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Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Page: 3909

Senator ADAMS (3:27 PM) —Mr Deputy President, may I formally congratulate you on your new position. I rise today also to take note of answers given by Senator Evans. Senator Collins is very concerned about why we should choose such a topic as pensioners to discuss. I cannot believe that she thinks that we should have discussed something else. This is incredible. Australian pensioners are struggling to survive. With rising petrol and grocery prices and rising inflation rates and insurance premiums, most Australian pensioners are far worse off than they were a year ago.

As a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, which inquired into the cost of living pressures on older Australians, I attended all the committee hearings. We produced a report—as Senator Boyce said—and called it A decent quality of life. A lot of thought went into this title. We believe that our older Australians, pensioners and carers are very important. Today I want to speak especially about Aboriginal pensioners who live out in the desert, because they are really having a very hard time surviving. These people are very important Australians, and to think that one of our senators cannot understand why the opposition has decided to address this situation is rather astounding.

In the West Australian on Monday was the headline ‘Exorbitant food prices mean some Aboriginals go hungry’. Last week the Senate Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities visited Balgo, Fitzroy Crossing, Derby and Broome. I have some quotes here from a little community out in the Tanami Desert called Mulan. That is very close to the Northern Territory-Western Australian border. These people, 160 residents, are among the country’s poorest and many are going hungry a couple of days a week. The local Assembly of God pastor says that the extremely high prices at the Mulan Community Store were hurting everyone but particularly the elderly. He went on to say: ‘Everyone shares food. It is part of our culture. But the old people will give away their food to see the children eat.’ Several pensioners he knew were forced to survive the last few days before their next pension payment by eating homemade damper or they simply went hungry. Is this what we want for our pensioners, and especially those that live in remote areas?

The majority of Mulan’s residents on welfare benefits receive between $200 and $250 a week and it is virtually impossible for them to live in the community and eat a healthy diet. Diesel costs $2.80 a litre in this area and the nearest regional centre, Halls Creek, is an eight-hour round trip along the corrugated Tanami Track. People have little choice but to shop at the Mulan Community Store. Just to give you an example of how much things cost there, half a pumpkin is $14.42, 1.7 kilos of sausages is $16.42, 1.4 kilos of chops is $33.92 and 1.3 kilos of potatoes—6 potatoes—is $8.71. Bread is $3.50 a loaf and four ears of corn is $15.50. These are the issues that these people have to deal with. Coming from a rural area myself, I am fully aware of the cost of the groceries going up in our local community and in places further out. The cost at Balgo the other day was $15,000 for the truck to come to the community store with all the commodities that the community needed for a week—$15,000 to pay for the freight. Of course, the freight cost has to be passed on to those who consume the goods.

The other thing that is really worrying me at the moment for Western Australia is the tax that is going to be placed on condensate. That is going to raise the cost of gas. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.