for residential care subsidies in the 2015-16 year. As the previous speaker, Senator McKenzie, said, in attempting to make the necessary changes in this area, it is interesting to note that there seems to be a lack of understanding about the long-term affordability of an ageing population and the need to make what are reasonably small changes in the interests of ensuring the sustainability of our aged-care sector into the future.

Schedule 3 of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (No. 2) Bill relates to aged-care planning advisory committees. One of the things that are very evident across the board in both the federal parliament and many state parliaments under Labor governments is the excessive need to expand the size of the public sector through not only the employment of additional people in the public service to deliver things that, in many instances, could be delivered at least as well, if not better, by the private sector but also this absolute proliferation of government boards, committees, advisory committees, standing committees, whatever you want to call them. There seem to be such an amazing number of people who are employed by or are required to advise government and government authorities, statutory authorities and the like.

In the interests of trying to achieve one of the election promises of this government—that is, smaller government; a government that only does what it can do, what it has to do and what it should do, not a government that seems to think that it knows best and should do absolutely everything for everybody—we are seeking through schedule 3 of this bill to abolish the aged care planning advisory committees. The services that are currently provided and that we believe are necessary from this group should be absorbed into the Department of Social Services. We do so in the belief that this department has the capacity and the existing resources to undertake the necessary advice to government as part of its normal day-to-day processes. This is a commitment that we made on 15 December 2014 as part of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. We said that this was what we were going to do.

This schedule forms part of the smaller government reforms that we said we were going to implement to reduce the size and complexity of government, to streamline services and to reduce the cost of government administration. This is just another example of some simple actions that are going to have very, very little, if any, impact on the outcome for the people who are affected by this area of government administration. We can take a level of bureaucracy out of government, without having any impact on the delivery of the outcome. So, it is a case of smaller government, reduce the processes, make sure the processes do not outweigh the outcome in terms of their level of importance.

The original role of these aged care planning advisory committees was to provide advice on the distribution of aged care places. However, the last of these committees expired in September 2014. In a sense, all that schedule 3 of this bill really seeks to do is to make the necessary amendments to repeal what has now already become a redundant provision in the Aged Care Act. The government certainly remains absolutely committed to engaging with stakeholders to make sure that we continue to gain local intelligence and pursue a needs basis planning framework so that we are not putting a massive amount of framework in place and then worrying about whether we actually need it. What we are seeking to do is to minimise the amount of framework and processing that we are putting in place and just constantly keeping an eye on it to make sure that nothing falls between the gaps. We are taking very much a minimalist approach to how we deal with this activity within government. As I said, this is an approach we are taking not just within the aged care sector but more broadly across government. This government is one that is striving very hard to try to reduce the level of bureaucracy, red tape, compliance and burden that we continue to put on all of our sectors, whether they be the private or the public sector, in the delivery of an outcome so that they are able to do so in the most efficient, effective and unencumbered way.

To ensure that in changing these things we have covered off and that we have not left anything so that there are any problems out there, the Department of Social Services has consulted with a very broad range of aged care stakeholders to make sure that the information that the system needs in relation to aged care places is well informed—and certainly that appears be the case. The aged care approvals round, which was announced on 15 August 2015 was, we believe, particularly well informed by the process of negotiation that took place with the aged care sector.

It is with great pleasure that I stand tonight to make a contribution to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (No. 2) Bill 2015 and commend it to the parliament, because it seeks to do a number of things specifically in relation to the social services portfolio. More broadly, it is just another plank in the platform of the current coalition government in its attempt to make sure that we responsibly and respectfully manage all of our portfolios so that they are sustainable into the future and continue to be able to be funded and to be affordable into the future and that we continue to try and reduce the size of particularly the Public Service, the public sector, and public administration in areas where there is not necessarily any specific outcome being delivered by the level of compliance burden, regulation et cetera that is put in place.

I am particularly keen to commend the bill because I believe it is certainly an example of the summation of what good and responsible small government is all about and that it adds to a raft of reforms and projects that this government has implemented to ensure that we provide responsible, efficient and effective government for all people and across all portfolios in this current administration. I commend the bill to the House.