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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 8176


Ms CAMPBELL (9:45 PM) —Mr Speaker, that pensioners across the country are doing it tough is not news to you, I know. Nor indeed is it news to me. It does, however, appear to be quite a revelation to those opposite. After 11 years of doing nothing, suddenly the opposition are fundamentally concerned with a portion of the electorate which they simply took for granted. Suddenly those opposite are imbued with righteous indignation—nothing is of greater priority to them than an increase in the pension.

I have no intention of making light of the pressures under which pensioners struggle each and every day. That has been done already by the Liberals. Last month, in what can only be described as a most desperate attempt to grab headlines and steer the agenda away from his embattled leadership, the former opposition leader proposed an increase in the single aged pension of $30 a week. There are more than 11,000 pensioners in my electorate of Bass and, while I am certain the single ones among them would welcome the move, there are 4½ thousand disability pensioners and almost 1,000 carer pensioners whom those opposite appear determined to ignore.

The new opposition leader obviously believes that the 11,289 pensioners in Bass are not worthy of any more assistance. Clearly Mr Turnbull does not consider that 803 carers, 4,561 people on a disability pension and 5,925 pensioner couples in Bass are in need of more help. Along with his Liberal and National Party colleagues, he does not consider these local pensioners worthy of additional financial help. In contrast, as a result of Australian government measures, all age pensioners, singles and couples, carers, veterans and disability pensioners and women on the wife pension will this week receive the next $128 instalment of their annual $500 utilities allowance.

All of this needs to be put in some context. Let us not forget that this is coming from the party whose first priority in their legislative action in the Senate was to block an increase in the luxury car tax. So concerned were those opposite with ensuring that luxury cars remain affordable that they were prepared to punch a $550 million hole in the budget surplus. Thankfully an agreement was reached with the Senate’s Family First member. But those opposite are not done. I have publicly called on Tasmania’s Liberal senators to pull back from what can only be described as their irresponsible threat to block 30,000 public dental services for Tasmania. The Rudd government wants to invest $290 million in cutting public dental waiting lists. Right now, there are 650,000 people waiting for public dental services, but those opposite are determined to continue to block funding for the Commonwealth Dental Health Program.

At the last election, Labor promised to abolish the Liberal Party’s poorly targeted, failed dental scheme and redirect the funding to provide public dental care to the most vulnerable in our community. Now the Liberals and Nationals are threatening to block that funding by keeping their failed dental scheme alive, completely ignoring the message voters sent them at the last election. That means there will be no Commonwealth Dental Health Program. Let us look at their priorities: ignore disability pensioners, veterans and carers, continue to deny Tasmanians access to 30,000 dental services, but block an increase in the luxury car tax. All the while, they are claiming to be in touch with the community. You know what? I don’t think so.

The Rudd government, on the other hand, is fully aware of the pain and pressure pensioners are under. That is why in the budget we boosted spending on seniors from $1.3 billion to $5.2 billion. We recognise the former government’s neglect of pensioners over the last decade, but we also recognise that we have more work to do on the pension, which is why the Henry review is looking carefully at the adequacy of retirement incomes. The pensions aspect of this review will report in February.

I am listening to the community and I am hearing a lot of concern and angst. I want to assure pensioners across Northern Tasmania: as a government, we are hearing you. Unlike those opposite, we are taking responsible steps to respond. Any change to the base rate of the pension is an extremely complex step with important economic implications, so it is vital that we act sensibly and responsibly in the national interest as well as the interests of pensioners.

It is simply laughable for those opposite to criticise the government for the rate of the pension. They had 11 years to do something about pension adequacy and delivered nothing but chronic neglect. We are determined to rectify that neglect and we will do so in a responsible way.