House debates

Wednesday, 28 November 2018


Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018; Second Reading

10:48 am

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Preventing Family Violence) Share this | | Hansard source

I begin my comments on this very important piece of legislation by noting that the government has removed all its speakers from the speaking list on this legislation. I'm not quite sure why the government has taken that view but I did want to put on record that that is exactly what has happened. Labor has, I think, about five speakers, and we'll be pursuing our list, but I make the point that the government clearly is not.

Labor would never have proposed this bill. We think it is very important that the pathway to citizenship is welcoming; however, we are not in government and we have to deal with what is presented to us. And in the context of uncertainty, and the very substantial impacts that the government's four-year waiting periods would have, we could not leave this to One Nation and the Senate crossbench to decide.

Labor has secured significant improvements to the government's original bill. These improvements will protect vulnerable new residents, families and, importantly, children. We acknowledge that these improvements will not address all of our concerns with the government's bill, but what we have attempted to do in securing these improvements is protect vulnerable families from the government's bill being introduced in its entirety. The government originally proposed an increase to the newly arrived residents' waiting periods for social security payments and introduced waiting periods for family tax benefit, paid parental leave and dad and partner pay to four years. This would have caused significant hardship for thousands of vulnerable individuals, families and children. The government's four-year waiting period would have impacted on family tax benefits for 66,000 families and 144,000 children and on 47,000 individuals for other payments.

In engaging the government on this bill and in pursuing these improvements, we have not only secured substantial reductions in the proposed wait times but prevented the content of this bill from being shaped by the crossbench in the Senate. We have been pragmatic, and it has been a very difficult exercise. As I said, Labor would never, never have introduced this bill. As a result of Labor's negotiations with the government, the number of families and children who have been impacted by the government's family tax benefit waiting period has now been reduced to around three-quarters, and the number of people impacted by other changes will be nearly half. We have mitigated what would otherwise have been a bill that would have delivered more pain. Labor has secured major and meaningful concessions, including: no waiting period for family tax benefit part B; no increase in the waiting period for carer payment; a one-year waiting period for family tax benefit part A, instead of a four-year period; a two-year waiting period for paid parental leave and dad and partner pay, which is what the current waiting period is; and New Zealanders, orphaned visa holders and remaining relative visa holders are excluded from the changes. These are important exemptions. We have expanded access to special benefits, when people's circumstances change, including in the case of domestic violence and family violence, in the case of job loss and in the case of death of sponsors. Exemptions to waiting periods for people who become lone parents will also remain. People on refugee and humanitarian visas will also remain exempted from these changes. These are important concessions.

All in all, Labor's amendments to this bill have ensured that 49,000 families and 107,000 children will be shielded from the family tax benefit waiting period each year and 21,000 people will be protected from waiting periods for other payments. These were not easy decisions. I repeat: these were not easy decisions. My colleagues in the Labor Party have worked incredibly hard to ensure that these exemptions and changes to the original harsh, harsh bill were made. Labor would never have proposed these extensions to resident waiting periods in the original bill or otherwise. We made these difficult decisions to protect those on the lowest incomes and families and children.

It would have been deeply irresponsible to oppose this bill outright only for it to be passed outright without being tempered. We could not in good conscience refuse to engage the government and allow the crossbench to determine policies for newly arrived residents. The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils said today that the federal opposition should be congratulated for securing changes to the government's Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-Sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018. The chairperson of FECCA, Mary Patetsos, said, 'These amendments will protect the most vulnerable new arrivals and their families from the new four-year waiting periods for benefits imposed by the federal government.' As I said, we could not in conscience allow One Nation and like-minded people to determine the outcomes of this bill.

