Wednesday, 21 March 2018
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017; In Committee
Just to recap briefly, yesterday the group of amendments we started on was the group on sheet 8254. If senators in the chamber recall, we had just dealt with item (30), which related to schedule 15, which related to the compliance regime. We separated that out because the Labor Party requested that we deal with it separately. I now seek leave to move the rest of the amendments on sheet 8254—that is, items (16) and (17) and items (20) to (23), which relate to schedules 1 and 2 and schedules 5 to 8.
The Greens oppose schedules 1, 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8 in the following terms:
(16) Schedule 1, page 5 (line 1) to page 54 (line 9), to be opposed.
(17) Schedule 2, page 55 (line 1) to page 70 (line 6), to be opposed.
(20) Schedule 5, page 117 (line 1) to page 140 (line 12), to be opposed.
(21) Schedule 6, page 141 (line 1) to page 152 (line 33), to be opposed.
(22) Schedule 7, page 153 (line 1) to page 164 (line 16), to be opposed.
(23) Schedule 8, page 165 (lines 1 to 18), to be opposed.
These schedules are: the schedule to create the jobseeker payment; the schedule for the cessation of widow B pension, which is schedule 2; schedule 5, which relates to the cessation of sickness allowance; schedule 6, which is for the cessation of widow allowance; schedule 7, which is for the cessation of partner allowance; and schedule 8, which is the schedule on the minister's rules.
We're seeking to move amendments to the schedules which relate to the jobseeker payment because we're concerned that a lot of these allowances are important allowances and are not actually about jobseeker payments. If you recall, we had a substantive discussion yesterday around the bereavement allowance, which isn't always about jobseeking. So we have concerns around all of those schedules. I raised all of these issues during my contribution in the second reading debate, and again when we've been discussing various schedules of this bill during this debate.
I do have a question for the minister around schedule 6. We've asked a lot of questions already. I'm not going to be asking a lot on these schedules, because we have dealt with some of them already. I want to ask about the widow allowance. How many women who will be on the jobseeker payment immediately before 1 January 2022, and who would have been eligible for widow allowance before 1 January 2018, won't be eligible for the age pension as they won't meet the residency requirements?
Thank you, Senator Siewert. In relation to schedule 6, widow allowance, I'll just take you through the information that I have. As you are aware, if the bill goes through it will be closed to new entrants from 1 July 2018 because of the changes in relation to the bill. So people who would have otherwise claimed widow allowance will be exempt from mutual obligation activities if they satisfy the criteria that currently apply to widow allowance—that is, they were born on or before 1 July 1955, ceased to be a member of a couple since turning 40, have no recent workforce experience and are not a member of a couple.
Over the forward estimates, the total population of people who will be on Newstart allowance, so the jobseeker payments that we're now referring to in this schedule, from March 2020 who would otherwise have been granted widow allowance is estimated as 4,818 over five years, so to 2021-22. Existing widow allowance recipients will be unaffected by the closure, remaining on the payment until they reach the age pension age, and then they will transfer to the age pension. From 1 January 2022, widow allowance will cease and around 400 recipients who are over age pension age but who do not meet the age pension residence qualification rules would be transferred to the age pension under one-off transition arrangements.
Have you done a calculation then of how many—oh, it's closed already. That's all right; it's closed already. We're only talking—400 women are very important, but that's the group that you've calculated are going to be affected?
Senator Siewert, if you can hold on for one moment, I'm just going to get clarification for you. So in relation to the 400 recipients, they are people who, as of 1 January 2022 when the widow allowance will actually cease, will be over the pension age but do not meet the age pension residence qualification rules. They will be transferred to the age pension under the one-off transition arrangement.
Can I just have it noted that the Greens were the only people that voted no.
The CHAIR: Yes, certainly.
Can I just take this opportunity to let the chamber know the order I intend to move our amendments. I had a conversation with Senator Birmingham and also Senator Pratt yesterday but I thought that it was fair to let the chamber know. I next intend to move amendments relating to schedule 3, which is on sheet 8243. I then intend to seek leave to move amendments relating to schedule 5 with amendments to schedule 6 on sheet 8243. I will then move further amendments relating to schedule 6 at the end of part 1, which is on sheet 8250. I'll seek leave to move items (1) to (3) together on schedule 13 on sheet 8315. And then I intend to move amendments on sheet 8243 that relate to schedule 4 but I'm not going to move the amendment relating to clause 2, because that has already been dealt with previously by vote on an ALP amendment. Is that okay with everybody?
