Social Services Legislation Amendment (Payment Integrity) Bill 2017
The Social Services Legislation Amendment
(Payment Integrity) Bill 2017 (the Bill) introduces four measures, three of
which were announced in the 2017-18 Budget
The Minister for Social Services
(Minister), the Hon Christian Porter MP, stated the measures in the Bill are
intended to ensure 'our welfare system is
fair and sustainable so that we can continue to support those who need it the
most both now and into the future.'
The measures are expected to generate
total savings of $823.2 million over the forward estimates.
Key provisions and purpose of the Bill
The Bill is comprised of four schedules and amends the Social
Security Act 1991, the Veterans’ Entitlements
Act 1986 and the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Family
Assistance Act) for the purpose of introducing four measures designed to
reinforce the residency requirements of Australia's welfare system and
encourage greater financial self-reliance from income support payment applicants:
Schedule 1 extends the residency timeframe requirements to be
eligible for the Age Pension and the Disability Support Pension (Disability
Schedule 2 ceases the Age Pension supplement payment after six
weeks overseas or immediately for permanent departures.
Schedule 3: Aligns the taper rates for Family Tax Benefit (FTB)
Part A so that all income above the higher income free area is treated
Schedule 4: Extends the waiting period for certain income support
payments where an applicant has liquid assets.
Consideration of the Bill by other committees
Scrutiny of Bills
The Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills (Scrutiny
Committee) reviewed the provisions of the Bill, and outlined concern with the
potential for retrospective impacts of Schedule 1 of the Bill. The Scrutiny
Committee found that although the amendment would commence prospectively after
1 July 2018, the changes would impact people who may have made retirement arrangements
based on existing eligibility requirements for the Age Pension or Disability
Pension. These people may now find themselves waiting a further
five years for the Age Pension or Disability Pension than they expected.
The Scrutiny Committee wrote it has 'a long-standing scrutiny concern
about provisions that, while not technically retrospective, may raise questions
as to the fairness of applying a change in the law to individuals who have
arranged their long-standing affairs on the basis of the existing law' and
asked the Minister's advice 'as to why it is considered necessary to apply the
amended residency requirements to individuals who may have arranged their
affairs on the basis of the existing law, and the number of people likely to be
adversely affected by these proposed changes.'
In providing a response to the questions of the Scrutiny Committee,
the Minister reiterated the measure will only apply prospectively to new
applications for the Age Pension or Disability Pension made from 1 July 2018.
The Minister advised that grandfathering arrangements would be required to
operate for a significant period of time, would create parallel residency
systems and would be complex from a policy and administrative perspective. The
Minister pointed to the 30 International Social Security Agreements Australia
holds, which allow people to apply for and receive foreign pensions while in
Australia. These agreements also commonly allow people to combine periods of residence
in Australia with eligible overseas residence, for the purposes of meeting
pension residence requirements in Australia.
In evaluating the Minister's response, the Scrutiny Committee found that
administrative complexity is not by itself sufficient justification for not
including grandfathering arrangements. However, the Scrutiny Committee noted
the range of alternative income support safety nets available to people
impacted by this Bill. The Scrutiny Committee recommended the new information
provided by the Minister be included in the Explanatory Memorandum, as it is
valuable information to assist in interpreting the Bill.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (Human Rights
Committee) reviewed the Bill and found the Bill raised questions in relation to
its potential impact on the right to social security and the right to equality
Right to Social Security
The Human Rights Committee found that Schedule 1 of the Bill was a 'backwards
step' in the realisation of the right to Social Security and in its report, stated
that international human rights law requires such limitations to rights to be
justified on grounds they would 'address a legitimate objective, are rationally
connected to that objective and are a proportionate way to achieve that
objective.' The Human Rights Committee found the statement of compatibility in
the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill did not provide a substantive assessment
of whether the limitations were justified on the above grounds and wrote to the
Minister seeking advice. At time of tabling this report, the Minister's
response had not been published by the Human Rights Committee.
