Chapter 2

Key issues


2.1        The committee received two submissions—from the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) and the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS)—both of which support the Bill without amendments. NWRN submits that the Bill simplifies the payment system and facilitates access to student payments.[1]

2.2        The Minister for Social Services (Minister), the Hon Christian Porter MP, stated during the second reading debate on the Bill that the proposed measures support payment simplification and would not affect the overall value of student payments.[2]

Means testing for student payments

2.3        Submitters support the four proposed changes to means testing for student payments.

2.4        NWRN agrees with removing the exemption from the assets test for Youth Allowance and Austudy recipients whose partner receives income support. NWRN acknowledges this would affect a small number of recipients,[3] but that it 'ensures equal treatment' of student payment recipients with similar levels of assets.[4]

2.5        ACOSS submits that the change to include company assets to means testing student payments is 'sensible and rectifies an anomaly' within the payments system.[5] NWRN submits that this measure will only apply to a small number of recipients.[6]

2.6        Both submitters welcome reforms to exempt regular gift payments by family members from asset testing.[7]

2.7        NWRN acknowledges that including tax free pensions and benefits as income for the parental income test may reduce payments for dependent Youth Allowance recipients whose parents have a high level of income and receive income support such as a pension. NWRN supports this measure, noting that it creates equitable treatment of recipients of similar income. It also simplifies the process for families to declare their incomes as they will now report the same income for family tax benefit and youth allowance purposes.[8]

2.8        The Minister noted that the proposed measures would simplify means testing and remove anomalies between student payments and other welfare payments.[9]

Health Care Card

2.9        Both submissions strongly support the measure to automate issuing of health care cards to recipients of student payments.[10] NWRN states this is a welcome increase of support to students and their families as it would increase access to subsidised prescriptions and a reduced Medicare safety net.[11]

2.10      The Minister noted that the proposed measure would align access to concession cards for students with other income support recipients and would:

...guarantee that around 240,000 students will receive Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme prescriptions at the concessional rate and access to the lower threshold of the extended Medicare safety net when they receive a student payment. It will also provide greater access to bulk billing allowing students to focus on their studies without worrying about their medical costs.[12]

Remoteness structure

2.11      NWRN supports the automatic updating of the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) remoteness structure by the Australian Statistician as it simplifies the administration of student payments.[13] ACOSS made no comment on this schedule.

2.12      The Minister noted that the automatic updating of the remoteness structure would 'ensure that the assessment of qualification for youth allowance and the relocation scholarship is based on the latest available information on geographical classification'.[14]

2.13      The Minister highlighted that the reclassification of areas would be:

...unlikely to have lasting or recurrent effects on students' payment eligibility given the cycle of five-yearly updates of the geographical classification document and that on average tertiary courses are completed in three to four years.[15]

Committee view

2.14      The committee recognises that the proposed changes to means testing rules would simplify means testing for student payments and remove anomalies between student payments and other welfare payments.

2.15      The committee recognises that the proposal to automatically issue a healthcare card to students receiving student payments would improve consistency by aligning access to concession cards for students with other welfare recipients.

2.16      The committee also recognises that the automatic updating of the ASGS remoteness structure would ensure that assessments of qualification for student payments are based on the latest available information on geographical classification.

2.17      The committee acknowledges the stakeholder support for the measures proposed in the Bill and agrees with the Minister that the measures will support payment simplification and future welfare reform. The committee acknowledges that whilst there will be a small number of recipients affected by these measures, overall the measures will create a more equitable payments system.

Recommendation 1

2.18      The committee recommends that the Bill be passed.

Senator Jonathon Duniam

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