I rise today to speak in support of the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment (Schoolkids Bonus Budget Measures) Bill 2012. Parents of Australian children, like parents everywhere, want nothing more than to give their children the best start in life they can. They understand that for a child’s potential to be realised, both for the benefit of the child and for the benefit of our nation, this potential must be nurtured. Access to a good education is a right that all Australian children deserve and provision of a good education is the best way to help them realise that potential.
The government understands that educating children can be expensive. The cost of uniforms, computers, stationery, music lessons, sporting uniforms, art supplies, software and numerous other items adds up to a significant portion of a family’s budget. The Gillard Labor government understands this. We understand that at times parents must make difficult decisions to ensure their children’s educational needs are met. The Gillard Labor Government’s new schoolkids bonus is a recognition that educating our children is expensive. The new schoolkids bonus is a way that the Labor government can support parents in their most important task: building a better future for our children.
The schoolkids bonus is replacing the education tax refund from 1 January 2013. Under the education tax refund, parents were entitled to claim a refund by submitting education receipts. Unfortunately, many parents were not claiming either part or all of the refund they were entitled to. Parents now will not have to pay out of their own pocket and then wait months to get the money back. The Labor government has made this an upfront cash payment because we realise that parents are busy and that collecting receipts and tucking them away in envelopes until the end of the financial year is not at the forefront of their mind when they are busy buying new school uniforms, new stationery or new sports uniforms.
The new schoolkids bonus makes it easier for the parents of 1.3 million families across the nation to get the support they deserve from the government. In Tasmania, my home state, 34,800 families are expected to receive $410 for each child in primary school and $820 a year for each child in high school. Payments will be made for a total of 61,150 children just in Tasmania. In Franklin, the federal electorate where my electorate office is located, a total of 6,850 families with 12,050 children will receive funding totalling over $7 million. The schoolkids bonus will be available to families receiving family tax benefit part A, plus young people in school receiving youth allowance and recipients of some other income support and veterans payments. The eligibility requirements are the same as those for the education tax refund. As a transition to the schoolkids bonus, this bill creates a new payment called the ETR payment to replace the education tax refund that would otherwise have been available to eligible families for 2011-12.
The ETR payment will be paid to all families entitled to family tax benefit part A on 8 May 2012 for a school-aged child, and to young people in secondary education who are receiving certain student income support payments on 8 May 2012. The ETR payment will pay out the full amount of what would have been available through the taxation system for 2011-12—that is, $409 for each child in primary school and $818 for each child in secondary school. The ETR payment will be paid earlier than otherwise would have been the case under the education tax refund, and without the need to lodge receipts for a tax return. A mirror ETR payment will be provided through amendments to veterans affairs legislation for recipients on 8 May 2012 of payments under the Veterans’ Children Education Scheme or the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act Education and Training Scheme. The bill will also create an administrative scheme for an ETR payment which will assist people who may not be able to access an appropriate ETR payment under family assistance law or veterans legislation. All ETR payments and the schoolkids bonus will be non-taxable and will not count as income for social security or veterans entitlements income test purposes.
I am terribly disappointed that the Liberal Party have opposed this measure. I am deeply disappointed that the Liberal Party do not appear to care for the future education of Australian children. I am also deeply disappointed that the Liberal Party do not care about supporting Australian families. I call again on every Tasmanian Liberal senator to go to the schools in their communities and explain to the parents of students at Snug Primary School, Reece High School, St Aloysius Catholic College and every other school across Tasmania why the Liberal Party refuse to support their family in educating their children. And what excuse does the Liberal Party offer for refusing parents the schoolkids bonus? All that the Liberal Party offer is that they do not trust parents to spend the schoolkids bonus on their children’s education. How insulting is that? How insulting is it to every caring, hardworking parent across our country that the Liberal Party believe that, instead of spending money on their children’s education, parents will simply waste the money? How insulting is it to every caring, hardworking parent across our country that the Liberal Party do not trust parents to act in the best interests of their own children?
I find it disgusting that Senator Cash came into this place not long ago and implied that parents receiving this bonus will just pour it into poker machines—that the shadow parliamentary secretary for the status of women thinks so little of the mothers of Australia, whom she purports to represent, believes that. I do not think she actually believes it; I think she is just toeing the party line to be nice to Mr Abbott. I also find it quite hypocritical that Senators Fifield and Bernardi make public statements that young families are doing it tough but refuse to pass the one practical measure to help them out. I am angry that the Liberal Party think so little of Australian parents and Australian children. That stinks, it is rotten and it is mean. It is just plain nasty. Australian parents deserve better than those opposite.
I am, however, proud to say that the Gillard Labor government passed this bill through the House of Representatives last night, despite repeated, bizarre attempts by the Liberals to block the vote. Tony Abbott’s extreme and unfortunately increasingly predictable blocking tactics took ‘no’ to a whole new level. The 19 Liberal Party members of the House of Representatives who spoke in opposition to the schoolkids bonus should hang their heads in shame and take a moment to think of the families in their electorates. Mr Abbott has shown all Australians just how determined he is to stop families getting the money they need.
I am proud to say that every single one of my Tasmanian Labor colleagues in the House of Representatives—Geoff Lyons in Bass, Sid Sidebottom in Braddon, Dick Adams in Lyons and Julie Collins in Franklin—voted in support of the schoolkids bonus. Each Tasmanian Labor member stood up for the families in their electorates. I am also proud that soon my Labor colleagues in the Senate will do the same and vote in favour of the schoolkids bonus. I highly recommend and commend this bill to the Senate.