The CHAIR: I think it's as clear as mud! We shall proceed.
I move amendments to schedule 3, item 98, on sheet 8243 that relate to overseas portability of the wife pension:
(4) Schedule 3, item 98, page 85 (lines 24 to 26), omit the item, substitute:
(3) Subitem (3A) applies to a woman if, before the commencement of this item:
(a) the woman was receiving wife pension; and
(b) Division 2 of Part 4.2 of the Social Security Act 1991 applied in relation to the payment of wife pension to the woman.
(3A) Despite the amendments made by this Schedule, Parts 2.4 and 4.2 of the Social Security Act 1991, as in force immediately before the commencement of this item, and any other provision of that Act necessary to give effect to those Parts, continue to apply on and after that commencement in relation to the woman as if the amendments made by this Schedule had not been made.
We've had substantial discussion also around schedule 3 and there's already been rejection of our attempts to oppose schedule 3. Raised at the time of that debate were concerns around the women whose overseas portability of a wife pension will be affected, and this seeks to address this particular issue so that that group of around 200 women will not be affected by these changes. So this is to try to make this particular amendment to the changes to the income support system a bit fairer for those who are affected by the changes in this bill. It relates specifically to the overseas portability of the wife pension.
Labor is supporting these amendments by the Greens. We made our own attempt to prevent changes to the wife pension yesterday and the day before. Indeed, I take this opportunity to call on One Nation to do the right thing. They've sought to move amendments in relation to bereavement payments but if they truly believe in standing up for people who will be adversely affected by the changes in this legislation, they now have yet another opportunity to come forward and do the right thing.
We do not want to see the women affected by these changes become worse off. We need to remember the fact that people on this payment have been on this payment since 1995. They've been out of the workforce since 1995 and it is extraordinary that we would expect these women to have a reduction in their payments—to be put down to the jobseeker payment would have an extremely negative impact on their household incomes. Labor supports the Greens amendments and, indeed, calls on One Nation to support them.
I'm instructed that the government did not consider grandfathering these women, as it would create additional complexity which would be contrary to the intent of the welfare reform bill. As you'd be aware, these 200 recipients who are affected have access to other income sources besides their wife pension payments, such as foreign pensions and investment income.
It begs the question: why then did you grandfather the others? I'm not complaining that others have been grandfathered; I want that clearly on the record. But the fact is that others have been grandfathered, which does make additional complexity. We went through some of that complexity yesterday in the discussions under the bereavement payment. Why was this considered too complex when there are other complex arrangements in place?
Also, have you calculated the dollar impact on these women's incomes of losing access to this payment?
I'm instructed that, because these women are actually living overseas, the complexity is due to a number of international agreements that Australia is party to, and it would very much add to or create additional complexity to the system which we're streamlining. It would actually be contrary to the intent of the welfare reform bill.
I just want to put it on the record that there is complexity in a lot of the other areas we're talking about—it's 200 women. Could you tell me whether you did look into the impact it would have on women? I heard your answer in terms of foreign pensions and things, but those pensions and payments to these women are calculated on the fact that there's a proportionality there. In terms of the payments, have you calculated the impact of the loss of income on these women? Also do you know whether pensions from other countries will increase for those that receive them if they lose this payment, or if they are just directly losing a payment? If so, what impact is that likely to have on their income?
In relation to the 200 recipients who are living overseas—the ones who will be no longer eligible for Australian government payments—this equates to a loss, I'm advised, of up to $669.60 per fortnight. In relation to the costings, that has not been undertaken because each international agreement is actually different and, again, it would create additional complexity which would be contrary to the intent of the welfare reform bill.
That's a substantial amount of money that people will be losing. I'll just put on the record that I'm deeply concerned about the welfare of those people or those women. We don't know whether all of them have pensions from other countries. Do we know how many have pensions from other countries?
In relation to that question, I am advised that—I think I've previously stated this—the understanding is that these recipients do have access to other income sources besides their wife pension payments, such as foreign pensions and investment income.
But we don't know, and we don't know if those foreign pensions will in fact increase once those people lose access to an average of $457 a fortnight and up to $669 a fortnight. That is a substantial income if you're living on a small amount of money.
