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Media Release by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

Record Family Assistance, more Child care and boost for Carers in 2004-05 Budget

A record $19.2 billion extra assistance for Australian families, more support and flexibility for elderly and young carers, 44,000 more child care places and helping Centrelink customers to get their correct payments are key measures in the 2004–05 Family and Community Services Budget.

The Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Kay Patterson, said the Budget would deliver record assistance to families, helping them to balance work and family responsibilities by giving them more child care choices and to ensure that benefits go to those most in need and the recipients of income support get their correct entitlements.

Australian families will benefit from increased family assistance worth $19.2 billion over five years under the Government’s More Help for Families package. The package will help families with the cost of raising children, improve rewards from work and help balance work and family responsibilities.

Senator Kay Patterson said the measures in the 2004–05 Budget build on the substantial reforms to family assistance in the The New Tax System in 2000 and, before it, through the Family Tax Initiative announced in 1996.

The package includes the following elements:

  • An increase in the rate of Family Tax Benefit (FTB) Part A of $600 a child to be paid as a lump sum upon reconciliation of entitlement following the end of the financial year, commencing in respect of the 2003–04 financial year. The annual lump sum will be available, if required, to offset any overpayment of FTB that may have occurred during a previous year.
  • In order to provide an immediate benefit, a lump sum payment of $600 per child will be paid before June 30, 2004, to all families receiving or eligible for FTB Part A in the 2003–04 financial year.
  • The introduction from July 1, 2004, of a new Maternity Payment, paid as a lump sum of $3000 for each new born child. This will be a universal payment to all families (usually the mother). This payment will increase to $4000 from July 1, 2006, an increase again to $5000 from July 1, 2008. This new payment will incorporate the existing Maternity Allowance and the Baby Bonus, with the Baby Bonus still available for births prior to July 1, 2004.

Senator Patterson said the Budget also committed to a $461 million Carers Package to give carers more flexibility and better support for those in care.

Senator Patterson said: “Carers are the unsung heroes. They make a huge contribution in looking after their relatives and friends who are disabled, ill or frail.

“In recognition of this assistance the Government will provide a one-off Carers Bonus of $1000 to current eligible recipients of Carer Payment and $600 to each recipient of Carer Allowance to be payable before the end of June 2004.

“In the Carers Package, we have further recognised their contribution and given carers more flexibility in their care arrangements by allowing them, under certain circumstances, not to reside with the people for whom they provide substantial levels of personal care on a daily basis.

“We are also assisting ageing parents with disabled sons and daughters to have more access to regular respite and giving young carers more opportunities to complete their secondary or equivalent vocational education.”

Senator Patterson said the Budget addressed the needs of families by providing a further 30,000 Outside School Hours Care Places on top of the 10,000 places announced in December, 2003. This will give families more choices in balancing family and work commitments.

The Australian Government will also provide an extra 4,000 family day care places, which includes the 2,500 places announced in December, 2003.

The Budget has also directed support to families who face the risk of homelessness. The Australian Government will provide $10.4 million over four years for the Household Organisational Management Expenses (HOME) Advice Program.

Senator Patterson said the program would help 400 families a year through early intervention to assist them with financial advice, access to community services, education support, services for children, labour market programs and health services.

Last month, the Government announced the expanded $365.8 million Stronger Families and Communities Strategy, which includes provision of $110 million to target 35 disadvantaged areas with local initiatives to improve outcomes for young children.

Senator Patterson said the key to a fair and sustainable income support system was for benefits to be directed to those most in need and to ensure that recipients of income support benefits get their correct entitlement.

The Budget contains important new measures to ensure benefits go to those most in need.

Senator Patterson said a major campaign would be launched to encourage Centrelink customers to report changes to their circumstances, which is expected to save taxpayers $214.9 million over four years.

She said the “Keeping the System Fair” national multi-media education campaign would encourage up to 100,000 income support recipients a year to notify Centrelink voluntarily of any changes in their circumstances and thereby reduce the likelihood of them receiving an overpayment.

Centrelink’s call centres will benefit from increased funding of $67.4 million to enhance service delivery to its customers.

The Budget also contains $45.7 million more funding to help Centrelink to undertake further assessments of the income and assets held by customers in trusts and private companies.

Senator Patterson said: “It is only fair that Centrelink customers who control significant income and assets in private trusts should use those revenues to support themselves before calling on the community for income support.

“These measures are part of the Government’s continuing efforts to ensure that people in similar circumstances are treated the same.”

Senator Patterson said: “This Budget demonstrates the Howard Government’s commitment to Australian families and those in our community who care for others.”