Chester in the firing line

HEATED debate has flared between a federal minister and Gippsland’s member of parliament over the government’s new family payments announced in the recent federal budget.

While Federal Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester should explain to local families “why he supports ripping vital payments out of their hands”, Mr Chester said money should be spent on key local projects over “cash handouts”.

“Darren Chester said ‘no’ to the new Schoolkids Bonus that gives 9450 local families with kids in school extra support to pay for things like uniforms, text books and excursions,” Ms Macklin said.

“This is a kick in the guts by Darren Chester for many local families who are struggling to make ends meet.”

Mr Chester said his concern was the budget demonstrated “the Gillard Government has no plans to protect local jobs and the economy or support small businesses in regional communities, in the wake of the carbon tax”.

“The carbon tax will add to the household cost of living, make small businesses less viable and impact on the competitiveness of our region,” he said.

“It’s disappointing that money will be spent on cash handouts rather than several key local projects which would stimulate local employment and the economy.”

Mr Chester said community-driven upgrades at Latrobe Regional Hospital had missed out on funding despite being “of particular need”.

Ms Macklin said the Schoolkids Bonus legislation had now passed the House of Representatives, despite Mr Chester’s “efforts to stand in the way”.

She said the new payment gave eligible families $410 per year for each child in primary school and $820 per year for each child in high school. Local families would “get the money up front twice a year, before the costs start rolling in,” she added.

Mr Chester, however, said the government had “shuffled spending around to create an artificial surplus” which had “failed to inspire regional communities”.

Federal Member for McMillan Russell Broadbent also said single parents in rural electorates would be “hardest hit by tougher eligibility requirements for parenting payments” introduced in the budget.

Under new rules, effective from next January, single parent recipients of parenting payments will cease to be eligible once their youngest child turns eight.

Mr Broadbent said currently they did not lose their payments until their child turned 16.

“The Australian Council of Social Services estimates that as many as 100,000 single parents will be worse off as a result of this change,” Mr Broadbent said.

“They will lose around $60 a week by having to move to the lower Newstart payment.”