The CHAIR: The question is that the amendment moved by Senator Siewert be agreed to.
by leave—I move Greens amendment (6) on sheet 8243:
(6) Schedule 5, page 121 (after line 6), after item 17, insert:
17A After subsection 603C(1)
(a) immediately before the commencement of Part 1 of Schedule 5 to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Act 2017 (the amending Act), sickness allowance is payable to a person; and
(b) sickness allowance would continue to be payable to the person for a period if the amendments to this Act by the amending Act had not been made;
the person is not required to satisfy the activity test in respect of that period and any further periods of incapacity immediately following that period.
and I move:
That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendment:
(7) Schedule 6, item 16, page 144 (after line 15), after subsection 43(1C), insert:
(1D) A woman is qualified for an age pension if:
(a) the woman was receiving jobseeker payment immediately before 1 January 2022; and
(b) the woman would qualify for widow allowance if subsection 408AA(2) was not in force; and
(c) the woman is not otherwise qualified for an age pension.
All the items are important but I'm seeking to deal with them as expeditiously as I can, given the issues.
Amendment (6) provides for recipients of sickness allowance immediately before the commencement of schedule 5 of this bill to continue to be paid sickness allowance for a period without requiring them to satisfy the activity test for that period or further periods of incapacity that immediately follow the first period. We're extremely concerned about the impact of the changes under schedule 5 on those who are currently on sickness allowance, and we seek to ameliorate that impact to a certain extent with this amendment.
Amendment (7) is framed as a request for the House of Representatives. It provides that from 1 January 2022 women who were receiving jobseeker payment immediately before that date and who would have been eligible for the widow allowance before 1 January 2018 are eligible for the age pension, even if not otherwise qualified—that is, where they don't meet the qualifying residence requirements.
I'm extremely disappointed to hear that answer. These are issues that were raised by members of the community and also by the National Welfare Rights Network, who raised very substantial concerns, particularly about the provision for widows. I was pursuing questions about that earlier. They are also extremely concerned about the impact on recipients of sickness allowance, given that people who have an illness aren't able to work for that reason, which is why we're seeking to ameliorate some of these issues. We did seek, through amendments, to remove this schedule. That was unsuccessful, so we're trying to ameliorate some of the impacts on people who could be significantly affected by this amendment. Hence, I urge the chamber to support these amendments.
I'm advised that approximately 8,400 existing sickness allowance recipients will continue to receive sickness allowance beyond 20 March 2020, until their current medical certificate expires.
One of the reasons for this amendment is to cement some of the comments that the government has made about how this particular provision will work. As I've said, the item provides for recipients of sickness allowance immediately before the commencement of part 1 of schedule 5 of this bill to continue to be paid sickness allowance for a period without requiring them to satisfy the activity test for that period or further periods of incapacity that immediately follow the first period. My understanding is that government has made comments around how this particular provision will operate, so can I ask the government if my understanding is, in fact, correct? Could you confirm that? That gives us at least a record in the Hansard of how this provision will operate, so that there can be a degree of certainty around that transition period.
I've got some information that I'm able to provide to you that will shed light on the issue at hand. The schedule itself, as you are aware, closes the sickness allowance to new entrants on 20 March 2020, and ceases the sickness allowance altogether on 20 September 2020. Just for the benefit of Hansard, sickness allowance is the short-term income support payment for people aged 22 years to under pension age who have a temporary incapacity due to illness or injury and who have a job or study to return to after their recovery. It is paid at the Newstart allowance rate. It is generally granted for the length of a person's medical certificate, up to a period of 13 weeks. If payment is required after 13 weeks, a person must lodge another medical certificate. As I've stated in answer to Senator Patrick's question, around 8,400 existing sickness allowance recipients will continue to receive sickness allowance beyond 20 March 2020 until their current medical certificate expires—so their medical certificate takes them beyond the March 2020 date. Of these existing recipients, it is estimated that around 7,700 will lodge another medical certificate after 20 March 2020 and will be required to transfer to the jobseeker payment. They will be exempt from mutual obligation requirements, if they meet the incapacitated exemption rules. From 20 March 2020, new entrants who would previously have been eligible for sickness allowance will be able to claim assistance through jobseeker payment instead. The new entrants will also be exempt from mutual obligation requirements if they meet, again, the incapacitated exemption rules. That's the information I have to provide to you.
Can I just clarify: if they've gone past the March 2020 deadli ne, they're still incapacitated and t hey get their medical certificate for the next ro und but they transition into job seeker payment and they' ve got a sickness allowance, does that then match up with the same details of the in capacity requirements under job seeker payment?