We know it is important that new Australians show that they are able to support themselves financially while they settle in Australia. The vast majority of migrants quickly secure work and do not need to access social security, and that is a very important point to be made. The inquiry into this bill heard that the vast majority of recent migrants do not require access to the social security system. The Ethnic Communities' Council of Victoria told the committee that the workforce participation rate for migrants is 80 per cent, compared to 60 per cent for people who were born in Australia. Migrants are hardworking and committed new Australians. They make a wonderful contribution to the prosperity of the social fabric of Australia. Sometimes people's circumstances do change, and it is important to support people when this happens, which is why the special benefit component is so crucial to this bill. Labor will always work hard to ensure the best possible outcomes for vulnerable Australians and those who find themselves in difficult circumstances. Australians know Labor's record on protecting and maintaining the nation's social safety net. We have always fought for what is fair. We have fought tooth and nail the government's relentless and cruel attacks on the age pension. We have fought the government's attempts to cut Newstart and we will review the payment and how it can work better for Australians who are trying to find work. We have fought the government's cuts to Centrelink and held the government to account over pensioners and students who have been forced to wait months for their payments. Australians know that those vulnerable individuals, families and children will always be better off, will always receive a fairer go, under a Labor government.

In closing, I recognise everyone who has worked very hard on these amendments and on this bill. I particularly recognise my parliamentary colleagues on the Labor side, in particular the shadow Treasurer, for the work that has been done in negotiating with the government on trying to make this bill more palatable, to bring about less pain for those who would otherwise have been affected for four years. I believe that the exemptions and the position that we've gotten to vastly improve this bill, make it vastly better and mean it will affect many thousands fewer people than would otherwise have been affected by the harsh measures of this bill.

10:57 am

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the social services legislation amendment, rather euphemistically called 'Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants', bill 2018. This bill seeks to increase the waiting period associated with a number of social security safety nets for those who have come to this country as migrants. The title of this legislation is a complete misnomer. In my view it does not seek to encourage self-sufficiency but, rather, seeks to stigmatise those in our community who need a helping hand. In its original form the bill was completely draconian. I would like to congratulate our Labor executive team of the member for Barton and the member for McMahon, who've been able to modify some of the nastier elements of this legislation that will affect newly arrived migrants to this country.

It's worth pointing out that, according to the 2016 census, around 34 per cent of my community of Macarthur were born outside Australia. While I concede that the coalition government completely botched this census, I will share some of the data it uncovered. First of all, there were just over 4,000 respondents from Macarthur who were born in England, just over 4,000 who were born in New Zealand—they were the top responses for birthplaces other than Australia—1.4 per cent were born in Fiji, 2.1 per cent were born in India and 2.2 per cent were from the Philippines. My point is this: our nation has been built on migration from the very beginnings of white settlement in Australia. Indeed, we're one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world.

Elements of the media, those in the hard Right and some in the government would have you think we're experiencing mass migration to Australia, that these people are coming from parts of the world experiencing civil unrest and instability and that they're coming here to suck resources from the Australian economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The top two responses for people born outside Australia at the last census were that they came from New Zealand and England. I'd also add that the census responses for Macarthur indicated that just over 40 per cent of those surveyed had both of their parents born overseas.

Once again, I would reiterate that this country has been built on migration. Immigrants contribute to a vibrant and multicultural society. Indeed, the Macarthur community is made much, much richer through the contributions of our thriving Filipino community, our Bangladeshi community and people from all over the world. These people are Australians just like you and me. I'd add that I'm proud to represent them. Migrants have chosen Australia as their home, so in many ways they're even more attached to Australia and proud to be Australian than some people who were born here. Australians who were once migrants are actively contributing to my community of Macarthur.

Through this legislation, the newly arrived resident's waiting period for carers allowance, carer payments, youth allowance, Austudy, Newstart, sickness allowance, special benefit, bereavement allowance, widow allowance, parenting payment, mobility allowance, pension, education supplement, the healthcare card for low-income earners and the Commonwealth seniors health card will increase. Presently, from the day a migrant is issued a permanent visa, they have to wait for a period of two years before the newly arrived resident's waiting period is complete and they are eligible for governmental support. The legislation extends this period to three years. It is worth noting that this newly arrived resident's waiting period is applicable from the day residency is obtained, not from the day of arrival in Australia. So those people may wait even longer. Those with any experience in dealing with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection will know that it can take quite some time to acquire permanent residency.

