With the Hon Kevin Andrews MP
Senate Courtyard, Canberra
25 November 2010
E & OE
Subjects: Catherine Deveny, Special Disability Trusts, Disability Support Pension
Today is a bad day for Australians with a disability. Firstly, we had the revelation this morning that the Government had appointed Catherine Deveny as a Disability Ambassador. It’s a truly bizarre appointment someone who is better known for insults than inclusion. And that is an appointment which the Government should terminate straight away.
Today is also a bad day for Australians with disability because the Government has withdrawn from the Senate some important legislation. Legislation which, from the 1st of January, would have eased the application for Special Disability Trusts, something which is desperately needed to open those vehicles to more Australians with disability.
Their decision to withdraw the legislation also means that a Disability Support Pension loophole, which allows people to claim the DSP while not being residents in Australia, will remain unclosed.
But also importantly, the Government’s failure to present this legislation in the Senate will deny the Coalition the opportunity to amend the legislation to ensure that individuals who are on the DSP, and who have a legal guardian who travels overseas, won’t lose their DSP.
This situation was brought to light by Hugh Borrowman, who was the Ambassador appointed to Germany. Kevin Rudd terminated that appointment, then offered him an appointment as Ambassador to Sweden. And as a result of that there being no social security treaty with Sweden Mr Borrowman’s son would have lost his Disability Support Pension. And this particular amendment would have rectified that situation for people in the situation of the Borrowmans.
As recently as this morning, this legislation was on the Government’s legislative agenda. But this morning, using their numbers, the Government removed this item from the legislative program.
This is quite clearly a situation where the Government doesn’t want to face the embarrassment of defeat on the last day of the Parliament sitting.
It’s very unfortunate and regrettable because, as Senator Fifield has pointed out, this is legislation in terms of the amendments we’re proposing and which I understand would have the support of the non-Government members of the Parliament this is legislation which actually addresses the deficiency so far as the Disability Support Pension.
It’s something where people might have to travel overseas, where they are being cared for, in circumstances where they would therefore lose the Disability Support Pension and therefore the welfare protections they’ve got at the present time.
A Government which is high on the rhetoric about social justice ought to be prepared to deal with this legislation and deal with this deficiency. But obviously running away from the vote is more important to Labor at the present time.
Do you think the Government would have had more time, though, to deal with legislation like this, Senator Fifield, if the Opposition hadn’t moved so many motions this morning, effectively – what some people are describing – as a delaying tactic or a filibuster?
No, not at all. We had made it clear to the Government that we would do whatever was required to facilitate the passage of this legislation. The Government were clear in that understanding. It’s the Government that is actually seeking to curtail debate. This morning in the Senate the Government moved motions to ensure that debate tomorrow in the Parliament will be guillotined.
How many people on the Disability Support Pension would have been affected by this amendment?
The amendment for those people who have a legal guardian who travels overseas it would be a very small number. But that’s not a reason not to do it. It’s a very simple and practical amendment which would make a real difference to the lives of these individuals.
But there is also the issue of the loophole that needs to be closed where you can, at the moment, claim the DSP without being a resident in Australia. And that will continue because this legislation won’t pass the Parliament.