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Standing Committee on Petitions - 22/09/2015 - Selected petitions from Melbourne presented up to 22 September 2015

WARRINER, Mr Alan, Private capacity

WARRINER, Mrs Pat, State Secretary, Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of Victoria

Age pension rates and indexation

CHAIR: I now invite Mrs Pat Warriner to discuss her petition on age pension rates and indexation. I remind you, as I do all witnesses, that, although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the chambers themselves. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and will attract parliamentary privilege. You may make a brief opening statement or we can go straight to questions.

Mrs Warriner : I work for the combined pensioners as the state secretary, which I have done for quite a number of years. I must admit that I am learning quite a lot every day. This was a position I never thought I wanted to take. I have seen that someone needs to stand up and be counted and to let politicians know how pensioners in general and low-income people actually survive. I was quite shocked. My husband and I are pensioners and we know we have to budget, but to hear the tales we do in our office quite regularly is quite a shock to the system. There are things I never thought I would hear in Australia. I always thought we were a very rich country, but obviously not for certain people.

We want the pension increased. I work with Fair Go for Pensioners and quite a number of other affiliates. We have all sat and looked at this. I in particular go to a lot of meetings and I hear what pensioners are trying to say over what is being said. I think we need to put the male total average weekly earnings at 35 per cent because seriously pensioners with their budget are pushing uphill to manage. You have your gas and electricity all going up. Sometimes a pensioner has to really look at what she has in that kitty before she can pay a bill.

We have also seen pensioners sitting in supermarkets everywhere across this country having a cup of coffee because they cannot afford to put their heaters or coolers on. I have seen this for myself; this is not just hearsay. I know a group in the town where I live. I went across and personally said to them, 'You were here the other day.' They said, 'Yes, but what can we do? We cannot afford to put our heating on.' I thought, 'Why not?' You need your dignity when you get old, not just have to struggle. But this is what a lot of pensioners are doing—they are really struggling.

I know myself because my husband and I pay rates and everything else. My husband has been ill for quite a long time. The whole situation really needs looking into as to a fair living wage so people can afford a few days away. As with many pensioners, I have not had a holiday for nearly 30 years. To me, that is disgusting. They have worked in this country and they have paid their rates, so the pension is not a charity. It is something that they have earned. I think we should be granted a bit more dignity with the equivalent money to go with it so that we can manage quite comfortably and not have to struggle. It is really getting quite hard out there. My husband had to enter hospital because he had four heart attacks. I was struggling with six children, and I was working too. I know how hard it is. My husband came through that, and then he got cancer. He was off again for another six months. When he went back to work, they put him off because they said he was not strong enough to do the job. Then we had to go on a pension. Thank goodness we got our children through high school because I do not know how we would have managed otherwise. We got through it; it was hard.

The point is: we have found ourselves on the pension, not a living wage. When I get my pension and my husband's pension, we put it together—because we have always worked together—and we budget what we have to pay out. In my case, we pay all of the bills fortnightly. Before anything else is paid, the bills are all met—the rates and everything else. What is left is for food and whatever else we have to last us for the two weeks. And that has to last you. In my position it is hard. In other people's position it is damn hard. It needs serious looking into. They are not begging for more money; they need more money. Being in the position that I now find myself in, I can come to people like yourself and put this position forward. There are a lot of struggling people out there—low-income people.

Also, the hospitals are not adequate for the people you have in Australia at the moment. If you go to a hospital late at night and you are sick, you have to wait up to seven to eight hours to be seen to. If you are old, you do not have that time to waste. You just do not know what is going to happen. When you get to 60, 70 or even 80, you do not know how long you have. Why should we have to waste it sitting and waiting in a hospital for services that should be readily available. I know you have to wait; we do at our local doctors. The point is: there should be more people out there. There are not enough beds; there are not enough staff. There is just not enough of anything. Why should older people have to suffer the indignity of having to wait and wait. It is wrong. They have served their time in Australia. Give them a bit of courtesy and dignity, and say to them, 'Look, we'll do something about this.' This is not just a personal thing; it is something we have seen. Pensioners do need to be listened to. We are not going to go away; we are going to be in your ears all the time. I will be one leading that charge. We need help.

Also, there are medical, dental, optical, hearing and pharmaceutical services. I know how far pharmaceutical services go. My husband pays $70 a month in medication. Out of a pension, that is dead money every month before you even look at anything else. You have to have these things. If you do not have them, you would be sicker than you were to start with.

I came from England originally. I came here because people said, 'It's a lovely country; it's a lucky country.' We have worked hard in this country to achieve. We have our own home. We have six children who have achieved good jobs. They are all on good money. We are very proud of that. I have grandchildren who cannot get jobs. They are struggling now, too. We have one living with us at the moment. He has tried all over to get a job. There is nothing available out there. What are the choices that people have? They do not have any, except social security. Unless something alters drastically these people are going to go on social security and not do anything for this country at all. They will not be able to pay their taxes because they have got nothing to pay them with. I believe this country needs more taxes because according to everybody we are short of cash. Then again, that goes right down the scale.

I think, in particular, welfare payments are inadequate; they need to be seriously looked at. I have looked at them and I cannot see any way around this, bar talking to people. I am hoping that this is not just a passionate plea; this is something that you need to look into. This is actually happening in Victoria itself. People need to speak to people, particularly low-income people and find out how they live. I know we get things on television but that is publicity for the television stations. It is not the actual person you are listening to; it is just something that is hyped up. Pensioners do need the help. I am hoping that talking to you people will possibly achieve something—I do not know what.

