Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 June 2021


COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021, Treasury Laws Amendment (COVID-19 Economic Response) Bill 2021; Second Reading

6:12 pm

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General) 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—


This Bill seeks to appropriate from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the purposes of making the COVID-19 Disaster Payment in the 2021-22 financial year.

Recurring outbreaks of COVID-19 and subsequent state government 'lockdowns' have meant that many people have not been able to get to work and earn an income due to stay at home orders. The Government is committed to supporting Australians impacted economically by COVID-19.

The COVID-19 Disaster Payment is a one-off, time limited payment for eligible individuals who are unable to work and earn an income in an area under a state public health order for a 'lockdown' that lasts longer than seven days and that has also been determined to be a Commonwealth hotspot.

The payment is delivered by Services Australia.

The granted claims for the payment are currently being paid out of an annual appropriation. This bill seeks to make a special appropriation available to pay eligible claims for the payment.

A special appropriation is the most suitable mechanism to fund the payment as it is a demand driven program where it is difficult to quantify how many people will be eligible as a person's unique circumstances will determine if they meet the criteria. While the situation in Melbourne continues to improve and they are thankfully no longer in lockdown, there is no knowing when Victoria or another state might need to use lockdown measures in the future.

This means that expenditure associated with the COVID-19 Disaster Payment cannot be reliably predicted for the purpose of an annual appropriation. Introducing a special appropriation means that the Government has secure funding for all people who qualify for the COVID-19 Disaster Payment should we need to use it.

The Bill also provides that the National Recovery and Resilience Agency will report on the COVID-19 Disaster Payment in their annual report.

Australians are resilient and will do what needs to be done in terms of abiding by public health orders. Sometimes that comes at a personal financial cost and the COVID-19 Disaster Payment, and the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, are there to support those who need it the most.

I commend the Bill to the chamber.


Schedule 1 to the Bill extends the existing power in the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 that allows the Treasurer to declare eligible state and territory COVID-19 business support grant program payments to be free from income tax. This legislation will extend eligibility to grants provided in the 2021-22 financial year.

Under the existing measure, payments received by small and medium businesses under eligible state and territory grant programs are free from income tax. As this treatment can only apply to payments received in the 2020-21 financial year it is necessary to extend this to the 2021-22 financial year so it can apply to future payments.

These changes are consistent with the Government's broader commitment to support those businesses and individuals impacted by the public health directives put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

All states and territories are eligible to apply for the same tax treatment where they have grant programs focused on supporting small and medium businesses facing exceptional circumstances in relation to COVID-19.

Schedule 2 to the Bill amends the tax secrecy provisions in the Taxation Administration Act 1953 to allow the ATO to share protected taxpayer information with Services Australia to assist Services Australia with administering the COVID-19 Disaster Payment.

To minimise the number of ineligible applicants receiving payments, Services Australia will conduct integrity checks on applications for Disaster Payments using data provided by the ATO.

This amendment will help ensure that only those eligible for COVID-19 Disaster Recovery Payments receive them, and that COVID-19 Disaster Payments are appropriately targeted.

Full details of the measures are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.

Debate adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.

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