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Dissenting Report

FAMILY ASSISTANCE AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2011

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES STANDING COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL POLICY AND LEGAL AFFAIRS

June 2011

This Bill was referred to the Social and Legal Committee during the last sitting week. As there was insufficient time to arrange a Committee meeting before Parliament rose on Thursday 2nd June, The Committee had a teleconference hook up on Friday 3rd June 2011 to discuss the referral. The Bill was also referred to a Senate committee.

Matters dealt with in this Bill include Family Assistance Measures, Assessing qualification for disability support pension, extending the Cape York welfare reform trial and a Public Works Act exemption.

These are serious matters referred to the Committee to Report in unseemly haste, making a complete mockery of the operation of this Parliament by virtually asking for a rubber stamping of these measures by the Committee.

While these are budget related Bills and the opposition does not propose to prevent the Legislation proceeding there are a number of serious issues to be raised in relation to this Bill.

Yet in a practical sense no time has been allowed for the Committee to conduct a proper examination of the matters which are the subject of the Bill including time to seek submissions from those who will be affected by these provisions.

Coalition members have submitted a dissenting Report as they are particularly concerned about the impact that this legislation will have on Australian families.

The Bill seeks to freeze indexation of the Family Tax Benefit Part A and B supplement for three years, which will see a quarter of a million families worse off. Even families struggling to make ends meet on incomes of $45,000 will be hit by these changes.

At a time when Australia families are struggling with a rising cost of living, cutting $2billion from families benefits will place more pressure on family budgets.

The Government has tried to claim that this change will only affect the ‘rich’, but this assertion is erroneous. Over 2.1 million families will lose some support as a result of the real value of the Family Tax Benefit Supplement being cut. On top of this many families with parents earning average wages will lose hundreds of dollars a year through the freezing of the threshold at which families will start losing base rate Family Tax Benefit Part A.

Losing this support will hurt families who have already seen may of their Bills increase dramatically in recent years. Since December 2007, electricity prices have increased by an average of 51% across Australia; the overall cost of food has increased by 13%; and education costs such as school fees have increased by an average of 24% across Australia.

These changes could not have come at a worse time for Australian families, and Coalition members are deeply concerned about the effect that this legislation will have on families already struggling with interest rate rises and increases to the cost of living. It is time the Government recognised these struggles; Australian families cannot afford to pay for the Government’s waste and mismanagement through cuts to family payments. Coalition members call on the Government to acknowledge and attend to the serious impact that these policies will have on Australian families who will have their assistance payments eroded or cancelled under this legislation.

Other concerns are in relation to assessing the qualifications for disability support pension (DSP) in which the Government will require that people with a disability currently on a Disability Support Pension will be required to provide evidence that they have tested their future work capacity by participating in training or work-related activities in order to qualify for the DSP.

These requirements will take effect from 3rd September 2011. The Government states that the programs of support include Department of Employment and Workplace Relations funded employment services, Disability Management Services and some Job Services Australia services.

Another element is the provision of incentives to encourage employers to employ people with disability.

There has been no assurance by the Government regarding the adequacy of services to assist people with training and employment placement. There is no assurance from Government that issues such as transport to work in rural and more remote locations has been addressed or that parents with children, particularly single parents have access to affordable, quality childcare facilities.

As for the incentives to prospective employers, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the take up rate of businesses for assistance under previous programs has been abysmal.

In regard to Schedule 5 the Public Works Act exemption which seeks to amend Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 the coalition agrees with the government’s intent to remove the requirement for the Public Works Committee to supervise some construction activities on land trust land that result from individuals or groups expending grant funds for specific projects.

The proposed amendment however goes significantly further in that it specifically excludes all commonwealth funded projects on Aboriginal Land Trust land from the scrutiny of the Public works committee Act 1969.

The explanatory memorandum tabled by the minister with the legislation states that this amendment will not affect the application of the Public Works Act to any proposed arrangement that involves the carrying out of a work by or for the commonwealth or by or for an authority of the commonwealth to which the Public Works Act applies.

Opposition Members believe that as the proposed amendment exempts all Aboriginal Land Trust land from scrutiny of the Public Works Committee it has the direct effect of legislating that the Public Works Committee Act 1969 can not apply to any works.

The Public Works committee ensures transparency in government projects, ensures commonwealth projects meet appropriate standards and ensures value for money for the taxpayer. Exempting projects on Land Trust lands in mainly remote regions removes a significant taxpayer funding safe guard.

Coalition members recommend that this amendment not be supported.

 

The Hon Judi Moylan MP

Deputy Chair

14 June 2011

 

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