House debates

Thursday, 4 February 2021


Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Student Assistance and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Second Reading

9:32 am

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker, Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill amends the Student Assistance Act to make it more consistent with the social security law in relation to tax file number collection and information management. The proposed changes, most of which involve machinery and technical amendments, are needed to improve the effective administration of Abstudy and the assistance for isolated children (known as AIC) schemes. These amendments do not place additional administrative burden on recipients.

Abstudy helps Indigenous Australians to undertake study and training, from secondary school through to postgraduate study, many from remote areas, with study, living, and travel expenses. Many of these students must move away from home to study and the Abstudy scheme provides Indigenous students with financial assistance to do so. In 2019-20 the Australian government invested around $322 million in the Abstudy scheme. In 2020, around 27,000 students were assisted through the Abstudy scheme.

AIC is an ongoing scheme that provides assistance to isolated families whose children cannot attend an appropriate state school due to geographic isolation, disability or other special needs. In 2019-20, the Australian government invested around $83 million in the AIC Scheme assisting around 13,000 students.

The Abstudy and AIC schemes are administratively based programs. While the Student Assistance Act provides the legislative framework for Abstudy and AIC matters relating to tax file numbers and information management, the schemes operate in accordance with their respective policy manuals and guidelines.

The primary changes to the Student Assistance Act address an anomaly where all people in receipt of Abstudy or AIC benefits, including primary school children, are required to provide Services Australia with a tax file number. The bill will remove this anomaly. The proposed amendments will align with the provisions applied to youth allowance and Austudy recipients by the Social Security (Administration) Act.This will mean that a tax file number will only be required when a person's income is being used to assess eligibility for Abstudy or AIC benefits. For instance, when assessing means tested boarding allowances for a student aged under 16, only the tax file number of the parents applying on behalf of the student will be required. For the AIC scheme, the tax file number of the student will never be required.

In aligning with the social security law, the proposed amendments will also enable a person to request that the Commissioner of Taxation provides Centrelink with their tax file number directly for the purpose of AIC and Abstudy. This will reduce red tape and will mean that when a person does not know their tax file number they can make a request for their number through Centrelink.

In summary, this bill strengthens the Student Assistance Act relating to Abstudy and the AIC schemes and provides clarification around the definition of social security law. It will reduce unnecessary red tape around the provision of tax file numbers and help the machinery of Services Australia function more efficiently. This bill strengthens our student support system so that it can focus on the important task of ensuring that Indigenous students and isolated students from across Australia have the opportunity to gain a first-class education.

Debate adjourned.