Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 September 2019


Aged Care Amendment (Movement of Provisionally Allocated Places) Bill 2019, Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Extend Family Assistance to ABSTUDY Secondary School Boarding Students Aged 16 and Over) Bill 2019, Migration Amendment (Streamlining Visa Processing) Bill 2019, National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2019; Second Reading

6:45 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

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

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—



Today I am introducing the Aged Care Amendment (Movement of Provisionally Allocated Places) Bill 2019.

This Bill will amend the AgedCareAct 1997 to allow the movement of provisionally allocated residential care places from one determined Aged Care Planning Region (region) to another.

The Liberal National Government (the Government) is committed to ensuring all older Australians have access to high quality aged care and services when they need it. Integral to this is supporting approved providers to make residential aged care places ready for use as quickly as possible.

The Government has overarching responsibility for delivery of aged care services across the country, as part of an end-to-end system covering both residential and in-home aged care. A key policy objective for the Government is to ensure that residential aged care is available to those older Australians who require it as quickly as possible, and appropriately allocated to regions to address local needs.

Through a competitive process, residential aged care places are provisionally allocated to approved providers by the Secretary of the Department of Health (the department) or a delegate in a region that has a demonstrated need for these services.

Constructing aged care homes is a difficult, time consuming and expensive exercise. It takes on average 4.3 years for providers to acquire land, obtain planning approval and construct an aged care home.

Following an allocation of places, providers can often have difficulties locating suitable land and navigating local government planning processes. It is not uncommon for suitable land to be located just outside a planning region, or for local councils to decide for example that a planned 120 bed aged care home should only be 100 beds.

In such circumstances, operationalising places in the current region may not always be feasible, but by moving them to another region the approved provider can often make them available to older Australians more quickly. This is not, however, permissible under the current legislation.

The amendments within this Bill seek to amend the legislation to allow provisionally allocated residential aged care places to be moved from one region to another, where a provider can demonstrate that the movement is in the interests of aged care consumers and there is a clear need for places in the new region.

This Bill also makes it clear that in considering any such applications, the department will also consider the needs of the region from which it is proposed to transfer the provisionally allocated places. In particular, the department will ensure that this does not become a mechanism for moving residential aged care places out of regional areas of high need to metropolitan areas with a lower need.

This change is in the best interests of all older Australians and the broader community. It will remove a potential barrier to the community in accessing residential aged care, thereby aligning with the Government's commitment to ensuring delivery of high quality aged care and services when and where they are needed.

This Bill was introduced into the previous Parliament on 13 February 2019. Whilst it passed the House of Representatives, the Bill lapsed as it was not debated in the Senate prior to the election being called.


This Bill is being introduced to implement a measure announced as part of the 2019-20 Budget. In the Budget, the Government announced that it would extend Family Tax Benefit to the families of ABSTUDY students who board away from home to attend secondary school. Currently, Family Tax Benefit stops when an ABSTUDY student turns 16. Changes introduced by this Bill will support families of ABSTUDY boarding students by continuing their eligibility to receive Family Tax Benefit until their child completes secondary school. This will remove the existing perverse incentive for Indigenous boarding students to drop out of school at age 16. It will support more Indigenous students to complete year 12 and is consistent with the Government's focus on closing the gap in educational attainment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Under current arrangements, once an ABSTUDY boarding student turns 16 they no longer receive Family Tax Benefit. This creates a perverse incentive for families to retain Family Tax Benefit by removing their child from boarding school. This is a policy anomaly that is not aligned with supporting Indigenous students completing year 12.

Many remote communities have no local secondary school, so boarding is frequently the only option for children to go to secondary school. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boarding students are disproportionately dropping out of boarding education around the age of 16. Data from the Department of Human Services (Services Australia) shows that the number of ABSTUDY boarding students drops by approximately 60 per cent between the ages of 15 and 17.

The Prime Minister's 2019 Closing the Gap address to Parliament emphasised that for Indigenous students in remote and very remote areas, access to quality education can be a lifeline to future prosperity and wellbeing. This statement echoed the views of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs in its 2017 report on Indigenous education, which stressed the importance of education but found room for improvement in the support of Indigenous boarding students.

Amendments introduced by this Bill, will build on the 2018-19 Budget measure "50 Years of ABSTUDY", which improved assistance for Indigenous secondary students who need to study away from home, including better, fairer and more flexible travel provisions and the portability of ABSTUDY benefits if students change schools. This Bill will extend Family Tax Benefit to eligible secondary students aged 16 years and over who receive ABSTUDY assistance to study away from home. These changes will commence on 1 January 2020 subject to the timing of the passage of this Bill.

Extending Family Tax Benefit to ABSTUDY boarding students is consistent with broader Family Tax Benefit rules. It also aligns with recommendations from the 2014 Forrest Review 'Creating Parity'. The Forrest Review recommended that Indigenous families with children at boarding school have access to Family Tax Benefit payments until students finish year 12 in recognition of the costs parents incur for their children.

