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Monday, 23 August 1999
Page: 8777


Mr PRICE (1:33 PM) —In seconding this motion, I would like to begin also by acknowledging the good work also of the honourable member for Prospect in bringing forward this motion about self-funded retirees to the House. In particular, item 3 of the motion states:

. . . investigates other means of offering financial assistance and incentive to struggling self-funded retirees distinct from a Goods and Services Tax.

The issues for self-funded retirees are not new, and I noticed the honourable member for Fairfax said, `The Howard government has been the best. We've done the most for self-funded retirees.' I would like to acknowledge some of the things that the Howard government has done, but I do not think we can rest on our laurels, and that is the whole point.

It is no good saying to self-funded retirees, `Look at what we are doing by way of compensation for the GST,' because these are the people who do not have an opportunity now, by definition, to go back to work. In other words, a young person starting work at age 20 will benefit from the so-called tax cuts that are associated with the GST for the rest of their working life. As the honourable member for Prospect has said, the goalposts have been shifted for self-funded retirees.

In not wanting to deprecate in any way what the honourable member for Fairfax has said, let me give you a couple of examples. Is extra money the highest thing on the agenda of self-funded retirees? Sure, they want to have a reasonable standard of living in their retirement and, having been good savers during their working life, I am sure that they would want and have worked towards a reasonable standard of living. But I would say that, of all the people I meet, whether they are pensioners or self-funded retirees, the one thing they do not want to be is a burden on their kids or anyone else.

I say to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to other honourable members that I have raised in this parliament, admittedly some time ago, the idea that pensioners and self-funded retirees should be allowed to have burn money—that is, they should be able to set aside their funeral expenses and not have it count in any asset test by this federal government or any other state or local government. That is not a big ask, and it follows through on what I consider to be one of their primary concerns—that is, not to be a burden.

Just as the honourable member for Fairfax perhaps strayed and was a little partisan, I hardly think that the imposition of fees on nursing homes was the best thing for self-funded retirees. This is the only category of people in Australia who are going to be hit for six when they need to have care. It is not when a baby is born, not for kids in the children's hospital, not for teenagers in hospital, not for parents in hospital, but our self-funded retirees—our senior citizens—who are somehow, because of their age, discriminated against, in my view, and have to disproportionately provide for their own level of care. I think that is unfortunate. I know it costs big dollars, but I am saying, in the same spirit as the honourable member for Prospect when she made her point, that we need to investigate other things.

The government, particularly the Prime Minister, are often fond of saying that our health care system is first class. Well, it is in crisis. It is a good system, but it is in crisis. I would say that self-funded retirees would be concerned that there be no gaps in their private health insurance and that some of that $1.5 billion that has gone to maintain the current level of subscription to private health insurance should go to the hospital side of it because these people are going to be the acute hospital care users in our system. They want a first-class service, they want to make sure they have got provision for it and they want to be sure that, when they need the service, they will get the service.

So that is why I think the third point of the honourable member for Prospect's motion is most appropriate. Is mere money the best way of trying to compensate them? All she said—and I seconded the motion so I support it—is that we ought to investigate other options. I would hope that the next government speaker should be able to embrace that proposition.