Right to equality and
The Human Rights Committee also found certain provisions in the Bill may
have disproportionate impacts on persons with disabilities and older people from
non‑Australian background, but stated such measures do not necessarily
constitute unlawful discrimination 'if the differential treatment is based on
reasonable and objective criteria such that it serves a legitimate objective,
is effective to achieve that legitimate objective and is a proportionate means
of achieving that objective.' The Human Rights Committee found that these
issues were not addressed in the statement of compatibility in the Explanatory
Memorandum, and wrote to the Minister seeking advice as to whether the measure
is compatible with the right to equality and non-discrimination. At time of
tabling this report, the Minister's response had not been published by the
Human Rights Committee.
Conduct of the inquiry
On 22 June 2017, the Senate referred
the provisions of the Bill 2017 to the Senate Community Affairs
Legislation Committee (the committee) for inquiry and report by 7 September
Details of the inquiry, including a link to the Bill and associated
documents, were place on the committee's website.
The committee wrote to 91 organisations and individuals inviting submissions by
4 August 2017. Submissions continued to be accepted after that date.
The committee received 14 submissions to the inquiry. Submissions
accepted by the committee are listed at Appendix 1. The committee thanks those
organisations that made submissions to the inquiry.
The committee held public hearings on 30 August 2017 in Sydney and on 31 August
2017 in Melbourne. Witnesses are listed at Appendix 2.
Note on references
References to Committee Hansard are to proof transcripts. Page numbers
may vary between the proof and official transcripts.
Issues identified during the inquiry
Witnesses and submitters to the inquiry were generally not supportive of
changes which would reduce income support payments. Catholic Social Services Australia
submitted the changes 'will have the effect of reducing payments to the most
vulnerable families and individuals in our community.'
St Vincent de Paul Society submitted 'we oppose legislative measures that
reduce payments to the most vulnerable families and individuals in our
communities, particularly given the woeful inadequacy of existing payment
levels for income support.'
The Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU) pointed to a broad
spectrum of changes to the income support system that is having adverse impacts
on a broad range of Australians:
Considering the current combined social circumstances of
high-cost housing, increasing costs of utilities and essential services, as
well as a lack of stable, well-paid, flexible jobs, the so-called 'reforms'
being made to welfare are having a visibly negative impact on a broadening section
of society. People from professional and skilled backgrounds, with perfectly
sound employment capacities, are contacting the AUWU expressing despair at
their decline into financial and social destitution.
In introducing the Bill, the Minister pointed to the need to maintain
the sustainability of the income support payment system, to ensure that it can
continue to provide support for future Australians in need:
While the Australian welfare
system is already highly targeted, prudent and reasonable changes, such as
those contained in this bill, are required to maintain the stability and
sustainability of the system in the longer term. Without sensible decisions to
keep spending under reasonable control, the next generation of Australians will
be left with more debt to repay and higher taxes.
Schedule 1 – residency requirements
for Age Pension
Currently, to be eligible for the Age Pension or Disability Pension, a
person must have either been an Australian resident for a continuous period of
10 years or more, or resident for a total of 10 years with a continuous period
of at least five years.
Schedule 1 enhances the residency requirements and introduces a self‑sufficiency
test to require that:
at least five years of the ten years continuous Australian residency
period must be during a person's working life; or,
at least five years must relate to periods in which a person was
not in receipt of an activity tested income support payment (such as Austudy,
Newstart, Youth Allowance and Special Benefit, as well as superseded similar
If a person cannot meet the above requirements, then they must have at
least 15 years of continuous Australian residency.
Access to Special Benefit will remain for those experiencing financial
hardship and existing exemptions remain, such as for those refugees (permanent
humanitarian entrants) or for people who incur an ongoing inability to work
after arrival in Australia for the Disability Pension.
In introducing the Bill, the Minister stated '[t]his measure reinforces
and strengthens the residence connection required before a person can qualify
for the age pension or DSP [Disability Pension] by increasing the continuous
period a person must be an Australian resident. The community reasonably
expects that those choosing to migrate to Australia should be self-sufficient
to the greatest extent possible.'
The amendments made by this schedule are expected to impact approximately 2390 people each year.