Currently, families of Indigenous boarding students aged under 16 are generally eligible for both ABSTUDY and Family Tax Benefit. ABSTUDY for these students is paid directly to the school and boarding provider to cover tuition and boarding costs, while Family Tax Benefit is paid to the family to help with the cost of raising children. Families rely on Family Tax Benefit to assist them with the ongoing costs of their children's daily incidentals while they are away at school, such as clothing, toiletries, medicines and pocket money as well as their essential living costs when they are at home during school holidays. Once the student turns 16, Family Assistance legislation precludes ABSTUDY students from receiving Family Tax Benefit, leaving families with no assistance for the cost of everyday essentials for their child.

The loss of Family Tax Benefit when a boarding student turns 16 is a significant drop in income support for families, which can be as high as $6,900 per year. This contributes to financial pressure for families at a critical stage in a young person's education. It can also create a disincentive for families to continue sending their child away to school and attain a year 12 qualification. This puts the student's performance and completion of secondary school at risk. If they drop out of school early, these young people are in a much weaker position to transition to work in adulthood.

Increased financial hardship for families is not conducive to school completion and there is a link between financial disadvantage and lower school retention rates. Department of Human Services administrative data shows that ABSTUDY students from low-income families are 15 per cent less likely to stay in boarding and complete their schooling.

ABSTUDY boarding students are more likely to drop out of school around the ages of 16 and 17 (between years 10 and 11). After establishing themselves at secondary school, between years 7 and 10 approximately 10 per cent of ABSTUDY boarding students drop out each year. This increases to around 50 per cent between years 10 and 11 and again between years 11 and 12. Overall this represents a drop out rate of approximately 60 per cent between the ages of 15 and 17.

Modelling using the Priority Investment Approach shows ABSTUDY students who stay in boarding for their senior schooling are less likely to need income support in the future. On average, within five years of leaving school, Indigenous young people who study year 11 as boarding students are projected to have income support costs that are 38 per cent lower than those of their peers who leave school early. This modelling shows that these students do better in the long term compared with Indigenous young people who drop out of school early. For example, ten years after leaving school, Indigenous young people who drop out early are:

      The Priority Investment Approach modelling suggests that an increase in support for young Indigenous Australians to complete year 12 would lead to longer-term benefits for income support outlays.

      Changes introduced by this Bill will mean that from 1 January 2020, families of Indigenous boarding students will stay in the Family Tax Benefit system until their child reaches the end of secondary school. Eligible families of boarding students aged 16 years and over can receive both ABSTUDY for school and boarding fees, and Family Tax Benefit to assist them with the ongoing costs of raising the child. These improved payment arrangements will better reflect the needs of remote Indigenous families with children studying away from home.

      The families of more than 2,000 Indigenous secondary students will benefit from these changes. On average, these families would receive an additional $5,911 per year.

      Through these changes the Government is delivering an additional $36.4 million in support over the next four years. This investment will increase the proportion of Indigenous students who complete year 12 – improving their work prospects and lifetime wellbeing, and reversing the potential costs to the community that come with long-term unemployment and welfare dependency.

      This investment is an addition to the investment of $38.1 million over five years, contained in the 2018-19 Budget measure "50 Years of ABSTUDY".

      By providing additional assistance to Indigenous families without access to local secondary schools, changes brought about by this Bill will help close the gap and address recommendations from the Forrest Review and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs' report on Indigenous education.

      In summary, this Bill allows for the implementation of measures that will extend Family Tax Benefit to the families of ABSTUDY students who need to board away from home to attend secondary school.



      The Department's biometric program for the provision of personal identifiers has been implemented in phases. Commencing in 2006 with the collection of facial images and fingerprints of illegal foreign fishers, it was extended in 2010 with the addition of facial images and fingerprints for visa applicants in high risk locations, and expanded to non-citizens refused entry at Australia's international airports. Most recently, in 2015, the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics) Act 2015 simplified and expanded the Department's personal identifier collection capability with a broad discretion to require personal identifiers for the purposes of the Migration Act 1958 or regulations made under that Act.

      The purposes of the Department of Home Affairs' biometric program include:

                  The collection of personal identifiers is essential to establishing the identity of non-citizens, as checks using personal identifiers are far more accurate than document-based checks of biographic details such as name and date of birth alone.

                  Intention of the Bill

                  The intention of these amendments is to enable the collection personal identifiers to be a prerequisite to making a valid visa application. If an applicant refuses to provide their personal identifiers then they cannot make a valid visa application and cannot be considered for the grant of a visa.

                  The measures provide a mechanism for the Minister to specify a group of visa applicants who must provide one or more personal identifiers (also specified) to have a valid application – that is, it will be a mandatory requirement. The groups of applicants would not include persons unable to provide certain personal identifiers, such as the collection of fingerprints from people with a permanent physical disability, resulting in the inability to collect fingerprints.

                  These amendments do not remove the discretion to require personal identifiers from visa applicants at any time after a visa application has been made. The Minister would continue to be able to require additional personal identifiers after lodgement of the visa application, where for example the identity of the visa applicant remains uncertain.


