Second Reading SpeechMs Macklin (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs)
That this bill be now read a second time.
This bill delivers on the government's commitment to make bonus payments to carers and seniors in 2008.
Seniors and carers will also be among the beneficiaries of a further measure in this bill, which will introduce a limited non-cancellation period for holders of concession cards, allowing people to keep their cards during short-term absences from Australia.
The government values the role and contribution of carers, who make enormous personal sacrifices through their selflessness and hard work. Our senior Australians, through a lifetime of effort, have laid the foundations of the prosperous nation we all have the privilege of calling home.
The government understands that the rising cost of living is putting many Australians, especially seniors and carers, under increasing financial pressure. The government's commitment to providing the bonus payments to carers and seniors is a modest measure to relieve some of this financial pressure.
A range of other measures introduced in the government's first budget are also designed to address these cost-of-living pressures. These include increased financial support, better services and responsible economic management, which is addressing the challenge of rising inflation.
Bonuses for 2008 will be paid before the end of the financial year, and with no need for a claim. As well as being tax free, the bonuses will not count as income for social security, veterans' entitlements or family assistance purposes.
The first of the 2008 bonus payments provided by this bill is for older Australians. Around 2.7 million older Australians will receive the 2008 bonus payment. A one-off payment of $500 will go to each person of pension age, or veterans' qualifying age, who is receiving an income support payment on 13 May 2008. The same $500 payment will go to recipients at that date of mature age, partner or widow allowance, or wife or widow B pension.
Older Australians not actually receiving the relevant payment on that date will still get the bonus if they had claimed the payment by that date and later have their payment backdated to cover that date.
Self-funded retirees qualified for seniors concession allowance on 13 May 2008 will also get the 2008 bonus of $500. The bonus will also go to people who are notionally qualified for seniors concession allowance on that date because they had claimed by that date a seniors health card and were later established as eligible for the card on that date.
The second of the 2008 bonus payments is for carers. Carers receiving carer income support on 13 May 2008 in the form of a social security carer payment or carer service pension under the Veterans' Entitlements Act will be paid a $1,000 one-off payment. Carers who receive the non-means-tested social security income supplement known as carer allowance in addition to either wife pension or partner service pension under the Veterans' Entitlements Act will also be paid a $1,000 one-off payment. Any carer receiving carer allowance will be paid a separate $600 one-off payment for each eligible care receiver. Carers who have claimed the targeted payments on or shortly before 13 May 2008 and are subsequently granted those payments-with effect from 13 May 2008 or earlier-will receive the one-off payments.
Carers who claim carer allowance after 13 May 2008 and whose payment is backdated due to the application of the carer allowance backdating provisions will not be eligible for the bonus payment, even though the backdated period will have included payment for 13 May 2008.
The second major measure the bill introduces is a limited non-cancellation period for social security or veterans' entitlements concession cards while the cardholder is overseas. This means that cards will generally remain valid for up to 13 weeks, should cardholders leave Australia, which will make things easier both for cardholders and for Centrelink.
The new non-cancellation period will apply to the pensioner concession card, the Commonwealth seniors health card and the health care cards that have previously had no provisions allowing overseas travel.
At present card holders must be in Australia to retain their card, and so if they leave Australia on holiday their card must be cancelled even if they leave for a short period and even if the card has been automatically issued because it is linked to a primary income support payment that is portable during their trip.
While the card is generally not usable overseas, there are distinct benefits in keeping the card valid during short periods of absence. Firstly, people will not have to go to the trouble and delay of reclaiming cards on their return, significantly reducing administrative costs and inefficiencies involved in cancelling and reissuing cards within short time frames.
Secondly, people will have the chance to use their cards right up to the day of leaving Australia and immediately after they return, especially to buy pharmaceuticals they may need.
Thirdly, the risk and confusion of having cancelled cards in circulation, often duplicating cards reissued later, will be considerably reduced.
The new rules, allowing cards to remain valid for up to 13 weeks after the person leaves Australia, subject to any portability restrictions on the primary income support payment to which the card may be linked, will also apply to a card that is issued during the person's absence because their payment or card claim is determined during the absence.
The new non-cancellation-of-cards rules will apply from 1 July 2008, making a significant improvement in concession card arrangements for all concerned. I commend the bill to the House.
The SPEAKER - I understand it is the wish of the House to grant leave for the debate to be resumed at a later hour this day. If there is no objection I will allow that course.
Mrs Bronwyn Bishop - As the relevant shadow minister in this area I must say I have not been informed of that arrangement but I am, nonetheless, very concerned that any benefit accrue to veterans and therefore will agree to it.
Debate (on motion by Mrs Bronwyn Bishop) adjourned.