Those opposite were initially pursuing an extension of this to four years for the family assistance package, paid parental leave and partner leave. There presently exists no newly arrived resident's waiting period for the family assistance package, carer allowance, paid parental leave and partner leave, yet the government had been progressing a waiting period of four years. Should this legislation be passed, the changes to the newly arrived resident's waiting period will effectively be from 1 January 2019.

We on this side of the chamber would never have proposed such measures and we certainly could not have tolerated this proposed legislation if it had proceeded in its original form. The hardship that would have been inflicted on the most vulnerable in our society by the four-year waiting period being championed by those opposite would have been completely unjustifiable. I have major concerns as to how this will affect some of my patients who have severe disability whose parents are newly arrived migrants. Some of these children were born in Australia. No-one chooses to have a child with cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, yet these people will be significantly affected by this new legislation. I think it is very unfair given the contribution that newly arrived migrants have made and continue to make to Australia. I'm very concerned about young families who have children with disabilities and how they are going to cope with these draconian waiting periods. This is not good legislation. It is targeting the most vulnerable and I think it is shameful.

I really do think that this right-wing, reactionary coalition government should be ashamed of itself for attempting to introduce the legislation in its original form. I think they should think very hard about this legislation in the future. I'm very concerned about the negative impact it will have on some of the most vulnerable people in my community. It's yet another example of those opposite failing in their ability to understand they are to represent all Australians. I'm trying to remember the last time this government was bold and chose to do the right thing for the most vulnerable. The coalition have tried to push through some of the most unfair changes to our citizenship laws through their years in government. Just because Australians, whether they were born here or have recently arrived, don't speak perfect English or seem to come from countries that the coalition is unfamiliar with, they should not be punished—and that's what's happening.

I really think that our social security system is designed to help the most vulnerable in our society, not to punish them. You wouldn't deny a toddler and their family access to subsidised child care or family tax benefits because they've only lived in Australia since they were born two or three years ago, so why deny someone access to support because they moved to Australia from overseas two or three years ago and yet want to contribute to this country?

It's unfair that any one person should paint migrants as a drain on our welfare system. Our statistics prove otherwise. I have to say that perhaps if the statistics were reversed there may be other elements at play and issues across our workplaces and in our communities that need addressing prior to severely limiting access to social security for some of the most vulnerable Australians. Thank you.

11:05 am

Photo of Ross HartRoss Hart (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We have before us the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018 and related legislation. The bill acts to increase the newly arrived resident's waiting period—the NARWP—which is the period of time that new Australian residents must wait before being entitled to claim certain benefits and concessions. Currently, there is a two-year waiting period for carer payment, youth allowance, Austudy payment, Newstart allowance, sickness allowance, special benefit bereavement allowance, widow allowance and parenting payment.

The government had originally proposed to increase these waiting periods to four years—four years, a wholly unreasonable period—and to increase four-year waiting periods for family assistance, the Paid Parental Leave scheme and dad and partner pay. Thankfully, following extensive negotiations with Labor, the government has agreed to reduce many of these proposed waiting times. However, let me make this clear: Labor would never have proposed this bill and the measures contained within this bill. And we certainly would not have countenanced the government's policy in its original form.

The application of across-the-board, four-year waiting periods for many permanent residents would cause too much hardship—hardship for vulnerable people, vulnerable families and children. But in agreeing not to oppose the significantly reduced waiting periods proposal put forward by the government we have been pragmatic, because the alternative was to leave the entirety of this proposal in the hands of the Senate crossbench and, of course, the One Nation party. It would be deeply irresponsible to allow that party—One Nation—to determine policy in this area. We've done this to ameliorate the harshness of these measures and to limit the impact of this change as much as possible.

We've also achieved the best outcome we possibly can to protect vulnerable people. Labor has secured major concessions to protect vulnerable people, families and children, including: no waiting period for family tax benefit part B; no increase in the waiting period for carer payment; a one-year waiting period for family tax benefit part A; a one-year waiting period for carer allowance; a two-year waiting period for paid parental leave and dad and partner pay; New Zealanders, orphan visa holders and remaining relative visa holders are excluded from these changes; and there is expanded access to special benefit when people's circumstances change, including, it should be noted, in the case of domestic and family violence. Importantly, exemptions to waiting periods for people who become lone parents will also remain, and people on refugee and humanitarian visas, as well as those who become citizens, are exempt from these changes.