I obviously didn't giv e enough detail in the question. Th ey've got the medical certificate and they've been on sickness allowance, meeting those requirements. They h ave another medical certificate, but they' ve then hit that wall of the deadlines. They then transfer onto jobseeker allowance. Is that going to enable them to meet the requirements for incapacity under the job seeker payment i n that transition process ? They've got the same illness.
Thank you, Senator Siewert. The rationale at the moment is : do you have a job to go to? For t he persons that you are referring to, on 20 March 2020 there will be some who go over that date , and they'll be exempt from mutual obligation requirements if they meet the incapacitated exemption rule. That's the first cohort. Then there are those , obviously , who are new entrants , and they go straight to jobseeker payment , and they also meet the incapacitated exemption rules. In relation to those rules, it is then about incapacity as opposed to : do you have a job to go to?
Thank you for that clarification. I'm hoping this will be my last question or set of questions. In terms of temporary incapacity under the current proce ss and incapacity under the new job seeker payment , will they be the same? That's a better way of articulating what I was trying to get to earlier.
(1) Schedule 6, Part 1, page 142 (after line 11), at the end of the Part, add:
4A Subsection 729(1)
After "subsection", insert "(1A) or".
4B After subsection 729(1)
(1A) The Secretary must determine that a special benefit should be granted to a person for a period if:
(a) the person meets the eligibility requirements for widow allowance in Subdivision A of Division 2 of Part 2.8A; and
(b) the person is not qualified for widows allowance on the basis of subsection 408AA(2); and
(c) the person is not qualified for newstart allowance; and
(d) the person is not qualified for the aged pension.
4C Paragraph 733(1 ) ( b)
Before "the value", insert "subject to subsection (1A),".
4D After subsection 733(1)
(1A) If subsection 729(1A) applies to a person, whether the value of the person's assets exceeds the person's assets value limit is to be determined by reference to section 408CE (the assets test applying in relation to widow allowance).
This relates to the cessation of the widow allowance. We are seeking to make this slightly fairer . A gain, we were unsuccessful in removing this particular schedule, so we are trying to make this amendment a bit fairer for those people that are affected on the cessation of the widow allowance.
This relates to inserting a section (1A) in this schedule. It requires the secretary to determine that a special benefit should be granted to a person for a period if the person meets the eligibility requirement for widow allowance in subdivision A of division 2, Part 2.8A—another set of provisions there. It also puts in an amendment that if subsection 729(1A) applies to a person where the value of the person's assets exceeds the person's asset value limit, that is to be determined by reference to another schedule. In other words, it's relating to some of the people that are affected by the cessation of the widow allowance.
We think some of these amendments unfairly impact on people currently receiving allowances but also on people into the future. Again, we urge the Senate to support these amendments that make schedule 6 slightly fairer and make the transition process into the jobseeker payment that much fairer.
I'm advised that existing recipients will receive widow allowance until 1 January 2022, when the remaining recipients will be transferred to the age pension. Approximately 420 recipients who were granted widow allowance after reaching age pension age but who do not meet residential qualifications will be transferred to the age pension under transitional arrangements.
Women who receive Newstart allowance or jobseeker payment who reach age pension age and who do not meet the age pension residency requirements will be required to claim special benefit instead. This will affect 24 people in 2018-19, 68 in 2019-20, 87 in 2019-21 and one in 2021-22.
My question is in terms of this provision and further explanation about why we're trying to move this provision. These amendments to schedule 6 are provisions for women who are over the age pension age, who would have been eligible for the widow allowance if it continued to be open for recipients after 1 January 2018, who are ineligible for Newstart due to their age and ineligible for the age pension due to the residency requirements. We're putting in provisions whereby they would automatically then go onto a special benefit payment with the same means test as the current widow allowance so that their cohort is not worse off than they would otherwise have been. That's why we are seeking to ameliorate some of the provisions of the creation of the jobseeker payment, which rolls a whole lot of allowances into the jobseeker payment. That's the reason for this particular amendment.
Again, can I articulate that the Greens were the only people who voted to support that particular amendment. By leave—I now move Australian Greens amendments (1) to (3) together on sheet 8315:
(1) Schedule 13, item 2, page 189 (line 14), omit "(1)".
(2) Schedule 13, item 2, page 189 (lines 17 to 20), omit subsection 28C(2).
