House debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Bill 2020; Second Reading

9:46 am

Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Morrison government is committed to supporting individuals, families and the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing additional financial assistance to people who lose their jobs or who have reduced income. Through this gill we are extending temporary, enhanced financial support, through the coronavirus supplement and other temporary eligibility and access measures, for an additional three months from 1 January 2021.

To date, our temporary measures have been successful in supporting Australians through economic shock and uncertainty, but we understand that challenging conditions continue. The government has committed unprecedented fiscal and economic support—totalling $507 billion, or around 26 per cent of GDP—in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The government is actively monitoring economic conditions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and is responding by continuing assistance for individuals and families.

This bill responds to the continuing uncertainty around economic conditions in Australia by allowing the government to extend temporary financial support, through the coronavirus supplement and other temporary eligibility and access measures, mostly until 31 March 2021.

The government is providing a safety net to those who need it most while maintaining incentives to work.

Schedule 11 of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020 included a power that allowed the minister to temporarily modify social security law to respond to circumstances relating to COVID-19 by making a disallowable legislative instrument.

This broad power that allowed the minister to modify or vary any qualification or rate in social security law was critical in allowing the government to respond flexibly to emerging situations and apply changes that aided Services Australia in quickly addressing the large volume of claims received in March and April 2020. The minister's power to make these modifications will be automatically repealed on 31 December 2020 and instruments made under the modification power will no longer have any effect.

This bill amends a number of existing provisions and introduces new provisions in social security law to enable the government to further extend support measures in the income support system beyond the end of 2020.

The current powers in social security law that enable the minister to set the rate and duration of the coronavirus supplement will remain in place until 31 March 2021. The bill will enable related exemptions from waiting and preclusion periods to also remain in place until that date.

This bill introduces a new time-limited instrument-making power, allowing the government to respond flexibly to any changes in circumstances which might arise as a result of COVID-19 in the first quarter of next year, while parliament may not be sitting. Importantly this is a more targeted temporary power that will only be available until 31 March 2021, and until 16 April 2021 for the nil-rate period.

These powers will be used to extend temporary measures that are currently in place to enhance access and eligibility for income support payments.

Together, these powers will enable the minister to determine:

                      In addition, the bill permanently repeals provisions providing temporary exemptions to the liquid assets test waiting period, and assets tests. These exemptions were put in place as part of the initial package of coronavirus economic response measures in March 2020 and are no longer necessary, and have not been in effect since 25 September 2020.

                      The bill also introduces a discretionary power under the social security and veterans' entitlements assets tests to extend the principal home temporary absence provisions. This provision is beneficial as it prevents the inclusion of the principal home in the assets test while a person is unable to return to Australia within the allowable absence period, due to circumstances beyond their control.

                      Under current temporary arrangements in place until 28 March 2021, the Australian Taxation Office provides JobKeeper information to Services Australia for planning, policy development and compliance purposes. While the Australian Taxation Office will not provide any new JobKeeper data to Services Australia after 28 March 2021, the bill will clarify that, after 28 March 2021, Services Australia and the Department of Social Services will be able to continue to use the JobKeeper information provided on or before 28 March 2021.

                      The government has announced it will use the new and modified instrument-making provisions to extend existing temporary and concessional arrangements in the social security system for an additional three months to 31 March 2021. These measures include:

                                    The legislative framework in this bill will allow government to extend temporary measures in the income support system to provide additional support to Australians impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The instrument-making power will deliver the policies at a cost of $3.2 billion to 2024-25.

                                    I commend this bill to the House.

                                    Debate adjourned.