                  These amendments fully retain existing protections associated with the collection of personal identifiers in the Migration Act, such as those relating to privacy, humanity, and dignity. Nor do these changes expand who may be required to provide personal identifiers or what personal identifiers may be required. Rather, this amendment is about enabling the streamlining of the process by which personal identifiers are required and provided at the time of a person applying for a visa.

                  As per the current biometrics collection program, people who are incapable of providing a particular biometric will be exempt from the requirement.

                  For visa applicants who may need to travel quickly to Australia, for example due to a family emergency, it is not intended that the requirement to provide Personal Identifiers as an application validity requirement apply to short stay visas used in emergency situations.


                  It is important that identity checks are able to be done against personal identifier data to detect individuals of concern as soon as they make a visa application. Personal identifiers are far superior to checks undertaken using biographic details such as name and date of birth that are contained in identity documents.

                  Recent terrorism-related events both in Australia and overseas highlight the need for the Department of Home Affairs to know who is applying for a visa as soon as they make a visa application through the provision of personal identifiers. These amendments will enable enhanced scrutiny, improve the integrity of our visa programs, and reduce the risk of terrorism.

                  In conclusion, this Bill enhances the integrity of Australia's visa programs and protects Australians from persons who are a criminal threat or a risk to national security.


                  The National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill (the Bill) amends the National Health Act1953 to support the ongoing administration of the PBS and will ensure ongoing patient access to vital medicines.

                  The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) has been providing affordable access to medicines for Australians for over sixty years and is rightly respected and valued for the high quality, cost-effective services it delivers.

                  The Morrison Government is deeply committed to the PBS and the Australian patients that benefit from this scheme. Our Government has a commitment to list all medicines on the PBS when recommended to do so by the medical experts. Since 2013 our Government has made approximately 2000 new or amended PBS listing at an investment of over $10.5 billion.

                  The delivery of medicines to patients once listed on the PBS is a collaborative effort and Australia is well supported by its broad network of community pharmacies and the broader medicines supply chain. This bill will support them to continue to support Australians in need.

                  This Bill proposes amendments which will support the PBS in two ways. Specifically, the changes will provide for application fees to be payable for applications by pharmacists to supply PBS medicines which was announced in the 2018-19 Budget; and enable PBS medicines to continue to be supplied at pharmacy premises following bankruptcy.

                  The first of the amendments provides for an application fee to be charged when pharmacists make an application to supply PBS medicines at pharmacy premises.

                  There is currently no fee and this amendment will ensure the operations of the pharmacy approval processes are consistent with the Australian Government Charging Framework.

                  The fee will apply to all applications to establish a new pharmacy, relocate an existing pharmacy or where the pharmacy changes ownership. Payment of the fee will be required at the time pharmacists submit their application.

                  The amount of the fee will be determined by the Minister for Health in a legislative instrument and will be calculated based on the regulatory activity involved in processing these types of applications.

                  The fees will be reviewed each year by the Department of Health and adjusted accordingly.

                  This Bill also includes measures that will allow PBS medicines to continue to be supplied to patients following the bankruptcy of an approved pharmacist, to ensure the community can continue to receive much needed medicines. This will be of particular benefit in rural and remote areas where access to alternative pharmacies may be limited. The approximate number of pharmacies affected by bankruptcy or external administration is 20 each year.

                  For many years, the arrangements following bankruptcy relied on the appointed administrator supplying PBS medicines at the pharmacy until approval was granted to another pharmacist, following the sale of the pharmacy business.

                  However, during the course of a Federal Court matter involving a bankrupt pharmacist, it was found that an approval of a pharmacist to supply PBS medicines was not proprietary in nature for the purposes of the Bankruptcy Act 1966 and therefore could not vest in the trustee in bankruptcy. Whilst the matter did not proceed to hearing, the result of an approval not being proprietary means that neither the approved pharmacist, nor the appointed administrator, is able to supply PBS medicines at a pharmacy affected by bankruptcy.

                  If the appointed administrator cannot take over supply, then access to PBS medicines from the pharmacy may be disrupted. Cessation or interruption of access to PBS medicines is of particular concern in regional or rural settings where there may be no or few other approved pharmacies nearby.

                  The amendments in the Bill address these issues. The Bill provides the Secretary of the Department of Health the power to grant permission to an appointed administrator to manage the supply of PBS medicines at pharmacy premises.

                  The new provisions will assist continuity of supply of PBS medicines at an affected pharmacy until such time that the pharmacy can be sold or transferred to another pharmacist.

                  The changes proposed in this Bill will improve the operation of the PBS and I am confident they will be welcomed by PBS users. I would like to acknowledge and thank key stakeholders for their input during consultation on the Bill.

                  In particular, the Australian Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association, the Australian Friendly Societies Pharmacy Association, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

                  The aim of this Government is to ensure that Australians have access through the PBS to affordable medicines when and where they need them. The changes proposed will ensure that access to PBS medicines will no longer be compromised when a pharmacy is affected by bankruptcy or external administration.

                  Debate adjourned.

                  Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.