(3) Schedule 14, item 7, page 193 (line 4), at the end of section 42U, add:
(4) A determination under subsection 42U(3) does not apply in relation to a person who is a declared program participant.
These relate to schedule 13, which we've had quite a lot of discussion about previously where we've sought to remove these provisions. These are about declared program participants and serious failure determination not to apply to declared program participants. These amendments, as I said, relate to section 13. We're still concerned about some of the impacts, and it's not clear in this provision, on some of the exemptions around declared program participants.
I should say these amendments also relate to schedule 14. So there are amendments to schedule 13, item 2, and schedule 14, item 7. They remove subsection 28C(2), which gives the secretary the power to make provision in the determination made under subsection 21C(1) for the operation of the social security law in relation to people who become or stop being declared program recipients at a particular time, including in relation to things that happen before that time. They also amend schedule 14 to expressly exempt declared program participants.
During the Senate inquiry, issues were raised around the impact of sections 13 and 14 as they relate to declared program participants. We're seeking here to make it clearer about those declared program participants. These relate to those sections around drug and alcohol addiction. I'm not going to traverse those whole arguments again, because we did have substantive discussions on those around our previous amendments, the ALP's amendments and Senator Leyonhjelm's amendments. I'm not going to traverse those again. This is seeking to address some issues where the legislation is a bit grey in those particular areas, specifically as they relate to declared program participants.
The government is not supporting these amendments. In relation to section 28C(3), the government is of the opinion that the Greens amendments are not required. It has already circulated amendments that have removed section 28C(3).
Thank you. Whilst some of our concerns here have been addressed, others haven't been. I don't think it addresses the substantive issue we have about the grey area in relation to the secretary's power to make provisions directly around the declared program participants. That's what we have concerns about. Our concerns still stand, but I do acknowledge that there have been some changes.
We will be supporting the Greens' amendments here, noting that we failed in our attempts yesterday in the Senate to have these very same significant issues recognised. We would support the Greens in their attempts to go some way to ameliorating these problems. We're very concerned that the government is failing to recognise the complex nature of substance abuse as a health condition and, indeed, the impact that that has on peoples' lives, including sickness, injury and eviction that can be associated with addiction.
Just to inform the chamber, I'm not moving the other amendments that stand under our name to remove certain schedules because there were a number of Labor amendments that were the same as ours. So I'm not going to move those ones again.
My understanding, according to my calculation, is: it is the clause that relates to item (5) on sheet 8243. We dealt with item (2) earlier in the debate, yesterday. I articulated that we would be seeking to move the amendment as it relates to schedule 4, because schedule 4 is now different. It relates to the bereavement allowance. We had a long debate yesterday; I'm not going to go through that debate again. Chair, I don't know if I need to seek leave because I'm actually splitting that amendment.
The Greens oppose schedule 4 in the following terms:
(5) Schedule 4, page 92 (line 1) to page 116 (line 25), to be opposed.
Specifically I'm focused in this instance on schedule 4 because it changed with amendments yesterday. We had that debate yesterday, particularly as it related to the amendments moved by Senator Hanson. It was made clear then that a number of people will still be significantly affected by this, even with the previous amendments by the government and Senator Hanson, just as a number of people are significantly affected by all the clauses we've been talking about this morning. Having said that, I'll remind people about the debate we had yesterday, which clearly articulated those that would still remain affected. This amendment, while it deals with clause 2, is specifically focused on clause 4, which is in effect a new clause. It's a different vote than the vote that we took I think only two nights ago—it seems like a whole week—in this place on schedule 4. That is my intent and focus with this particular amendment.
Labor is supporting this amendment to oppose schedule 4. We canvassed these issues yesterday. Minister, can you confirm for me that what people are currently being paid in income support and bereavement payment is the same as what they will get in the bereavement version of the jobseeker allowance under the amended schedule 4?
Can you confirm that the future version of the jobseeker allowance for a person who's bereaved, which is paid at the same rate but with an up-front payment, may start to vary from equivalence with the age pension, because those payments are no longer attached to each other?
We covered this in quite a lot of detail yesterday, and the response I gave yesterday is the response I'll give today: it is not possible to determine what a future government may or may not do.
I think the answer would be that if they're a Newstart recipient then they would meet the income eligibility criteria for a bereavement allowance. Would that not be the case?
Can you confirm that under these changes the total payment is currently the same, albeit with an up-front payment that makes up the difference between the age pension and the jobseeker allowance, then on an ongoing basis they will be paid the equivalent of the jobseeker allowance for the 14 weeks of their bereavement or until the conclusion of their pregnancy?
