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Social Security Amendment Bill first reading

22 May 2001 Speech Notes

Social Security (Residence of Spouses) Amendment Bill first reading

Mr Speaker, I move that the Social Security (Residence of Spouses) Amendment Bill be now read a first time. It is my intention that the Bill be referred to the Social Services Committee for consideration.

Mr Speaker, an underlying principle of the social security system is that benefits, which are funded out of general taxation, are intended for people living permanently in New Zealand and not for those who are unlawfully or temporarily in New Zealand.

This principle has been reflected in the Social Security Act 1964 since 1990.

The Act, under Section 74A, precludes individuals who are unlawfully in New Zealand, or who are lawfully in New Zealand but on a temporary permit, from gaining entitlement to receive benefits.

Subsection (2) of Section 74A relates to married people. It requires a benefit to be paid to a New Zealand resident, whose spouse or partner is unlawfully in New Zealand, at the single or sole parent rate.

However, Mr Speaker there is a problem with Section 74A as it is currently drafted.

The problem is this.

It applies only where the spouse is “unlawfully” in New Zealand. Subsection (2) does not apply where the spouse is lawfully in New Zealand, but only on a temporary permit. This means that currently the temporarily resident spouse or partner can still be included in the benefit, and receive payment.

Mr Speaker, as I have previously said, the payment of social security benefits in New Zealand is intended for people who live permanently in New Zealand. It is not there for people who are in New Zealand on a temporary basis.

Mr Speaker, this Bill will close this loophole.

Clause 3 amends Section 74A to make it clear that where a married New Zealand resident applies for a benefit, and his or her spouse is lawfully but only temporarily resident in New Zealand, the benefit will only be paid at the single rate or, if there are children, at the sole parent rate. In addition, the income and assets of both partners will be taken into account in assessing the rate of the benefit.

Non resident spouses will be required to apply for, and to be granted, a residence permit before their New Zealand resident spouse will be entitled to the married rate of benefit.

People lawfully in New Zealand who have or are applying for refugee status, and people who have applied for residence permits and are compelled to remain in New Zealand through unforeseen circumstances, will not be affected.

Mr Speaker, this Bill will bring the treatment of spouses who are in New Zealand temporarily but lawfully, into line with the treatment of others who are here unlawfully. It will ensure that tax payer funded benefits are paid to support people living permanently in New Zealand.

The Bill will also bring New Zealand practice into line with that of Australia, as well as other countries throughout the world.

The changes brought about by this Bill will apply only to new applicants for benefits after 1 July 2001. Existing benefits paid at the married couple rate where there is a temporarily resident spouse will not be affected.

Mr Speaker, this Bill tidies up a small loophole within the Social Security Act and reinforces that social security benefits are there for people who live permanently in New Zealand. It is intended that the Bill be referred to the Social Services Committee for brief consideration and report back by 11 June so that the Bill can go through its remaining stages in time for it to come into force on 1 July.

Mr Speaker, I am aware that the Attorney-General has tabled a report advising the House that the Bill is inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, on the basis that it does not give equal recognition to same sex couples. While I can assure you that the Government takes the report seriously, the progress of this Bill should not be held up on account of it. The reason for this is that it would not be appropriate to recognise same sex couples for the purposes of Section 74A of the Social Security Act before they are accorded equal recognition throughout the Act. To do so would mean same sex couples would be treated in one way while the partner was temporarily resident, but in another way if the partner was permanently resident. The Government is committed to addressing the treatment of same-sex couples for social assistance purposes and work is progressing on this.

I commend the Bill to the House.

ENDS

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