The government's four-year waiting periods would have caused great hardship for thousands of families and their children. By securing these amendments, Labor has ensured that 49,000 families and 107,000 children will be protected from the family tax benefit waiting period each year, and that 21,000 people will avoid the impacts of waiting periods for other payments.

When the minister introduced this bill to the House in its original form back in February he said that the measures in the bill were designed to promote financial independence and self-sufficiency for newly arrived migrants. Of course, it is important that new Australian show that they can support themselves financially whilst they settle in Australia. Indeed, the experience is that most migrants quickly secure work and that they do not need to access social security. This is something that I've seen firsthand through the work of an organisation called The Tasmania Opportunity, TTO, in my electorate of Bass.

TTO is a community think tank based in Launceston. It is operating an 18-month pilot scheme called Refugee Employment Pathways, REP, to demonstrate the viability or otherwise of finding full-time employment for previously unemployed Afghan Hazara men in Northern Tasmania. TTO has consulted with the local Hazara community, the Tasmanian government, local councils, the agricultural and construction sectors, community groups and the migrant sector. It works, in my experience, in an open and collaborative manner. In its first nine months, Refugee Employment Pathways have successfully found agricultural employment for six men near Deloraine, a fantastic outcome that indicates such programs can be successful in securing employment for migrants.

This is important, because research indicates that there are five key areas for successful relocation of migrant communities into regional or rural areas—that is, housing, jobs, education services, health services and, most importantly, social inclusion. Once migrants have been supported through the early stages of their settlement journey, they are not only self-sufficient but contribute enormously to our economy and to our community. They do contribute. They add economically and they enrich our communities in many ways. However, we also know that life happens in its sometimes unpredictable ups and downs. People's circumstances can change, and it is important that support is available when that happens.

This conservative government—'liberal' in name only—has tried to make it harder for new Australians at every turn. They've tried to push through unfair changes to our citizenship and antidiscrimination laws. They also wanted to require new migrants to have university level English in order to gain citizenship. And now they were pushing for extended waiting periods for social support, despite there being little evidence that there is a sound public policy justification for this change. In order to reduce the impact of the government's proposed new resident waiting periods, Labor has agreed to support an amended version of this bill. These decisions have been made to protect those on lowest incomes, their families and their children. They're not easy decisions and Labor would not have proposed these extensions to resident waiting periods. Thank you.

11:13 am

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This is an attack on multiculturalism. This bill, which is being rushed through in a dirty deal between Labor and Liberal, will make life hard for people who come to Australia through the usual processes and then, through no fault of their own, find themselves in hard times. This bill will create an underclass of migrants in this society and will result in second-class citizens who will now have to wait longer to get the kind of support that most people—other people in this country—are entitled to.

A press release was sent out by the government yesterday to justify this bill—a bill that they are now giving us 11 pages of amendments to, a bill that has been cooked up in the back room between Labor and Liberal—and now we're being asked to vote on it right here, right now, but they're circulating it without the revised explanatory memorandum to tell us what the impact of this bill will be on people. The government has deigned to give us a one-page press release about this bill that they want to rush through this parliament, this minority parliament where there should be extra scrutiny. Now they want to rush it through with the Labor opposition's support. What we do know according to that is that there will now be a four-year wait for people who come here through the usual approved processes to get things like Newstart, concession cards or low-income healthcare cards.

If what the government has set out is right and reflects the deal that has been done between Labor and the Liberals, it will mean this: someone who has come here on a skilled or a family visa—sometimes because they've got the promise of a job when they get here—will settle and expect they're going to be here for an extended period of time, and they start working. Let's say that all of a sudden their employer goes under. Let's say they get placed in administration. The business doesn't work out, so they haven't got a job. What happens to that person? If that person was an Australian citizen, they could go and get support until they get back on their feet to find a new job. Now, Newstart is not high enough—it's below the poverty line and it needs to be increased quickly—but at least it's something. You get a bit of support while you're out there looking for that new job. At the moment, people who come here on visas already have to wait a period before they can get support from the government. If I understand correctly what Labor and Liberal have done, given that we haven't got the time to scrutinise it properly—but if I take the government's press release at its word—a person who is in that situation, or a member of their family, now has to wait four years.