I acknowledge that the amendments made yesterday go some way towards improving the situation for bereaved persons, who will no longer be reduced completely to the jobseeker rate of payment. Again, I say to One Nation: if you truly want to support people who are bereaved then we should go back to the income and assets tests for the age pension, not the income and assets tests for the jobseeker payment.
When One Nation tried to assure the chamber that they had won a great victory for bereaved people, because people would be paid more than they were currently, that was patently false. They were only being paid more relative to the cuts that this government had put on the table, which would have reduced people's payments to the jobseeker rate of payment. All that amendment did was to restore the current rate of payment, but not for everybody who will receive it, because of the change in the income and assets test. If One Nation truly wanted to help people who are on low incomes, who have few assets—who are eligible for the age pension, for example—then they would be supporting the Greens amendment here now.
I ask the minister: if someone is old enough to qualify for a pension and if their assets test is low enough that they would qualify for an age pension but they are otherwise working and they want to go back to that job after they have finished their period of bereavement—so it's a bereavement version—will you pay them the age pension for that period, or will you pay them a jobseeker bereavement allowance?
I said that they would otherwise qualify for income support. For example: I'm 67 years old, I work 30 hours a week casually in a supermarket, I become bereaved, I'd like to go back to that job but I don't have leave and I don't have any other income support; what version of payment would I receive?
Thank you. So, in concluding my remarks on this today, I say to the chamber: if someone is bereaved they may be employed and they may need income support just for the period of bereavement. They're not a jobseeker—they're quite capable of returning to the workforce—but they need that income support. I say to the chamber: there is nothing wrong with restoring the previous version of bereavement allowance. The previous version of the bereavement allowance pays it at the rate of the age pension. We can be secure knowing that it will continue to be paid at the rate of the age pension and not attached to a recalculated version of the jobseeker allowance, which we know has not tracked along as well as the age pension has. Historically, that allowance has been much lower than the age pension, and I would much prefer to see this allowance continue to retain its value alongside the age pension.
So I'm calling on Senator Hanson and her colleagues in One Nation: if you truly believe in making people who are bereaved better off in that very difficult time of their life, support the amendment put forward by the Greens.
Thirty people you're saying will be worse off. It is the Labor Party that has just brought in a policy to do with franking credits that will affect at least 610,000 people. It could be up to a million people. Are they worried about it? Here they are in this chamber, screaming like pigs about 30 people, but they want to bring in franking credits that are going to affect 610,000 people. Let's get the figures into order.
Just so that we're clear, under the amendment put forward by One Nation, everyone who qualifies for the bereavement allowance under the jobseeker payment will be no worse off and some people will be better off than under the current arrangements. Payments are targeted to those who need it. Bereavement allowance is paid to people in lieu of work, and this is why it is exempt from normal mutual obligation tests and waiting periods.
Let's clarify a couple of things. Labor sat here last night, as I said, screaming like pigs that people would be left worse off. No, Senator Watt, they won't. One Nation has made the qualification very generous in its approach to the bereavement allowance. Initially, as you said, we voted with the government. We reflected on that with further information. That's why I introduced an amendment in this chamber. Under the government's amendment, if you look at it, as I clarified last night:
567FB Amount of payment
(1) The amount of the person’s payment is worked out using the following formula—
right? It is the 'daily rate of person's youth allowance on the relevant day' times 14 weeks times two by the government. Ours is times seven, which is far better than what the government was putting forward. It is far better for people. It will be income and asset tested, as all welfare money should be. Those people with less than $253,750, not including the family home, will be eligible. That takes out the family home. That is over a quarter of a million dollars. Those people who don't own a home will qualify for the bereavement allowance if they have less than $456,750 in cash and assets. That is not poor people. I don't think we could be fairer. Bereavement will be made available for people earning up to $1,053.34 per fortnight during the bereavement period. In regard to casual workers or people who have no access to leave arrangements, these people will qualify provided they do not earn over the income threshold during their bereavement period or hold assets higher than the amounts I quoted. This is because these people would be with little or no income during this period, during the lack of work.
