Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (2009 Measures) Bill 2009 – Second Reading Speech

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This bill will amend various acts in the families, housing, community services and Indigenous affairs portfolio to provide for several non-budget measures.

The first group of amendments is to schedule three further parcels of land in the Northern Territory so that they can be granted as Aboriginal land. These three parcels of land are Alice Valley Extension (East), Loves Creek and Patta (near Tennant Creek).

The Loves Creek parcel of land is subject to a partially heard land claim. Scheduling this land under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 follows agreement between the Central Land Council and the Northern Territory government. The scheduling will resolve the claim and allow the land to be granted to the appropriate Aboriginal land trust.

Patta (near Tennant Creek) is also the subject of an agreement between the Central Land Council and the Northern Territory government. Granting this land will form part of an agreement for settling broader native title claims.

The Alice Valley Extension (East) parcel of land will be leased by the land trust to the Northern Territory as an extension of the West MacDonnell National Park.

The bill makes some amendments to the income management provisions in the social security law to improve their operation in minor respects.

Firstly, the bill will allow people in the Cape York welfare reform areas who are receiving age pension or carer payment to have their payments income managed. As with other payments that are income managed for people in Cape York, the new provisions will rely on the local Family Responsibilities Commission issuing a notice and relevant conditions being met. This change has been requested by the Families Responsibilities Commission.

Secondly, amendments are made relating to the use of residual funds in an income management account when a person returns to income management. The amendments will ensure that any residual amounts being disbursed are retained in the person’s income management account at the time when they return to income management.

Thirdly, changes are being made to how residual amounts left in an income management account are dealt with when a customer dies.

Depending on how much is left in the account, these residual amounts may currently be paid to the deceased customer’s legal personal representative or to a person carrying out certain activities in relation to the estate or affairs of the deceased person. However, if the customer has no legal personal representative, or if there is more than one person carrying out the relevant activities, it can be hard to determine who to pay the residual amounts to. These amendments will provide further options to disburse the residual amounts in these cases.

The bill makes amendments to improve the operation of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal across its social security, family assistance and child support jurisdictions.

For example, the bill makes changes to titles for tribunal members, such as renaming the executive director to principal member. The bill removes the requirement for the principal member to chair panels on which he or she sits by enabling the principal member to determine who will be the presiding member. The bill allows the SSAT to convene a pre-hearing conference for social security and family assistance law appeals. If parties reach agreement at the pre-hearing conference, the SSAT is empowered to make a decision in accordance with the agreement.

In the first of two measures about the income support means test, an amendment will clarify that a gift that has been returned does not have to be assessed as a deprived asset under the social security disposal of assets provisions. This removes a potentially harsh outcome under the current provisions for a person who disposes of an asset in certain circumstances, has it counted as an asset on that basis and then has it counted again as a returned asset.

Further amendments clarify that, where a customer is the beneficiary of a discretionary trust, and the trustee has a duty to maintain the customer, then the trust should be assessed as being a controlled private trust in respect of that beneficiary. The amendments also make it clear that, when the controllers of a trust are being determined, it should not be relevant that there are other future beneficiaries of the trust when those parties are not currently receiving any benefits from the trust. These amendments secure longstanding policy in light of a recent full Federal Court case.

The remaining amendments in the bill provide a requirement for a claimant to notify if a child who attracted baby bonus leaves the claimant’s care within 26 weeks of birth or coming into their care and make further minor and technical amendments. I commend the bill to the House.