Standing up for Canberra

New cost of living help for ACT families this financial year

The Gillard Government recognises there are genuine cost of living pressures across the country and not everyone is seeing the benefits of a strong economy.

Federal Labor representatives for the ACT, Senator Kate Lundy, Gai Brodtmann MP and Andrew Leigh MP, said a range of initiatives will come into effect from today that will help ease the burden for families, for pensioners, for individuals on low incomes, and for parents that have a child with a disability.

Together these changes will put a little more money in the pockets of millions of Australians, taking a bit of the pressure off their cost of living.

The Government is introducing these new measures while ensuring we return the Budget to surplus by 2012-13, showing our commitment to providing support to Australian families.

Pensioners Work Bonus
From today, age pensioners who are still in the workforce will benefit from an improved Work Bonus and be able to earn up to $250 per fortnight above the income threshold before their pension is affected.  Pensioners with seasonal work will be able to accrue up to $6,500 in credit for any unused amount of the $250 fortnightly exemption.

Education Tax Refund extension 
“11,060 primary students and 9,410 secondary students in the ACT already benefit from Labor’s 50% Education Tax Refund, and from 1 July 2011 the number of things they can claim will expand to include school uniforms.

Low Income Tax Offset bring forward
The Government will deliver up to an extra $300 of the low income tax offset (LITO) assistance during the year in regular pay packets from today. This change is expected to provide around 6.5 million taxpayers with more immediate and direct rewards to work.  

Child Care Rebate changes
The Child Care Rebate pays up to 50 per cent of a family’s out-of-pocket expenses for child care up to an annual cap.  From today, families will be able to choose to have their Rebate paid at the time they incur child care costs, usually fortnightly or weekly.  Families will also be able to choose to have their Child Care Rebate paid directly to their child care service provider for an immediate reduction on their bills, or continue to receive the Rebate as a direct payment to their bank account.

Connecting health services to the future
The Government will provide $352.2 million over four years to introduce Medicare Benefits Schedule rebates for electronically delivered specialist consultations (e-consults). Rebates will be available for both the specialist providing the consultation and the general practitioner or nurse practitioner hosting the service. It is expected that this initiative will provide around 700,000 electronic consultations per annum by 2014-15. 

Ban on Mortgage Exit Fees
The ban on mortgage exit fees on new home loans applies from today. Getting rid of exit fees is a win for Australians because it removes one of the biggest roadblocks preventing families from getting a better banking deal. Lenders will have to earn the loyalty of their customers with good service and competitive lending rates, not by shackling their customers with mortgage exit fees.

Continuation of incentives to improve access to after-hours care
The Government will provide $49.9 million over two years from 2010-11 to extend incentives to general practices to support after-hours care. This funding, which had been due to terminate today, will now be extended until 1 July 2013 and will reduce pressure on emergency departments.

More flexible advance payments
From today, families will have access to more flexible advance payments of Family Tax Benefit Part A. This will mean families facing unexpected costs - such as the family car breaking down - will have quick and easy access to advance payments and will not have to resort to high-interest loans or credit cards.  Families will be able to able to access a maximum of 7.5 per cent of their total rate of FTB Part A payment, up to $1000.

Early intervention for children with disability 
From today, eligible families will have access to early intervention services for children with a disability through grants of up to $12,000 per family ($6,000 per financial year). A one-off tax exempt payment of $2,000 will also be available for families with disabled children living in outer-regional, rural and remote areas to help meet the additional costs of accessing services. 

In total, the Government will provide $146.5 million over five years to improve access to intensive early intervention services for children with sight or hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome or Fragile X syndrome. This funding is available until the child’s seventh birthday.

In addition, eligible children up to the age of 15 years will have access to diagnosis and treatment services funded through Medicare Australia, provided a treatment plan is in place before the child turns 13. The Government will also provide $28.7 million over two years to meet increased demand for early intervention services for children with autism provided through the Helping Children with Autism initiative.