Australia’s social security system

5.3 The primary purpose of Australia’s transfer, or social security, system is to provide individuals with a ‘minimum adequate standard of living’.[1] The main Australian Government transfers are income support payments and payments to families, including age and other pensions, Newstart Allowance and other allowance payments, Family Tax Benefit and supplementary payments.[2] Income support payments are made to individuals identified as being unable to support themselves through work or savings. A person’s need for support is measured by means testing of income and assets.

5.4 Concession cards provide additional assistance to persons receiving income support, as well as those with low incomes and seniors meeting a separate income test. These cards provide access to a range of discounts or subsidies on Commonwealth, state and territory and local government fees and charges.[3]

5.5 The legislative basis of the social security system is the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) and the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth), and for family payments, A New Tax System (Family Assistance Act) 1999 (Cth) and A New Tax System (Family Assistance Act) (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth).[4] In addition, the Guide to Social Security Law and the Family Assistance Guide, produced by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) provide guidance to decision makers in implementing this legislation.[5]

5.6 Social security law is administered by the Department of Human Services (DHS) through Centrelink. Policy responsibility is spread between the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), FaHCSIA and the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIISRTE).

5.7 The social security system has been the subject of two recent major reviews. In 2010, the Tax Review considered social security in the wider context of the tax and transfer system.[6] In 2009, the Pension Review considered pension payments for seniors, carers and people with disability.[7]

[1] The Treasury, Australia’s Future Tax System: Final Report (2010), 485.

[2] The Treasury, Australia’s Future Tax System: Architecture of Australia’s Tax and Transfer System (2008), xiii. See also T Carney, Social Security Law and Policy (2006).

[3] The Treasury, Australia’s Future Tax System: Final Report (2010), 621.

[4] Family assistance as it relates to mature age persons is addressed in Chapter 6.

[5] The Guides are updated monthly to reflect changes in government policy and legislative interpretation and are publicly available online: FaHCSIA, Guide to Social Security Law (2012) <> at 30 August 2012; FaHCSIA, Family Assistance Guide <> at 30 August 2012. Although not binding in law, they are a relevant consideration for the decision maker and, as such, part of the ‘legal frameworks’ being considered in this Inquiry: Stevens and Secretary, Department of Family and Community Services [2004] AATA. Policy will usually be followed unless there are cogent reasons in a particular case for not doing so: Re Drake and Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (No 2) (1979) 2 ALD 634, 639–645.

[6] The Treasury, Australia’s Future Tax System: Final Report (2010).

[7] FaHCSIA, Pension Review Report (2009).