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Monday, 20 October 2008
Page: 9630


Mr HAYES (9:35 PM) —I rise tonight to indicate that the government recognises that pensioners in our respective electorates are doing it tough and that it is necessary to have a true and fundamental reform of our pension system. Importantly, we need to get the terms of the review right. The government pension system will be finalised, subject to the Palmer report in February, and the final shape of the pension system will be detailed in the context of the next budget.

But what I want to talk about this evening is the lead-up that took place in terms of advocacy in respect of pensioners in Werriwa. I have written to many of our seniors groups, certainly to those who are very strong and passionate advocates for seniors, and encouraged them to participate in this review. As I reminded local pensioners, I have some 17,000 people in Werriwa who are receiving an age, disability support or service pension or who are Commonwealth seniors card holders. I expect that any review should hear and understand the views put forward by local people and generally reflect the true nature of what it is like to exist on the pension.

One of my constituents wrote to me, and I would like to outline his version of events. He has various expenses and financial burdens. He indicated to me that things we take for granted—participating in hobbies and social activities and interactions—are important at all stages of life. Unfortunately, he feels constrained because, being on the pension, these things are now beyond him. More importantly for Mr Marshall is the fact that his sister is extremely unwell and in a nursing home in Queensland. He put it to me that he cannot afford to visit her. He is actually counting his pennies as he predicts that at some stage he is going to have to at least make the trip to Queensland to attend her funeral. He was not putting that to me in a vexatious way but simply outlining the true economic circumstances that he found himself in.

Another pensioner who wrote to me, Mrs Gwen Bartho, made a valuable contribution in her submission to the pension review. Mrs Bartho raised a range of issues, including the level of possible earnings for pensioners and also the additional health costs that she is definitely incurring. She says:

The aged pension in and of itself provides barely enough money to permit me to pay my regular bills … For many pensioners social isolation is a major issue and this is made far worse if there are cost imperatives which make it even harder to get out and about.

These are genuine views out there and there is no doubt that pensioners will welcome the interim contribution that has just been made by the Rudd government. The contribution, in accordance with the Economic Security Strategy, will provide lump-sum payments to the tune of $4.8 billion to age pensioners, veterans, disability support pensioners and carers. This assistance builds on the additional support provided for pensioners in the government’s first budget and recognises that pensioners are calling for more help. Payments are intended to provide additional support for the nine months leading up to the next major adjustment, which will result from the budget and the recommendations of the Harmer inquiry.

The global financial crisis is placing increasing pressure on family budgets across all areas and all electorates. That is why taking early, decisive action to provide support for pensioners is, as has been indicated to me over the last week, very much welcomed by pensioners in my electorate, their advocacy organisations and seniors groups. The government are reforming the pension system and, to prepare for the challenges of the future, we are committed to actually getting it right.


Mr Hockey —Getting it right?


Mr HAYES —I am sure the member for North Sydney actually agrees with that, because I have probably spoken for his pensioners as well. (Time expired)