FAMILIES can get up to $160 extra a fortnight in tax benefits from the start of the new year if their teenagers aged 16 to 19 stay in school or in vocational training, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced yesterday, as her government's election commitment kicked in.
''Currently families get a rude shock when their child turns 16. Their child is at school, they still need feeding, they still need new clothes, they've still got all of the expenses of having a teenager in the household but their family benefit can drop by 67 per cent,'' Ms Gillard said.
The change to the family tax benefit will mean an increase of up to $4200 a year for parents whose older teenagers remain in education and the largest rise will go to those already getting the maximum amount of the benefit, which is income-tested, the Minister for Families and Community Services, Jenny Macklin, said.
The payment varies depending on the number of children in a household, but the government claims that about 630,000 families with a teenager turning 16 within the next five years stand to benefit, including almost 205,000 in New South Wales and just over 150,000 in Victoria.
Ms Gillard squeezed into a modest house in outer Sydney suburban Smithfield with Ms Macklin, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and local MP Chris Hayes for tea and spring rolls with two Vietnamese families who have teenagers.
Cindy Huynh and Cindy Tran, both 16, and Kelly Tran, 14, all daughters of refugees, were the stars of this turnout simply because of their ages, while outside, Ms Gillard batted away media questions about her Labor predecessors Paul Keating and Bob Hawke - who are sparring over newly released cabinet documents - and the disgraced former NSW ALP Minister Rex Jackson, who died yesterday.
Back at her Kirribilli House, for high tea with members of the Indian and Australian cricket teams, Ms Gillard faced an unexpected dissenter. Inclining her head towards the great Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar, who just missed his century of centuries in Canberra, she said: ''While Australians are barracking very hard for our cricket team, I think they are looking forward to what may be a very special 100 made in Australia some time during the course of this series.'' Australian captain Michael Clarke quipped: ''I think Sachin Tendulkar is an amazing player … but we are hoping he scores his hundredth 100 in his next series, not against us.''