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Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Page: 3756

Mr GEORGANAS (7:55 PM) —I am very proud to be part of the Rudd Labor government which, in the budget yesterday, delivered on increase in the pension. These are the most significant reforms to the pension since it was introduced 100 years ago and are a vital investment in preparing Australia for the future. All 3.3 million age pensioners, disability pensioners, carers, wife pensioners and veteran income support recipients will benefit from the increases in their pension payments. From 20 September 2009, the secure and sustainable pension reforms will deliver increases of $32.49 per week for singles and $10.14 per week combined for couples. From 20 September 2009, total assistance for single pensioners will increase from $304.19 per week to $336.68 per week and for pensioner couples combined from $497.36 per week To $507.50 per week. This increase will bring the single rate of the pension up to two-thirds of the combined couple rate. The base rate of the pension will continue to benefit from benchmarking to wages. The benchmarked rate will increase for singles from 25 per cent to 27.7 per cent of male total average weekly earnings—that is, an increase of more than 10 per cent.

Being the member of an electorate with one of the highest number of people aged over 65 years in Australia—over 20 per cent of my constituents—I have been advocating long and hard for improvement to the income for pensioners in my electorate. I know that living on a single age pension is very tough. How do I know this? Because my constituents have been telling me at the street corner meetings we hold, at seniors forums, at functions and at meetings in my office. They have not been telling me this just in the last 18 months since we have been in government; they were telling me this for the years we were in opposition. This is not something which has just happened; this has been around for a long time.

Let us contrast the decision of yesterday’s budget with the record of the former coalition government, which, in 11 long years did nothing to address the inequity for single pensioners. In 11 long years, the former Howard government allowed the pension rate to stay low and squandered the opportunity to support pensioners in an entirely different economic climate. Not only that, but the opposition have been acting with mock indignation regarding the pension rise.

Last year around this time, after the budget, they attempted to ram a pension bill through parliament and that was just for political point scoring because they had 11 long years in government to do something about pensions. So why did it suddenly become an issue for the now opposition after a Labor government was elected? Because they wanted to use pensioners as pawns in their political games. The preface of the opposition’s pension bill stated:

Assistance for single age pension is an immediate priority due to the urgent circumstances facing many recipients struggling to cope with escalating costs of living.

You cannot tell me that pensioners and pensioner groups were not raising their concerns in the whole 11 years when the now opposition were in government, but all of a sudden it was an issue for them because Labor was in government. To use a quote after the mock bill was defeated, the opposition spokesman on ageing had the following to say:

The contempt shown by this Labor government towards senior Australians is beyond belief.

The Howard government did nothing for pensioners for the entire 11 years.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 8 pm, the debate is interrupted.