Through the chair, I'm disgusted by the aspersions that Senator Watt put on me last night in the chamber. They have lied. Labor have lied and Senator Watt has lied about many things with regard to my involvement. They've lied about the penalty rates. In fact, in the federal parliament in 2017 PHON senators voted to restore penalty rates. Further, in the Senate in 2017 Labor stopped PHON, Pauline Hanson's One Nation, from moving an amendment to restore penalty rates that had been removed in deals between union bosses, including Bill Shorten, and multinational companies. There was also the aspersion about asset sales. In fact, I've been the greatest advocate against selling assets. I have been for the last 22 years and I will continue to be. Labor's lies, as they have—
The aspersions that have been put upon me are not true, and the verballing that has happened in this chamber is not correct. We're talking about 30 bereaved people that are going to be affected by this. We don't know the numbers of people who will go through bereavement, because death can happen to anyone at any time. Numbers cannot be put on this. The whole fact is that this country is in one hell of a mess when it comes to the welfare payments that are being put out. The welfare payments have to be restored. I have no problem with that, and we stand for those who really need help. But unless we address the expenditure that we pay in welfare payments, we are not going to rein in our debt. There are people who are abusing this.
This bill is quite generous. As I said, people who have assets of $253,750, not including the family home, can claim a bereavement payment. That is there in this. We will go back to it. Look at our amendment. Don't be hypocrites. You actually didn't vote against my amendment; you agreed with it. But you have used this chamber to put your comments across to discredit One Nation and me personally, which I will not stand for. I am a senator representing the people of Queensland and the people of Australia.
I want to say with a heavy heart that I will be supporting the government in this situation. I say 'with a heavy heart' because a lot of the points put forward by the Greens and by Labor are very valid and I agree with a lot of them. But I've come to this decision because we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater, and what has convinced me is the up-front payment to bereaved people. When you have a death in your family, when your partner has died, you need that money up-front. You need it for funeral costs and you need it for immediate expenses. In my mind, that is the overriding issue here, and I will be voting with the government.
I'd like to respond to some of the remarks from Senator Hanson on both this proposal and dividend imputation. But, in doing so, I just want to confirm with the minister that what you told the Senate yesterday was that, despite the amendment that One Nation moved that was supported by Labor—and I think pretty much across the parliament—there will still be roughly 30 people a year worse off as a result of the cessation of the bereavement. That's correct, isn't it?
With respect, you haven't answered my question. My question is: if this amendment is passed, and if One Nation supports the amendment, am I correct that those 30 people that will be worse off every year will no longer be worse off?
You're clearly not going to answer my question, so I think we'll just have to read into that that these people would be stopped from being worse off, and that's the entire point of this amendment.
Turning to Senator Hanson's remarks, we've heard over and over again that, despite the amendment, which I congratulated them on yesterday—they saw the error of your ways, came back in here and moved an amendment—
Senator Hanson and her colleagues saw the error of their ways, came in yesterday and moved an amendment to try to reverse some of the cuts they had voted for twice when they turned up to the chamber on Monday night. It has been stated over and over again by the minister, both yesterday and today, that, despite that amendment, there will still be roughly 30 people per year who will be worse off as a result of the cuts that One Nation has voted for.
This amendment provides the opportunity for One Nation to fully rectify the mistake they made on Monday night. This amendment provides the opportunity to ensure that not one low-income person—mostly low-income women—whose husband dies will be worse off as a result of these changes. One Nation need to understand very clearly that if they vote against this amendment they will be making at least 30 low-income women around Australia worse off every year. They have the opportunity to stop that from happening. So this will be another test of Senator Hanson's rhetoric and claims that she stands up for battlers. Here are 30 low-income women a year who Senator Hanson and her colleagues can protect from these cuts every single year. Labor's going to be doing it. The Greens are going to be doing it. We'll see what the other crossbenchers have got to say. But if Senator Hanson and her colleagues vote with the government, as they do 85 per cent of the time, against this amendment, then they will be making people worse off.
In her remarks, Senator Hanson tried to draw some analogy with Labor's policy about dividend imputation. Every recognised expert in the country—even the Commonwealth Treasury, an arm of the government—recognises that Labor's policies will overwhelmingly affect wealthy retirees. There is a very small number of pensioners who would be affected, and Labor's position has consistently been to stand up for pensioners. So if Senator Hanson on the one hand is going to vote against this amendment and make 30 low-income women a year worse off, and on the other hand is going to oppose Labor's policies on dividend imputation, which overwhelmingly affect wealthy retirees, then Senator Hanson's absolute rubbish about standing up for battlers will be fully exposed. She will be actively taking the side of wealthy retirees in propping up a tax loophole that costs the budget $5 billion per year, and at the same time she'll be voting to hurt and make worse off 30 low-income women every year.
