Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 April 2019


Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment) Bill 2019; Second Reading

1:56 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

This Bill, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment) Bill 2019, will enable a one-off Energy Assistance Payment to all pension, allowance and veteran payments recipients, who are payable and residing in Australia on 2 April 2019, to assist them with their energy costs.

The energy assistance payment will be $75 for singles and $62.50 for each eligible member of a couple.

The Government is able to deliver this assistance because our responsible budget management allows us to guarantee the essential services Australians rely on.

The measure to make the Energy Assistance Payment builds on a 2017-18 Budget measure to make a one-off Energy Assistance Payment to certain income support recipients and extends the payment to all income support recipients. It also follows on from the Government's announcement, confirmed in the 2018-19 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, that the Energy Supplement will continue for new income support recipients.

Determining eligibility for this one-off payment is simple. You must be in receipt of one of the qualifying payments and be residing in Australia on 2 April 2019. Those qualified will automatically receive the payment through the Department of Human Services or the Department of Veterans' Affairs – they will not need to take any action, no claim is necessary. The payment will not be taxed and will not reduce their rate of income support.

Those people who have made a claim for payment on or before 2 April 2019 and whose claims are subsequently granted, will also be paid the one-off payment.

This legislation ensures that a person cannot receive more than one entitlement and no payment would be made to non-Australian residents, as they are not subject to energy prices in Australia. People who are not in receipt of payment because they are suspended on the test date will not be immediately eligible. Those whose payments are subsequently restored to a period covering 2 April 2019 will receive the payment.

Anyone who is paid the 2019 one-off energy assistance payment and who subsequently becomes ineligible for their qualifying income support payment on the test date (for example through a review of decision) will not have to pay it back, except in limited circumstances such as fraud.

The payment will help approximately 5 million income support recipients and veterans.

The total cost of this payment will be around $365 million. The Energy Assistance Payment will be paid automatically to most eligible recipients by the end of June 2019.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Yesterday Labor circulated a second reading amendment for what we expected to be an earlier version of this bill to the House crossbench, proposing the government should expand the payment to those on Newstart, youth allowance and other payments. Never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate it would be so successful so quickly.

Labor called on the government to extend the one-off payment to other people on means-tested income support, including Abstudy, Austudy, double orphan pension, Newstart allowance, parenting payment, partner allowance, sickness allowance, special benefit, widow allowance, wife pension, youth allowance and veteran payment.

Of course it was good to see that this bill has been changed, but it seemed that even the Treasurer was taken by surprise. On Nine News last night, when he was asked directly about extending the payment to people on Newstart, he didn't say yes; he said:

Well, Newstart does go up twice a year when it's indexed. But, importantly, the majority of people on Newstart move to another payment, or off Newstart, within 12 months. They hopefully go into work, and many have been doing that.

But it was a totally different script this morning. The Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, told ABC Radio:

Well, a couple of things. Firstly, the energy supplement will be extended to people on Newstart.

Sabra Lane said:

It will be?

Josh Frydenberg said:

It will be.

What a turnaround! This budget hasn't lasted overnight. It didn't last from Lateline to lunch. This just shows you how bad this rabble of a government is—an absolute rabble of a government, with a Treasurer who can't even get his budget to hang in overnight. What a rabble! What a terrible government! You are terrible! You need to go quickly. You should call an election soon and let the public determine that this rabble won't last any longer. You are pathetic! They are a rabble—that's what they are. They know they're a rabble. Look at their heads—hanging their heads in shame. Their budget doesn't last overnight. You are a pathetic joke—an absolute rabble of a government. You must go quickly. Go quickly!

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order, Senator Bernardi.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

I've been waiting for 30 seconds to call a point of order on Senator Cameron, the last one in this place, just to reacquaint ourselves with old friends.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

We will move to questions without notice.

Debate interrupted.