Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Portfolio
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
This chapter outlines key issues discussed during the 2012-2013 budget
estimates hearings for the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous
The committee heard evidence from the department on Monday 28 May and
Tuesday 29 May 2012. Areas of the portfolio and agencies were called in the
- Cross Outcomes/Corporate Matters
- Social Security Appeals Tribunal
- Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA)
- Disability and Carers
- Families and Children
- Australian Institute of Family Studies
- Community Capability and the Vulnerable
The hearing began with an acknowledgement of the passing of Senator
Adams, noting her contributions to this committee's estimates hearings.
Cross Outcomes/Corporate Matters
Proceedings commenced with Senator Fifield asking Mr Finn Pratt, Secretary
of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous
Affairs about the existence and transmittal of a charter letter from the Prime
Minister to the Minister and whether Mr Pratt had received that letter. Mr
Pratt and the Parliamentary Secretary, Senator the Hon Jan McLucas, both
declined to advise whether the Prime Minister had sent a charter letter to
Minister Macklin or whether Minister Macklin had provided that letter to Mr
Neither Mr Pratt nor the Parliamentary Secretary made any claim for public
interest immunity, but Mr Pratt and Parliamentary Secretary McLucas did
undertake to provide an answer on notice.
Senator Fifield requested a private meeting to discuss the options available to
the committee to ensure that an answer was provided.
Back in session, Senator Fifield indicated that he would move a motion in the
Senate that the letters be produced.
The committee also discussed the following items:
The content of Government advertising for the Clean Energy Future
- Media and social media monitoring by the department;
Funding for the Communities for Children program
- Whether the department had provided advice to the environment
department about the social impacts of major projects;
- The portability of various Government payments following
legislative changes due to begin on 1 January 2013.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells asked about the pension advance payment option
and a question was put on notice about the circumstances under which someone
may be denied the advance option.
Proposed changes to the eligibility criteria for the Commonwealth Seniors
Health Card were also discussed with further questions taken on notice.
Senator Siewert raised the issue of portability (see also 2.4 above) as
it related to people of pensionable age. The working life residency budget
initiative, grandfathering provisions, exemptions, and the timeframes for the
application of the new legislative changes were discussed. There was also
discussion about the timing of a person's decision to go overseas for a period
of greater than six weeks in light of the legislative changes due to begin on 1
January 2013. Ms Wilson, Deputy Secretary, explained that one of the factors
influencing the rule changes was a desire:
to bring us into line with other OECD countries, which
generally require between 35 and 45 years working life residence to receive
full pension overseas.
Senator Furner sought evidence on how recent pension increases compared
with the last five years of the Howard government and the relative levels of
pensioners living in poverty compared to that period.
Senator Cash questioned the Office for Women about the policy rationale
behind the government's decision to exclude superannuation from the Paid
Parental Leave scheme. It emerged that the Productivity Commission report on
the Paid Parental Leave scheme recommended that superannuation be included. Mr
Pratt would not be drawn on the policy rationale other than to say that:
The government does not always accept every recommendation
from the Productivity Commission.
The Office for Women took on notice several questions from Senator Cash about
the financial literacy and management programs, the timeframes for the Status
of Personal Safety Survey, the data tracking The Line campaign, and a breakdown
of advertising spending on The Line.
Senator Rhiannon questioned the Office for Women about their input into
affordable housing including the National Affordable Housing Agreement, the
National Partnership Agreement, the National Rental Affordability Scheme and
the Social Housing Initiative; the Productivity Commission's report Caring
for Older Australians; and both the Rural Women's Alliance and the
Empowerment of Rural Women.
Equal Opportunity for Women in the
Workplace Agency (EOWA)
The agency clarified that the Australian Standard on Gender Inclusive
Job Evaluation and Grading is a voluntary standard and that the standard is
being promoted and used by EOWA. Senator Cash placed several questions on
notice around staff contracts and pay rates. The secretariat received a
substantial number of written questions on notice from Senator Cash for the
Office for Women and EOWA.
Disability and Carers
The new National Disability Insurance Scheme was the prime topic of
discussion under this outcome.
Parliamentary Secretary McLucas noted that the Government had made a commitment
of $1 billion over four years to begin a staged roll-out of the scheme with two
launch sites ready to begin on 1 July 2013. Senator Fifield pointed out that
the Productivity Commission envisaged $3.9 being spent over four years.
There was a lengthy discussion about the timeframes for the roll-out and
the ongoing negotiations with the states and territories about the financial
contributions that are being sought from them and the potential implications of
departing from the Productivity Commission funding timeline. At various stages
of the discussion, the Parliamentary Secretary and several departmental
officers emphasised that they had been working intensively with the states and
territories across numerous issues, but Mr Pratt did not divulge the rationale
behind the $1 billion budget figure for stage one.
The potential need for complementary legislative change across
jurisdictions was also traversed. The Department advised that while
complementary legislation may well be necessary for the entity, they did not
have a definitive answer as to whether it would be required for the launch
The committee also sought reassurance that the government was engaging
with the full spectrum of disability organisations over the design of the
scheme. The Parliamentary Secretary reassured the committee that the government
very aware of the need for people with disability, and the
range of disabilities that are existing in our community, to have a place in
the process, not only in expert groups and in the advisory group but in our
engagement strategy. Through the National Disability and Carer Alliance, we
will include everything that is absolutely essential.
Senator Payne sought a progress update on the Social Housing Initiative.
Mr Innes, Group Manager, Housing, indicated that the completion rate is above
the original program expectations.
Senator Ludlam inquired about the schedule for the renegotiation of the
National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA). The department advised that there
was no specific schedule, but that the Minister was negotiating with key stakeholders.
Senator Ludlam noted that the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS)
had 'achieved a pretty high level of energy and water efficiency and other
kinds of household sustainability initiatives in the NRAS build'. Senator
Ludlam sought to establish, on notice, the magnitude of the energy and water
savings for rental tenants under the NAHA and NRAS schemes.
Families and Children
Senator Bernardi questioned officers about the decision to provide early
funding to Communities for Children service providers.
There was also discussion about the decision to bring forward $90 million in
funding from the 2012-13 financial year to the 2011-12 financial year.
The additional funds are contained in the Portfolio Supplementary Additional Estimates
The committee discussed changes to Family Tax Benefit and established that
an estimated 43,000 young people under the age of 21 who have completed
secondary school will no longer be eligible for either Family Tax Benefit or
Youth Allowance. The officers explained that the primary income support would
be from their families and that details on the income test would be better
directed to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
Senator Bernardi raised concerns about the schoolkids bonus and its
relationship to school attendance. Parliamentary Secretary McLucas expressed
the view that money given to families to prepare for school would be likely to
increase school attendance, particularly amongst vulnerable families.
Australian Institute of Family
The Institute explained key areas of their research including adoption,
child support, separation and divorce. Professor Hayes, Director of the
Australian Institute of Family Studies undertook to provide on notice research
and statistics about the family impacts of mental health problems, substance
abuse, family violence, gambling and money management problems.
Community Capability and the
Senator Bernardi queried officers about the proposed mandatory
precommitment poker machine trial in the ACT. Questions were raised about the
progress of negotiations with ClubsACT.
The officers also took questions on notice from Senator Di Natale about the
relative costs of being precommitment ready compared to making all machines
dollar bet ready by 2016.
Senator Siewert sought further information on child protection measures
and compulsory and non-compulsory income management. Senator Edwards asked for
a breakdown of the Playford income management trial in terms of people referred
by child protection, people assessed by Centrelink and people who are
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