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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1586


Mr BLANCHARD —My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Security. In view of the fact that recent Press reports have indicated that the Opposition plans to raise the age pension eligibility age for women to 65 years, can the Minister give the House some details of the implications of such a decision?


Mr HOWE —Madam Speaker, I thank the honourable member for--


Mr Sinclair —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. The question was false in its context and related to a matter for which the Minister is not responsible. As it is false in its context-there is no intention by the Opposition to change the age pension entitlement-I suggest the question is out of order.


Madam SPEAKER —The question would have been out of order had it continued to deal with the Opposition policy. However, the effects on the Government's policies I think are a quite legitimate question.


Mr HOWE —Madam Speaker, I am not sure which particular Opposition the right honourable member is speaking for. It is interesting though that the question was raised not within the context of any serious policy consideration but as part of the frenetic first days of duumvirate that would lead the planned Howard government. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has in fact considered this question and the chairperson of the Commission, Dame Roma Mitchell, has suggested that there are grounds for equal opportunity. I thought that was an issue not irrelevant to today's debate. She has suggested that the age of 63 years is an appropriate age.

Let me just give the House information on this. I am sure that the Opposition, even if it is considering it as only an option, would be interested to know what the savings would be on such a proposition. The abolition of age pension for women aged 60 to 64 years would affect 165,000 current age pensioners but would result in relatively small savings on social security outlays. The current cost of providing age pensions to women aged 60 to 64 is about $740m per annum. However, if the age pension for those women were abolished the majority would be forced to rely on some other form of social security payment such as the wives' pension, the invalid pension, the widow's pension or the unemployment benefit. As a result, the Opposition would no doubt be disappointed to know, the net saving from immediately abolishing the age pension for women aged 60 to 64 is estimated to be around $15m per annum.

There is still a major credibility problem. There is no quick fix in this area. If the age pension age for women were to be increased it would also be reasonable to introduce the higher qualifying age gradually to allow people sufficient notice to adjust their retirement plans. Of course, if the sudden death option was not chosen-one might call it the stuck pig option-of course that $15m saving would very likely evaporate.

As this proposition has come up other than in a policy context it has not been thought through. There are, of course, relatively few older women in the work force. Few in fact would be able to obtain employment and therefore many would have to rely on unemployment benefit for income support and would suffer a reduction in rate and loss of pensioner fringe benefits. They would also be required to meet unemployment benefit work test requirements. This is an important issue but it has not been posed in any serious policy context. Indeed, there is very little in the sense of policy that comes from the other side of the House.