Approximately 90 Parent and Partner visa migrants a year will now be required
to wait an additional five years before being eligible for Age Pension and
approximately 2300 people per year will be delayed from claiming Age Pension or
The amendments will result in savings of $119.1 million over the forward
estimates and are intended to commence on 1 July 2018.
Issues raised regarding schedule 1
The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils (FECCA) and the National
Ethnic Disability Alliance raised concerns that as nearly 40 per cent of people
receiving the Age Pension were not born in Australia, the changes would
disproportionately impact people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)
backgrounds who generally retire with lower superannuation, and
often face multiple barriers to finding work, such as discrimination or
qualifications not being recognised.
Other submitters stated the changes would disproportionately impact people with
or those who live in areas of high unemployment or who have been retrenched or
The National Social Security Rights Network (NSSRN) agreed with FECCA's
views and argued the measure 'is likely to cause severe financial hardship to
some very vulnerable Australians.'
NSSRN submitted the change establishes a concerning precedent of linking
current income support eligibility to a person's history of income support.
Catholic Social Services Australia similarly submitted the waiting
period had little bearing on whether or not a person is in need of income
Anglicare Australia raised similar concerns that the changes were a step away
from the 'universalism underpinning our pension system' and directly linked
pension eligibility to economic contribution.
The NSSRN argued the self-sufficiency test introduces a concerning
precedent of penalising people for previous periods in receipt
of income support payments.
The NSSRN also raised concerns with impacts this measure could have on
elderly migrants who entered Australia on the contributory parent visa scheme.
The NSSRN argued there should be an exemption for people who had sought income
support payments due to being a victim of family violence, neglect or abuse by
their assurer or another family member. The NSSRN contends this 'could be
achieved at minimal cost to the taxpayer, by extending the assurance of support
scheme to permit recovery of these amounts from assurers.'
The Chinese Australian Services Society pointed out that many migrants on this
visa class wait over ten years from the time of application to when the visa is
granted, leaving them with little opportunity to meet the new eligibility
The Chinese Australian Services Society and Volunteering Australia both submitted
that the self-sufficiency test did not take into account the valuable
contributions that many elderly migrants make in voluntary work, and argued the
pension eligibility tests should take into account the contributions of the
sons and daughters of the elderly migrants.
Carers Australia raised concerns on the impact this measure may have on
carers, stating it is 'likely that many carers will find themselves responsible
for both the care and at least some of the financial needs of family members or
friends who are subject to lengthy waiting periods of between 10 and 15 years
before they can access payment.'
Other submissions stated the changes would disproportionately affect
women who frequently bear the brunt of family care responsibilities, who are
more likely to require an Age Pension due to insufficient superannuation, and
are less likely to satisfy a 'self-sufficiency test'.
St Vincent de Paul Society further
submitted this put women from migrant backgrounds who experience family and
domestic violence at risk.
The Australian Council of Social Service submitted that although people
impacted by the extended waiting periods would still have access to Special
Benefit payments, the rate of payment was significantly lower and 'is
completely inadequate, especially for older people or people with a disability
who typically have high healthcare costs.'
In introducing the Bill, the Minister pointed out:
The current residency requirements are generous when compared
to the qualifying contribution periods required to receive a pension in other
countries. A number of OECD countries require greater than 10-years contributions
in order to receive even a part pension.
The Department of Social Services (Department) provided similar
information, for example that Poland requires migrants to make a minimum
contribution to the country for 20 years before becoming eligible for a pension
and Japan requires 25 years of contributions.
Additionally, unlike those overseas systems funded from the direct
contributions of individuals and employers, the Australian income support
system is funded from general revenue – and as such it has stronger residency
requirements for support payment eligibility.
When the Age Pension was introduced in 1909, the residency requirement was for
20 years continuous residence.
The Department submitted that the measures also address concerns raised by
the Productivity Commission regarding the cost of publicly funded financial
support of parent migrants who have not resided in Australia during any part of
their working lives.
Schedule 2 – Age Pension supplement
The Pension Supplement is a combination of Pharmaceutical Allowance,
Utilities Allowance, Goods and Service Tax (GST) Supplement, and Telephone
Allowance. The payment rate per fortnight is $35.40 - $65.90 for singles and
$53.40 - $99.40 for couples.
