Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (11:54):
I rise today to speak on the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. This bill seeks to implement changes that the government announced in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, before last night’s budget, and also in the National Carer Strategy.
The first measure contained in the bill seeks to provide an incentive for parents to immunise their children by making the payment of the family tax benefit part A supplement to parents conditional on their child meeting immunisation requirements. The second measure relates to the baby bonus. This measure pauses the indexation of the baby bonus for three years from July 2012. It also seeks to reduce the value of the baby bonus to $5,000 per child as of 1 September 2012.
My colleague in the other place the member for Menzies noted that this represents nearly a 10 per cent decrease in the value of the baby bonus, down from $5,437. It comes at a time when we know young families are doing it very tough, hence the framing of last night’s budget. It does seem that despite all their rhetoric to the contrary the government are determined to drive up cost-of-living pressures for Australians. Nothing demonstrates this more than the impending carbon tax, which you will appreciate is fast approaching.
The member for Menzies also noted that this measure is one of many introduced across government aimed at reducing support for Australian families and should be placed in the context of the broader attack on middle Australia by the current government. This pausing in the indexation of the baby bonus follows the freezing of indexation of family tax benefit part A and part B supplement payments, in the 2011 budget. And add to this Labor’s recent decision to again hit families by means testing the private health insurance rebate. I think it is pretty clear that a pattern is emerging. Two other measures in this bill relate to the carer supplement and the carer payment. They have emerged from the National Carer Strategy. With the first of these changes, the eligibility for the carer supplement for some carers who have previously been excluded from receiving this payment, under the current legislation a carer who has had their carer payment rate reduced to nil by an income test is not eligible for the carer supplement of $600 per year. In the current situation those carers who combine their caring role with paid employment must sometimes choose between taking on work or losing their access to the carer supplement. This amendment seeks to rectify the situation by extending eligibility for the carer supplement to carers who qualify for the carer payment but have their payment rate reduced to nil on account of the income they earn through paid employment. The government contends that this will mean that the eligibility criteria for the carer supplement are no longer a disincentive to carers who are employed in paid work.
The second of the changes that relate to carers provides for a bereavement payment for low-income carers who care for adults, upon the death of the person for whom they care. Bereavement payments are made available to carers of children. This amendment extends that availability to those who have lost an adult they cared for.
Finally, this bill makes several minor clarifications and amendments, of a technical nature, to family assistance law. The coalition recognises the important role-as I know you do, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore -that carers play in the community. It is often 24 hours a day, seven days a week-it is care, love and support for a family member or a friend. Without that dedication and commitment there are tens of thousands, if not millions, of Australians who would have a much-reduced quality of life, so we are all united in a desire to support carers the best we can.
In that vein I want to note in passing the fact that this year is the 10th time, I think, that the Leader of the Opposition has undertaken the annual Pollie Pedal, and the organisation chosen to receive the funds raised from that venture was Carers Australia. The 1,000 kilometres cycled and the sponsorship and donations given through that exercise resulted in more than $500,000 being raised for Carers Australia. They were very worthy recipients, and I think that is the start of an ongoing relationship between Carers Australia and Pollie Pedal. I think it is extremely good that carers have been recognised in that very practical way.
As I have indicated, we do have some misgivings about this bill, not with all elements but with those I have indicated. But I indicate that we will not be seeking to oppose the bill.