Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (11:44):
I rise to speak on the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Further Election Commitments and Other Measures) Bill 2011.
Schedule 1 of this bill amends the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999-A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999-to provide for altered arrangements for advance payments of family tax benefits. It modifies the rules for determining whether an individual is eligible for an advance for family tax benefit and the amount of that advance. It also alters the rules toward reducing an individual’s rate of family tax benefit part A when it comes to repayment of that advance. It also changes the terms and conditions regarding the raising of debts for the unpaid amount of the FTB advance.
The amount of the FTB advance will be more flexible than is currently the case and will function with an upper limit maximum advance of $1,000 and a lower limit minimum of $160.96 in 2011-12. From 2012-13 onwards, the maximum and minimum limits will be linked to the family tax benefit child rate for a single FTB child who is under the age of 13 years and will be indexed on 1 July of each year. In the event that an individual is repaying a previous amount, the maximum amount will be reduced by the original amount of the previous advance.
At present, fixed repayment periods apply. This bill changes the repayment periods, such that an individual can request an advance on any day and can have some flexibility toward the length of time they have to repay and the rate at which they repay. The default repayment period over which the advance will be repaid via a reduction of an individual’s FTB part A instalment rate will be 26 weeks. The period of repayment can span up to two financial years and consideration is made for an individual’s personal circumstances. Rather thana debt arising through the payment of an advance, an
individual will repay the debt through reductions in FTB part A rate.
Schedule 2 of the bill introduces a condition that, in order to receive the FTB part A supplement, a
child turning four must undertake a health check. This measure is to commence from 1 July 2011.
Schedule 3 amends the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989, which introduces changes to the rules
that currently apply to the child support registrar in determining an individual’s adjusted taxable income when a parent’s taxable income has not been formally assessed. The new rules will use a parent’s previous taxable income, factoring indexation in growth of wages, in cases where a tax return has not been lodged through the ATO.
Schedule 4 would have significant implications for the regulation of insurance and compensation payments, and I am advised that the schedule would have thrown Commonwealth law into direct conflict with the law of the states and territories. This schedule comes from a government that talks about harmonising interstate business operations but, ironically, this schedule would have made it harder for business to undertake their activities. The coalition has indicated to the government that we have significant concerns about this schedule, and we indicated to the government what we thought would be the wise approach of splitting schedule 4 from the bill due to the potentially disastrous design of the schedule and the massive compliance burden that it could dump on the shoulders
of business. Thankfully, the government has decided to split schedule 4 to separate it from the rest of the bill. We think that is a sensible thing to do to enable further consideration of this matter.
Schedule 5 of the bill makes some minor amendments to the family assistance law and child support
legislation to clarify some technical issues and to ensure that the legislation operates as intended. I can indicate that the opposition will support the separation of schedule 4 from the bill and, if that does occur, then we will not be opposing the legislation.