Currently, if a person goes overseas their pension supplement is cut to the
basic amount, which is equivalent to the GST Supplement, after six weeks, being
a fortnightly rate of $23.00 for singles and $37.80 for couples.
This schedule stops the payment of the pension supplement
after six weeks temporary absence overseas, or immediately for permanent
departures. In introducing the Bill, the Minister stated the change will bring
the pension supplement into line with the portability arrangements for most
other income support payments.
The Minister also stated that the basic amount of the pension supplement was 'designed
to assist with cost of living in Australia. There is no economic reason to
continue to compensate recipients for the impact of the GST while they are
overseas, for any longer than a short-term absence.'
The amendments made by this schedule will result in savings of
$150.2 million over the forward estimates and are intended to commence on
1 January 2018, and will apply to all pension recipients overseas before, on or
after commencement of the schedule.
Issues raised regarding schedule 2
Multiple submitters argued the amendment significantly reduces the
income support for recipients of the Age Pension and Disability who travel long
distances to maintain connections with family members in their places of birth
or in safe haven countries, and pointed out that many Australians from migrant
backgrounds are obliged to travel overseas to fulfil caring responsibilities
for elderly family members. Submitters argued the changes may have the effect of
forcing elderly CALD Australians to make decisions about abandoning unwell or
dying family members for fear of losing significant income support.
The Chinese Australian Services Society submitted they did not oppose
the stopping of payments for permanent departures, but recommended that for
temporary departures there should be a tapering of the pension supplement payments
from 6 weeks after departure, with the payment reduced to nil by 18 weeks
Catholic Social Services Australia also submitted they did not oppose
this measure, as long as there were safeguards in place for people to apply for
The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill outlines that 'Pensioners who
leave Australia permanently or who are temporarily absent from Australia for
more than six weeks are unlikely to be impacted by the Australian GST and it is
therefore not appropriate to continue to pay them the pension supplement basic
The statement of compatibility with human rights emphasises this point
The change to the rate a recipient can receive after being
outside Australia for more than six weeks does not affect their ability to
access social security within Australia. This measure ensures that social
security is appropriately targeted and that outside Australia for any longer
than a short absence are not inappropriately remunerated for domestic expenses.
The NSSRN recommended that pensioners already overseas should not be
impacted by this change.
Other submitters recommended the supplement be rolled into the Aged
Pension basic rate and meaning that the usual portability timeframe would then
The Australian Council of Social Service told the committee 'people don't view
their income in terms of where different parts are going. This payment has been
in place for quite some time, and people expect to receive a certain amount
each fortnight. That's how they view their income. They're not putting aside
$11.50 or whatever it is per week, if they're single, to cover their GST costs.'
The submission from the Department clarified that the measures are
designed to reinforce the residence-based nature of Australia's social security
system and will align the portability arrangements with most other income
support arrangements. The Department further stated:
This is consistent with the Government's policy position to
streamline social security payments and to appropriately target
social security assistance to Australian residents in greatest need.
Schedule 3 – Taper rates for FTB
This Schedule amends the Family Assistance Act to align the income test payment
taper rates so that all income above the higher income free amount is treated
equally when calculating an individual's rate of family tax benefit (FTB) Part
The Department website explains the current taper rate calculations for
income over $94 316:
If your family's adjusted taxable income is over $94,316,
we use 1 of 2 tests. We'll apply the test that gives you a higher rate.
The first test reduces your FTB Part A by 20 cents for each
dollar of income you have over $52,706.
The second test reduces the base rate of FTB Part A by 30
cents for each dollar of income you have over $94,316. This applies until your
payment is nil.
The amendment will change the taper rate used in the first test, to
apply a 30% taper rate to income over $94 316.
The Department estimates this measure will impact around 24 900 families
who will lose access to FTB Part A payments, and another 71 800 families will
see a reduction in their FTB Part A payment rate.
Analysis by the Parliamentary library indicates 'it will likely be larger
families affected by the proposed measure.'