I see the opposition shaking their heads. Maybe they can explain why it is that the government has put out a press release saying that we're going to have a four-year waiting list and why it is that previous speakers from the opposition have said that this bill is heinous and shouldn't be supported. That's what they have stood up here and said. The last two speakers from the opposition stood up and said that this was an outrageous bill from the government that attacks people who come here seeking assistance after coming here to work and, through no fault of their own, might find themselves unemployed. They've said, 'Oh, we've wrung our hands, and we have to vote for some bad bits of the bill.' Well, you don't, Opposition. The clue's in your job title: opposition. Sometimes the thing to do is to stare down a bad government and tell them to go back to the drawing board, not to support them on cuts that are going to hurt people.

When this bill was looked at by the Senate committee inquiring into that, the one thing that shone through from pretty much all of the submissions was people saying there is absolutely no evidence that making people wait longer for forms of assistance is going to do anything to improve their chances of getting a job; all it is going to do is hurt them. And that stands to reason, because the research tells us that—say you've got qualifications or you've got skills from elsewhere—if you come to Australia from a non-English-speaking country, you are more than twice as likely to find yourself in a low-paid job than someone who comes here from an English-speaking country. That has led to us having—for example, in my electorate of Melbourne—reports of jumbo jet pilots who are driving taxis. When you get in a taxi, you often chat to your taxi driver, and you may find that they have a master's degree. They may well have been an accountant in their previous country; they just haven't been able to get their qualifications recognised here, and it has turned out to be difficult for them.

There are barriers that these people face. You would think that in many instances what they actually deserve is extra support should they find themselves unable to find employment. That's why in previous parliaments we negotiated a fund to assist migrant communities to find themselves jobs and to get their skills properly recognised. This government tore it down. That is part of the reason why we have higher unemployment and underemployment rates amongst people who've come here from non-English-speaking backgrounds or who have come here from migrant backgrounds.

What we need to be doing is tackling rising unemployment and underemployment amongst these particular groups so that we make sure that they know that Australia is a place where everyone has a place and saying, 'If you want to work, we as the parliament are bending over backwards to ensure that there are meaningful jobs that are available for you.' What we should not be doing is taking the stick to those people and saying, 'We are going to save a bit of money for the budget by making life harder for you by withdrawing some support from you.' Maybe it's good that the opposition has managed to negotiate with the government that the government's not going to punish people as hard as they would have before, but it still results in punishing people. This bill will still punish people who should be supported.

If it turns out that what the government has said in its press release does not reflect the deal that has been reached between Labor and the government, give us extra time to debate it. Don't come in here and give us 11 pages of amendments that are going to affect people's lives and potentially result in them being left with no government support at all after they've lost their job. Don't come in here and tell us that we've got to vote on this straightaway. Let's give extra time to consider it and let the sector look at all of these amendments and this new deal that has been done. If it's as good as the opposition says it is, give us time to scrutinise it. We are now back in a parliament where the government does not have a majority. We are in a parliament where the Australian people have said, 'We want greater scrutiny of what the old parties are doing because we don't always trust them.' One way of having that now would be to park this bill so that the sector can have a look at the deal that's been done and so that everyone in this parliament can have a look at the deal that's been done and the crossbench can scrutinise the deal that is being done. Asking us to vote on the basis of a press release and saying, 'Trust us; it'll all be okay,' asking us to vote for it when the last two Labor speakers have got up and talked about just how bad this bill is, is not the way this parliament should operate.