Senator Hanson, I would respectfully say to you that you should be taking the opposite approach. If you're serious about standing up for battlers, you should be voting with Labor on this amendment to protect these 30 low-income women, and you should stand with us in cracking down on a tax loophole that is overwhelmingly used by wealthy retirees. I wouldn't have thought that they are the people who are supporting you. I would be disappointed if what you have decided is that you're going to become a propaganda machine for wealthy retirees, but that seems to be the decision that you're making.
While I'm on my feet, I might also ask Senator Hanson whether overnight she has reflected on the other cuts that she and her colleagues voted for on Monday night. On Monday night, One Nation voted with the government, with the Liberals, to cut the wife pension, to cut the widow allowance and to cut the partner allowance—more cuts to pensions that are currently aimed at low-income people. So far, the only amendment that Senator Hanson has moved to rectify her cuts from the other night relates to the bereavement allowance. Senator Hanson, will you be bringing forward amendments today that reverse the cuts that you voted for on Monday night to the wife pension, the widow allowance and the partner allowance? Or are you going to stand by and see these low-income battlers hurt by your very own cuts?
I'm very interested that Senator Watt implies that the Labor Party is in favour of supporting pensioners. Wasn't it the Labor Party that increased the age pension eligibility age from 65 to 67? So much for supporting pensioners!
I'm sorry, Minister, but I need to traverse some more discussion and questions with you in relation to what is actually paid to recipients. I know we've tried to go through this as thoroughly as we can. I'm clear about who misses out on receipt of the bereavement allowance. What I'm less clear about is the eligibility of people for a lump sum payment. I'm hopeful that the amendments that have been passed by this place substantially improve people's position. My understanding is that the bereavement allowance is typically paid at the rate of the age pension. What I'm less clear about is whether a current Newstart recipient who becomes bereaved continues to be paid at the Newstart rate or is bumped up to a bereavement allowance.
Thank you for that clarification. I just wanted to be sure that the entitlements remain the same. I was unclear about whether the current Newstart recipients were missing out on getting the equivalent of the age pension. Apparently they're not, and this amendment will make sure that they're not missing out. I was unclear, for example, whether that lump sum payment would be made available to everyone, but, as you've clarified, it currently is.
There is no lump sum for current recipients. It's the equivalent of the age pension over time, and it's the overall payment that is the same—sorry for making that assumption. I wanted to make sure that I understood fully that Newstart recipients are currently receiving the age pension version of the bereavement allowance if they become bereaved. That is, they move from the lower rate to the higher rate in their period of bereavement. I was unclear of whether that was currently the case. Just to be clear, currently, Newstart recipients who become bereaved get paid at the age pension rate of their bereavement allowance. Is that correct?
I am instructed that to be found ineligible, based on the assets test, a single person needs to be have assets of more than $253,750, not including the family home, if they are a homeowner and $456,750 if they are not a homeowner.
It's considered that these people should be able to care for themselves at the time of bereavement. I feel for people who will go through this stressful time of losing a loved one. But in relation to a lot of people in Australia who are on welfare payments and who are trying to support themselves at this time, this is quite generous—having $253,000 apart from the family home or over $456,000 in cash and assets. This is when a lot of Australians are working extremely hard, paying taxes and trying to keep a roof over their own heads with escalating power prices—which I must say are in line with Labor's policies, renewable energies, plus also to do with the Greens and the escalating costs of power—to try and support themselves.
Senator Watt made reference to the wealthy end of town that are going to be affected by the franking credits. Let's put it into perspective. A lot of the people that were getting the refunds from the ATO with regard to the franking credits were those people who were not on tax returns, and they were under the $18,700. So it is going to affect those pensioners, those self-funded retirees, who are struggling. To sit here and criticise about 30 people who have assets in excess of $253,000 and own their own home is a joke. It is an absolute joke. You have used this platform here in this house, on a sensitive issue like this, to bag out me and One Nation with an amendment that we put forward that is going to assist—and no-one will be worse under this—to put across your political agenda. That is not good enough and you are pathetic in your performance.
The CHAIR: The question is that schedule 4 stand as printed.
I understand there are no more amendments, so the next question is that the bill, as amended, be agreed to, subject to requests for amendments. The question now is that the bill, as amended, be agreed to subject to requests for amendments.