The Minister stated the measure would 'introduce more consistent income
testing of family tax benefit part A payments for higher income families. This
will help to ensure that these payments are targeted to those families most in
The amendments made by this schedule will result in savings of
$415.4 million over the forward estimates and are intended to commence on the
first 1 July after Royal Assent (anticipated to be 1 July 2018).
Issues raised regarding schedule 3
Catholic Social Services Australia submitted the changes 'could result
in as many 100 000 families becoming worse off - especially families with three
or more children or two high school age children.'
NSSRN pointed out these families had recently been impacted by the cessation of
the large family supplement payment.
The Parenthood pointed out that while impacted families were in higher
income brackets, they also had greater expenses and were 'more than likely
paying mortgages that are higher and paying childcare fees that are quite
In its submission, ACOSS stated it did not necessarily oppose the
change, but recommended the Department undertake modelling of the impacts to
larger families and publish the result.
NSSRN also did not oppose the change, providing the freeze on indexation of
the rates of payment and income free thresholds were reversed.
National Council of Single Mothers and their Children (Council of Single
Mothers) opposed the threshold change, arguing that many small changes over
recent years have cumulatively resulted in a significant reduction in income
support for impacted families. The Council of Single Mothers recommended a
review similar to the Harmer review, to ensure decisions regarding income
support rates were 'undertaken in an informed context.'
In discussing the impact of the measure, the Minister outlined that this
change 'will only affect higher income families, who receive a lower rate of
payment than lower income families, and are better equipped to absorb the
effects of the changes.'
Schedule 4 – Liquid assets test
Certain income support payments (Newstart, Sickness and Youth Allowance
and Austudy) have a liquid assets waiting period (LAWP), where income support
payments are delayed if a person has funds readily available to them or their
Table: Current liquid assets
| Waiting period
|| Liquid assets range:
Partnered or single
| Liquid assets range:
Single with no
||$0 to $10,999
||$0 to $5,499
||$11,000 to $11,999
||$5,500 to $5,999
||$12,000 to $12,999
||$6,000 to $6,499
||$13,000 to $13,999
||$6,500 to $6,999
||$14,000 to $14,999
||$7,000 to $7,499
||$15,000 to $15,999
||$7,500 to $7,999
||$16,000 to $16,999
||$8,000 to $8,499
||$17,000 to $17,999
||$8,500 to $8,999
||$18,000 to $18,999
||$9,000 to $9,499
||$19,000 to $19,999
||$9,500 to $9,999
||$20,000 to $20,999
||$10,000 to $10,499
||$21,000 to $21,999
||$10,500 to $10,999
||$22,000 to $22,999
||$11,000 to $11,499
Source: Department of Human
Services, liquid assets waiting period, https://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/enablers/liquid-assets-waiting-period
This schedule will increase the maximum liquid assets test waiting
period from 13 weeks to 26 weeks for income support payment claims made after
commencement of the schedule.
In introducing the measure, the Minister outlined the purpose of the LAWP
is to 'ensure that people with the means to support themselves do so for a
period, before relying on the taxpayer funding for income support.'
The amendments made by this schedule will result in savings of
$138.5 million over the forward estimates and are intended to commence on 20 September
Issues raised regarding schedule 4
Anglicare Australia submitted data showing that people on low income
support were unable to meet the basic costs of living, spending 122 per cent of
their income on an ongoing basis.
The Australian Council of Social Service told the committee that 'if you are reliant
on social security ... you are persistently required to spend more in any given
week in order to keep the roof over your head, in order to get the basics of
food and to keep the lights on, and you do not have enough income to cover
Other submitters raised similar concerns that claimants may have to
exhaust savings before being able to access income support, which may reduce
their capacity to meet an unanticipated large expense such as car repairs.
The Parenthood expressed concern that the LAWP could be applied to money
that people do not actually have access to, as the LAWP 'includes money that
the employer owes you, and in circumstances where businesses go out of business
and employees are left with nothing, they might be owed money but they may
never see that money.'
The AUWU told the committee for people working in the 'gig economy' of
periodic employment that 'increasing the liquid asset test is a disincentive to
take longer periods of work. It's a disincentive to save money, and it's an
incentive to stay on welfare which, while it may be woefully inadequate, is at
least somewhat stable.'