At some point we'll go back and have a look at the Hansard of the last two speakers. I'm paraphrasing them and I don't intend to misrepresent them, but they said this is a bill that will punish people. They said this is a bill that is going to make life harder for people. Someone who was formerly a doctor said this is a bill that potentially would have made life tougher for his patients. If that is right, if I've accurately represented what they've said, that is not something we should be sitting here voting on today. So maybe we can have some more light shed on it at some point. I listened to all the speeches up until now and certainly it seems to me that the government seem to believe that they're going to make some savings out of this. And how do you make savings? You make savings out of giving people less support. That's how you make savings.

Who are the people who this is going to result in having to wait longer to access payments? They are people who have come to Australia of whom Australia has said, 'Yes, we want you here because of your skills or your family connection.' They are people who, once they are here and have been contributing, find themselves facing hard times. We should not turn our backs on those people. We should not be trying to save money by attacking multiculturalism. That divides Australia. Australia is a place where we say, 'When you are here, we are going to support you if you find yourself in hard times.' We do not think there should be a waiting list such that you go a period of time without your carers allowance, parental leave payment or dad and partner pay.

This is not a situation where we should be trying to save money and negotiating something that's less worse than it would otherwise have been. This is a situation where we should say to the government: 'Go back to the drawing board, because if what you want to do is improve the situation in the budget there are better ways of doing it. Let's start by making the likes of Gina Rinehart pay the same tax on her diesel fuel that everyone else in this country pays on their petrol.' At the moment, Australian taxpayers give her a rebate of a couple of billion dollars a year. Everyone else pays about 40c a litre in tax on their petrol; when Gina Rinehart puts diesel fuel into her trucks she pays that money and then gets a rebate on it. She gets a big refund cheque courtesy of the Australian taxpayer. She and the mining industry are able to come in here and write favourable tax concessions for themselves, and then we wonder why there's not enough money left in the budget. Well, if we need to find some money, let's go and ask people like that to pay their fair share of tax and wind back some of the unfair tax breaks.

If what they want to do is to improve the situation of newly arrived residents and migrants then let's find ways of doing that, perhaps by reinstating the fund that we negotiated in a previous minority parliament—and it was a very good thing that the Labor government then did—and putting money into a migrant communities employment fund so that people who are facing those barriers and who might find themselves out of work are able to get into good work and into good jobs. Let's do some of those things if that's what they want to do. But do not ask us to come in here and vote for a bill that was roundly slammed when it was subject to the Senate inquiry. And do not expect us to take on face value that the 11 pages of amendments that they've negotiated are going to make life better for people.

Maybe they will—maybe I've got the wrong end of the stick! Maybe this is the most fantastic thing for newly arrived migrants. Maybe I've misunderstood it all completely. But they can't blame us for saying no to this now when we got a press release yesterday and 11 pages of amendments circulated now, and they're just saying to us, 'Trust us, it'll all be okay.' Well, no. If this is about making life harder for people who we should be helping then, no, we cannot support this today.

Hopefully, as this bill progresses through the parliament the government and the opposition will agree to defer this today so that we can have time to scrutinise it. Hopefully, they will allow it to be looked at by the sector and by everyone who is going to be impacted by this so that they can understand whether or not this is a good deal. But if they're not going to do that, don't expect us to support it today. And expect it to be scrutinised heavily as this matter proceeds to the Senate. What we should be about is good legislation and good process. They could have, at least, deigned to circulate a revised explanatory memorandum to tell us about this deal. They couldn't even be bothered to do that, because they had done their deal and that was enough. We're not going to stand for that. Let's have proper scrutiny and let's make sure we are looking after people who need our assistance.

11:28 am

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to sum up the second reading debate on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Encouraging Self-sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) Bill 2018.

The government is committed to making the sensible and responsible decisions required to return the budget to surplus and to keep welfare spending sustainable for future generations. This bill will contribute to this by encouraging those who are in a position to support themselves to do so and by better targeting assistance to those in need.

The bill contains amendments that will strengthen waiting periods for newly arrived migrants to access a range of welfare payments. It is reasonable to expect that people choosing to come to Australia on a skilled or family visa should be self-reliant during their initial settlement period. These migrants are well placed to support themselves and their families through work or support from family members already in Australia, and should not expect full and immediate entitlement to our generous welfare payments.