I sat with this petition for four months prior to putting it down on paper. I went through every sort of piece of paper that I could find and I looked into it. I went back and I rechecked it and then I went back and checked again and then I spoke to people. I believe what I put down here is quite true and quite valid. I am glad it has got this far to be able to sit here and talk to you. As I say, whether something gets done that is another matter, but I will still be there pushing. I am hoping that we can achieve something.

CHAIR: Ultimately, of course, this committee's position is not to actually advocate at all. It is simply to determine whether petitions are in order or not, and then forward the formal petitions to the minister and present those petitions in the House.

Mrs Warriner : At least it has been listened to. That is the first step on the ladder.

CHAIR: My first question is: what made you decide that a petition was the best way to go about this?

Mrs Warriner : I work with the Fair Go for Pensioners and I work with Combined Pensioners, which is my organisation. I listened to what people were saying, but I did not do actually anything about it for months. I just sat and listened and listened and at the finish I said to my husband: 'Something needs to be done.' There is a lot of suffering and hardship out there. I do not think that even I realised how much hardship there is out there. This is what made me look at the petition. I did not even know how to do a petition, to be perfectly honest, I had to ask for help to get it done.

CHAIR: So you contacted the secretariat, did you?

Mrs Warriner : I contacted people in Canberra and they helped me do the petition. I also went around my affiliates and I said to them, 'Ideas, help! What do I do? How do I go about this? How do I speak to? What do I do?' I followed it through one step at time and I finally got it down on pieces of paper. I gave all our organisation members a petition. I said to them, 'It's is up to you. Read it and, if you feel like signing it, please do so. It is an open choice. It's got to be your decision.' I was amazed at how many petitions we received back.

Mrs GRIGGS: How many members have you got in your—

Mrs Warriner : Now we have got about 3,421.

CHAIR: Wow, that is pretty precise!

Mrs Warriner : Exactly.

Mrs GRIGGS: You only had about 40 signatures on your petition, did you not?

Mrs Warriner : No. We said only 14, but we had quite a lot more come in after we sent the petition in.

Mrs GRIGGS: Do you know how many extra signatures you have received?

Mrs Warriner : I think we received 1127.

Mrs GRIGGS: Only 40 were submitted.

The Secretary: I suspect that there probably were others that would have been informal signatures. That happens a lot.

Mrs Warriner : It does happen a lot.

Mr Warriner : They have to come from all over the state. There is Warrnambool, the north east—we have groups all over the place.

CHAIR: If you want to come and give some evidence—

Mrs Warriner : He is a little bit shier!

Mr Warriner : I tag along—

Mrs Warriner : I am very precise with my paperwork. I file everything. I write on them exactly what is in there, what is on top of that and how many are in there, so I can go back and think, 'I've got 1,100 there and I've got 1,200 here.' Then I look at them and some of them are quite different in what they are after, so I do not put them together; I keep them separate.

CHAIR: I see that you have responses from the minister. What did you think when you received the response? Did you feel that the petitioning process itself was worth it even though you may not have particularly liked the response that you got?

Mrs Warriner : Yes, I thought it was well worth it. To be even given a look at by people who are in positions to be able to do something about it was something that I did not envisage at the beginning. When it got that far I thought it was worth pushing this because people need to know what is going on out there. Seriously, there is a lot going on. The hardship is just incredible out there. Sometimes I go home and I think to myself, 'What have I done all day? I've been on the phone for five hours; what have I achieved today?' But I have listened. I think that is what a lot of pensioners need: someone on the other end to really listen to what is going on and to say to them, 'We'll try and do something about this', which my organisation tries to do very quickly. So at least it has gone as far as you people, and we are grateful that it has got this far.

CHAIR: Is the petitioning process something that you would recommend to others if they came and asked you?

Mrs Warriner : Definitely. To get the look at that we are getting now with this petition, I think it is well worth doing. It was hard work and it was frustrating work, but at least I achieved it. I think I have achieved something.

CHAIR: Something that I would urge you to do if you decided to embark on another petition, or were suggesting to other people to embark on a petition, is certainly to contact the secretariat first.

Mrs Warriner : Definitely. You need all the help you can get, and professional help is an improvement. As I said myself, I did not even know where to start. I just looked at it and thought, 'What do I do with it?' and started the ball rolling from that point. But once it started rolling it rolled. I feel we have achieved, which is a point to the pensioners, because at least we have got you to look at it, which is something I am very proud of—that we have managed to push hard enough to do that.

CHAIR: One last question: in terms of the process itself, what would you suggest for improvements to the petitioning process?

Mrs Warriner : I think we need a specific person to actually send these petitions to in the first place, to make it slightly easier. You can get the help from Sharon and people like that, but I think you need something with a name at the end of it so that you can send it directly to him and he can reply if your petition is good or no good. People need to know if they have done it right. With me, it was hit and miss. I will be perfectly honest: it was a hit-and-miss situation because I did not know what I was doing. It was just something that I felt needed to be done, so I did it. But I have always been a person that would stand up and say what I think, regardless of whether I offend or please. I am very straightforward, and I will tell you exactly what I think. To be able to do that is something that people should understand. You are not being rude; you are just putting your point firmly across. I have always been the sort of person that would stand up and be counted.

Mrs GRIGGS: Thank you for doing that.

Mrs Warriner : Thank you for listening to me. I appreciate it.

Mrs GRIGGS: No problem.

Mrs Warriner : I hope you can achieve something for the pensioners.

Mrs GRIGGS: We are listening. We increased the pension yesterday—was it yesterday or the day before that pensions were increased again?

Mrs Warriner : It is on the CPI, isn't it?

CHAIR: Yesterday, yes.

Mrs GRIGGS: It was yesterday, yes.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your contribution today. If the committee has further questions for you, the secretariat will contact you.

Mrs Warriner : Thank you for the help.