Catholic Social Services Australia submitted this measure 'would likely
affect older workers, for example those receiving a redundancy payout' and would
make households financially vulnerable to managing contingencies while on
The Council of Single Mothers submitted this would also impact women who
received a divorce settlement and then needed to use the settlement payment for
re-establishment costs, such as purchase of a new house or buying an additional
Multiple submitters raised the Henry Tax Review which recommended
abolishing the LAWP, as it can lead to arbitrary and inequitable treatment of
claimants as a result of small differences in savings.
In introducing the measure, the Minister noted that the current liquid
assets test was set at 13 weeks in 1997, and since that time the average level
of liquid assets held by claimants has risen considerably with the average now
being $63,000 for people who would be impacted by the measure. The Minister
stated this 'indicates that many claimants have a greater capacity to support
themselves than the current LAWP recognises.'
The Department's submission noted that those who are not subject to the
LAWP or have a LAWP of 13 weeks or less will not be affected by this measure.
The Minister has confirmed that the range of exemptions for students and
people experiencing financial hardship will remain in place, and that
superannuation assets are exempt from the LAWP.
St Vincent de Paul Society submitted the LAWP would delay access to
employment support services.
However, the Department provided advice that people serving a waiting period
are eligible to volunteer for job active for up to six months, which ensures
they are still able to access assistance to find a job.
The committee notes the overarching goal of the four proposed measures
is to ensure Australia's social security system remains fair, is targeted to
those most in need of income support and is sustainable in the long term so
that social security remains available to future generations of Australians.
The committee notes that Aged Pension and Disability Pension eligibility
is based on the needs of an individual, rather than a dollar value an individual
contributes into a social insurance fund. The committee also notes that to
protect the sustainability of the pension system, payments are residence-based
and targeted to Australian citizens and long-term residents. At the same time,
there is also an obligation on government to ensure people residing in
Australia are not destitute.
The committee notes the evidence provided to this inquiry regarding the
availability of assistance to people who will be subject to lengthened
residence requirements, such as access to Special Benefit payments and the
waiver of the residence requirements for certain vulnerable cohorts such as
refugees and some people with disability. The committee also notes the
international arrangements with 30 countries which allow people to count periods
of residence in those countries towards the residence requirements to be
eligible for income support payments in Australia.
The committee considers the measures in Schedule 1 achieve a suitable
balance between enhancing the residence-based nature of Australia's income
support system, whilst ensuring the residence arrangements continue to include reasonable
and appropriate income support safety nets.
The committee acknowledges the Pension Supplement may be considered by
individual recipients as overall income. However, the supplement is paid to
compensate individuals for specific expenses which are incurred in Australia,
and is therefore not appropriate to pay to people who are overseas for an
extended period of time. The committee therefore considers the measures in
Schedule 2 are reasonable, and bring the portability arrangements in line with
similar income support payments and supplements.
The committee notes the concerns raised by submitters and witnesses that
the measure in Schedule 3 will predominantly impact larger families. The
committee notes the measure will ensure that all income over the highest
bracket will be treated equally for the purposes of determining the rate of
income support payments.
The committee notes concerns that the LAWP may require individuals to
exhaust their savings before accessing income support payments. However, the
committee notes advice from the Minister that average savings have
significantly increased since the waiting period was first established. The
committee considers the measure in Schedule 4 will ensure greater self-reliance
by people who are able to support themselves, which will improve the overall
fairness and sustainability of the income support system.
The committee agrees with the view of the Scrutiny Committee, that the
information provided by the Minister to that committee is extrinsic material
which assists in the interpretation of the Bill. This information would be
useful to include in the Explanatory Memorandum, as it is valuable for
understanding the context of any human rights implications for individuals
impacted by the Bill.
The committee recommends the information
regarding the Bill provided by the Minister to the Senate Standing Committee
for the Scrutiny of Bills be included in the Explanatory Memorandum to assist
in interpretation of the Bill.
The committee recommends the Bill be
Senator Slade Brockman
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