12.88 The baby bonus is a flat rate payment—$5,437 in 2011–12—to assist with the costs of a newborn or adopted child. It is generally paid in 13 fortnightly instalments to a parent of a child or a person who cares for or adopts the child.
12.89 The Family Assistance Guide discusses the payment of the baby bonus by instalments and referrals to a social worker, ISO or MSO. The Family Assistance Guide states that young people, especially those 17 years or younger, are ‘generally inexperienced in handling large sums of money and/or may be subject to pressure to use the payment unwisely’. These applicants must be referred to a social worker or specialist officer to discuss available services such as financial planning and support groups.
12.90 Some applicants who are older than 17 are also referred to social workers or specialist workers. This includes applicants who have experienced family violence, have had a child subject to child protection, are considered ‘vulnerable to exploitation’, or may be ‘subject to pressure to use the payment unwisely’. The social worker or specialist officer will assess the applicant’s needs, and the support he or she requires, and will provide information and referrals regarding appropriate services to the applicant.
Submissions and consultations
12.91 In the Family Assistance Issues Paper, the ALRC asked whether reforms are needed to ensure that
- baby bonus applicants who have experienced family violence are referred to Centrelink social workers and specialist officers; and
- social workers and specialist officers are able to access information about whether a baby bonus applicant has a protection order or a child subject to child protection.
12.92 The ADFVC commented that victims of family violence may be particularly vulnerable during pregnancy and after childbirth. It suggested a number of reforms to facilitate heightened awareness of this risk by CSA and Centrelink staff, as follows:
- amending family assistance legislation to include a definition of family violence;
- establishing a family violence policy;
- screening for family violence;
- assigning dedicated caseworkers to baby bonus applicants who disclose family violence.
12.93 The Welfare Rights Centre Inc Queensland stated that this is a matter about the training and resources required to ensure Centrelink staff identify and understand family violence, and are ‘aware of the signs and issues involved to detect the possibility and have access to resources and referral systems to aid the potential victims’.
12.94 To ensure that social workers and specialist officers have access to relevant orders, several stakeholders supported access to the national register for social workers and specialist officers, as recommended in Family Violence—A National Legal Response. The AASW and the ADFVC qualified this support by stating that the national register should be accessed only with the consent of the applicant.
12.95 The Welfare Rights Centre Inc Queensland did not support access to the national register by Centrelink social workers and specialist officers. Instead it suggested that applicants should be ‘encouraged to present documents such as protection orders and evidence of formal proceedings in matters relevant to family violence or abuse’. It suggested this may be achieved through training for Centrelink staff, and readily available referrals and brochures at Centrelink and other agencies.
12.96 Reforms proposed in this Discussion Paper should facilitate the FAO’s objective to refer baby bonus applicants who have experienced family violence to social workers and specialist officers. The proposed reforms may also assist social workers and specialist officers to assess the needs of victims, and to provide appropriate referrals, information, and support.
12.97 In the ALRC’s preliminary consideration, Centrelink or the Family Assistance Office should screen baby bonus applicants for family violence. Additionally, customers who have previously disclosed family violence to Centrelink, the FAO or the CSA, should be identified by a ‘safety concerns flag’. These measures, captured in the broader proposals of Chapter 4, should improve the identification of victims of family violence, facilitating their referral to a social worker or specialist officer.
12.98 A legislative definition of family violence that is consistent across family assistance, social security and child support legislation should assist social workers and specialist officers in providing necessary supports to baby bonus applicants who have experienced family violence. In particular, the proposed definition’s treatment of economic abuse may assist in determining when an individual may be subject to coercion or exploitation in relation to baby bonus payments. Replicating the definition in policy guides—including the Family Assistance Guide—along with descriptions of the nature, features and dynamics of family violence may also assist social workers and specialist officers.
12.99 Proposals regarding training of Centrelink and FAO staff—including social workers and specialist officers—complement these suggested reforms. Proposed training components are set out above.
12.100 In the ALRC’s preliminary view, the proposed reforms regarding screening, interagency information sharing about safety concerns, a consistent legislative and policy definition of family violence, and training, should improve service responses to baby bonus applicants who have experienced family violence. Such a response supports victims experiencing financial exploitation and coercion, and assists them to take other protective measures where required.
 Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Family Assistance Guide <http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts/> at 22 July 2011, [1.2.2], [3.3].
A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth) s 47(1).
A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Cth) s 36. A person is not eligible for the baby bonus where he or she, or his or her partner, receives parental leave.
 Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Family Assistance Guide <http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/guides_acts/> at 22 July 2011, [2.4.3].
 Australian Law Reform Commission, Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws—Child Support and Family Assistance ALRC Issues Paper 38 (2011), Question 36.
 Ibid, Question 37.
 ADFVC, Submission CFV 53, 27 April 2011.
 Welfare Rights Centre Inc Queensland, Submission CFV 43, 21 April 2011. See also Australian Association of Social Workers (Qld), Submission CFV 46, 21 April 2011.
 Sole Parents’ Union, Submission CFV 52, 27 April 2011; Confidential, Confidential CFV 49, 21 April 2011; Australian Association of Social Workers (Qld), Submission CFV 46, 21 April 2011.
 Australian Association of Social Workers (Qld), Submission CFV 46, 21 April 2011.
 Welfare Rights Centre Inc Queensland, Submission CFV 43, 21 April 2011.
 Proposal 4–2.
 Proposal 4–11 and 4–12.
 See Ch 3.
 Proposal 12–1.