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Wednesday, 21 April 1999
Page: 4031

Senator MURPHY (3:26 PM) —I would say to you, Madam Deputy President, that another thing that Australians, particularly those who are pensioners and benefit recipients, want is to make sure that they are fairly treated. That is the point I want to address today in taking note of the responses to questions to Senator Alston—in particular, to the question I asked him. We have not got any answers. That is clear now, after Monday when he could not respond to Senator Cook but referred to the article by Treasurer Costello in the Financial Review and said, `There are all of the answers.' I have to say to the minister that, if they are the answers, the Treasurer says in response to a question he poses himself:

So let's get the facts straight about what the Government is proposing.

The Government will be increasing pensions and other social security payments by 4 per cent from the day the GST commences. Pensioners will not have to wait for indexation adjustments to follow prices—for the first time, they will get increases before any price rise.

He further says:

This is not so. It is at least 4 per cent and no discounting.

I asked a question of the minister today with regard to the clawback provisions of the amendments to the Social Security Act—that is, 2½ per cent of the four per cent that you give them up front is taken back.

We then go to the government's position that is outlined in the ANTS document on page 56. It says this quite clearly about increasing pensions and benefits:

. a 4.0 per cent increase in the maximum rate of all income support payments provided to social security and veterans' pensioners, other social security recipients and students in receipt of Commonwealth income support, including additional payments and allowances such as Child Disability Allowance and Mobility Allowance;

. a 2.5 per cent increase in the income test free areas . . .

He says further down:

This represents an estimated real increase of $5.80 per fortnight in the maximum single rate pension and $4.80 per fortnight for each of a married couple in July 2000.

But the fact is that that is not the case and will not be the case. The government itself has set down in this document and in all of its statements that there will be a real price increase of 1.9 per cent.

But we know that the Treasury has acknowledged that it could be at least as high as 3.3 per cent, and others have claimed that the price increases could be as high as six per cent. What you have said to the pensioners of this country is, `We will give you four per cent, plus we will ensure that we maintain payments at 1.5 per cent higher than CPI.' We all know that that is simply not going to be the case—that has even been acknowledged by Treasury officials.

It can be seen from the committee reports, in particular the one that I would have thought would have dealt with the issue of support payments, the Senator Community Affairs References Committee, that the Labor senators on that committee actually did deal with the issue of pension increases. But what do we get when we go to the government senators' dissenting report titled `We have been told that'? The pensioners have been told they will get four per cent, but what you have not told them anywhere in any documentation, in any statement by the Treasurer to which Minister Alston refers, is that you are going to take 2½ per cent of it back. You are not going to allow any further indexation increases until 2½ per cent of the four per cent you say they get is reached—and it would appear that they get that up-front and forever. You have never told them that they lose 2½ per cent of it and they end up with 1½ per cent, which is less than the CPI increase that you have acknowledged yourself. So it is no wonder that the people, particularly the pensioners, of this country are so concerned about what this government is proposing. Not only does Senator Alston not know this but it is also the case for most of his colleagues—they also do not know this. That is why the minister went back to the box to seek advice from his advisers on the question I put to him today, which is a clear example of the person we now have as Acting Leader of the Government having no capacity to answer any questions at all.