Family assistance framework


14.5 Family assistance legislation was introduced to ‘simplify the structure and delivery of assistance for families’[3] by establishing one body to administer a consolidated set of payments, which all have ‘similar eligibility rules’.[4] This body is the Family Assistance Office (FAO)—the ‘delivery point’ for family assistance payments.[5]

14.6 Family assistance payments play a significant role in supporting low-income families,[6] and comprise a range of types, including: FTB;[7] baby bonus;[8] maternity immunisation allowance;[9] CCB;[10] child care rebate;[11] and FTB advance.[12] As of 1 January 2011, paid parental leave is available. In addition to these payments, the FAO offers other types of support, such as rent assistance.[13] FTB is the ‘centrepiece’ of family assistance.[14]

14.7 Family assistance legislation does not include objects. However, the Family Assistance Guide sets out the key administrative principles in the administration of the Family Assistance Act. One of these principles is that the Family Assistance Act is beneficial legislation, which means that ‘where legislative ambiguities arise in the Act, the legislation should be interpreted in a way that is most beneficial to applicants/recipients as a whole’.[15]


14.8 The FAO operates within Centrelink and Medicare Australia, and Centrelink administers family assistance payments on behalf of the FAO.[16] The FAO is under the governance of the Department of Human Services (DHS).[17] The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) ‘develops policy and implements and monitors the performance of a range of budget measures’ including family assistance.[18] Although Centrelink administers family assistance payments, the FAO provides a range of ‘first-point-of-contact services’, including:

  • operating an FAO call centre;
  • assisting with family assistance enquiries;
  • providing information about payment options;
  • receiving claim forms; and
  • making appointments with other FAO staff for complex enquiries and interviews.[19]

14.9 The Family Assistance Guide is available online at the FaHCSIA website.[20] As noted in Chapters 5 and 12, guides, as articulations of policy, are not binding in law, but nonetheless are a relevant consideration for the decision maker. Centrelink also uses electronic guidelines, referred to as the e-Reference, as a further procedural resource. The e-Reference is not generally publicly available.

Introducing a common interpretative framework

14.10 As discussed in Chapter 3, neither the Family Assistance Act nor the Family Assistance (Administration) Act provides a definition of ‘family violence’. The Family Assistance Guide also leaves the term undefined, although as noted in Chapter 5, the Guide to Social Security Law, which is also hosted on the FaHCSIA website, contains a definition of family violence.[21]

14.11 Recommendation 3–1 states that family assistance legislation should provide a definition of family violence consistent with other specified Commonwealth laws. The ALRC also considers that the Family Assistance Guide should include:

  • a definition of family violence as discussed in Chapter 3; and
  • a description of the nature, features and dynamics of family violence, also as discussed in Chapter 3.[22]

14.12 Such an amendment to the Family Assistance Guide was supported by major stakeholders—including FaHCSIA, which is the department responsible for the Family Assistance Guide, as noted above.[23] The National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) stated that it is ‘highly desirable to achieve a common interpretative framework across different legislative schemes’.[24]

14.13 The ALRC considers that these additions to the Family Assistance Guide are desirable for the reasons set out in relation to The Guide: CSA’s Online Guide to the Administration of the New Child Support Scheme (Child Support Guide) in Chapter 11. The illustrative categories of family violence in the definition, and the statement regarding the nature, features and dynamics of family violence, should be tailored to each legal framework to reflect the presentations of family violence, and the particular risks victims may face, in that context.

Recommendation 14–1 The Family Assistance Guide should include:

  1. the definition of family violence in Recommendation 3–2; and
  2. information about the nature, features and dynamics of family violence including the particular impact of family violence on: Indigenous peoples; those from a culturally and linguistically diverse background; those from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex communities; older persons; and people with disability.

[3] Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debates, Senate, 24 May 1999, 5170 (I Campbell).

[4] Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 9 June 1999, 6417 (W Truss—Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry).

[5] FaHCSIA, Family Assistance Guide <> at 1 November 2011, [1.3].

[6] See Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia’s Welfare 2005 (2005), 75.

[7]A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Cth) pt 3 div 1.

[8] Ibid pt 3 div 2.

[9] Ibid pt 3 div 3.

[10] Ibid pt 3 div 4.

[11] Ibid pt 3 div 5.

[12] Ibid s 3(1), definition of ‘family assistance’.

[13] Family Assistance Office, What Payments We Offer <> at 16 February 2011.

[14] Ministerial Taskforce on Child Support, In the Best Interests of Children—Reforming the Child Support Scheme (2005), [4.1].

[15] FaHCSIA, Family Assistance Guide <> at 1 November 2011, [1.4].

[16] Ibid, [1.3]; Child Support Agency website <> at 7 March 2011.

[17] FaHCSIA, Family Assistance Guide <> at 1 November 2011, [1.3].

[18] FaHCSIA, Annual Report 2009–10 (2010), Ch 3.

[19] FaHCSIA, Family Assistance Guide <> at 1 November 2011, [1.3].

[20] Ibid.

[21] FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law <> at 1 November 2011, [1.1.D.235].

[22] This amendment to the Family Assistance Guide was proposed in Australian Law Reform Commission, Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws, Discussion Paper 76 (2011) (Discussion Paper): Proposal 12–1.

[23] FaHCSIA, Submission CFV 162.

[24] National Welfare Rights Network, Submission CFV 150. See also: AASW (Qld) and WRC Inc (Qld), Submission CFV 137; ADFVC, Submission CFV 104 and WEAVE, Submission CFV 85. The Lone Fathers Association Australia opposed such an amendment, for reasons discussed in Ch 3: Lone Fathers Association Australia, Submission CFV 109.