This bill will extend the existing two-year waiting period for certain working-age payments and concession cards, and will introduce a new waiting period to other payment types for the first time. These changes will reinforce expectations that new migrants should make plans to support both themselves and their families during their initial settlement period.

The current bill specifies that the extended and new waiting periods will be three years, as was announced in the 2017-18 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. The government has circulated amendments that will increase the waiting period for working-age payments and concession cards to four years, in line with the subsequent announcement in the 2018-19 budget. This increase reflects the nature of these payments and capacity of skilled and family migrants. Those who come to Australia specifically to work or to be with family should not need to rely on working-age payments such as the Newstart allowance and parenting payment. The government has circulated amendments to retain the existing waiting period for the carer payment and reduce the length of the new waiting period for carer allowance, family tax benefit, parental leave pay, and dad and partner pay. These changes respond to concerns raised during the Senate committee inquiry process into the bill and reflect that these payments support particular needs and costs for eligible individuals and families. The new arrangements provide a more proportionate increase for payments which will have a waiting period introduced for the first time.

Importantly, under the government amendments, family tax benefit part B will not be subject to a waiting period. This means that single-parent migrant families, or those who have one main income earner, will continue to be supported to balance work and caring responsibilities, particularly when their children are younger. The government has circulated amendments that will exclude 'orphan relative' and 'remaining relative' visa holders from the changes to waiting periods. This recognises that these are often vulnerable young people who may be disproportionately disadvantaged if subject to increased waiting periods.

There will continue to be a comprehensive range of exemptions—and I emphasise that point in view of some of the comments that have been made during the debate—including for humanitarian entrants and their families, New Zealand citizens on a special category visa and people who experience a substantial change of circumstances and can no longer support themselves as planned. Migrants who experience a substantial change of circumstances will continue to be exempt from the waiting period for special benefit. The bill as introduced was intended to clarify and refine when a substantial change of circumstances could count for the exemption. To address concerns raised through the Senate committee inquiry process, the government will not proceed with those particular amendments. There will be no change to the exemption for substantial changes in circumstances. The existing exemption will remain in place and will continue to provide protection for those in Australia, including, for example, where a person who has applied for a temporary partner visa experiences a substantial change in circumstances, through access to special benefit. This provides certainty that there are no detrimental changes included in the legislation to the exemption for substantial changes in circumstances for special benefit.

The government has also circulated amendments to clarify the operation of the exemptions for family payments. These amendments will enable humanitarian entrants and other migrants who fall within an exemption category from day one to be exempt for the whole waiting period. For migrants who become exempt after the start of their waiting period, the exemption will apply from that point onwards. Inclusive of the government amendments, this bill strikes a balance between encouraging self-sufficiency for new migrants and maintaining a safety net through appropriate exemptions and exclusions.

The proposed amendments also incorporate new measures into this bill. Some of the measures were previously introduced to the parliament in other bills. These amendments include creating a simpler and fairer family assistance system by creating a consistent income test taper rate for family tax benefit part A for families with income above the higher income-free area. Instead of two different taper rates applying to different families with the same income, as currently occurs, a single 30c taper rate will apply. There will also be a one-off increase to the family tax benefit part A higher income-free area, bringing this amount to $98,988 from 1 July 2019.

Finally, the amendments will extend the existing indexation pauses first implemented under the previous government on higher income limits for family and parental leave payments for one further year until 30 June 2021. This will apply to the increased family tax benefit part A higher income-free area as well as the family tax benefit part B primary earner income limit and the paid parental leave pay and dad and partner pay income limits. Maintaining these higher income limits at their current levels will target government assistance to families that need it most. The changes reflected in the government amendments will create a family assistance system that is simpler and better targeted.

The government amendments circulated today will rename this bill the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Bill 2018. This new title reflects the broader range of measures that will now be contained in the bill. These measures deliver on the government's ongoing commitment to a welfare payment system that promotes self-reliance, is targeted to those most in need and is fiscally sustainable into the future. I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that this bill be read a second time.