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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 5250

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) (4:56 PM) —I indicate that the government will not be supporting the amendment. That is consistent with our position of not supporting the bill. We are not going to attempt to make the bill better or more logical than it is, because fundamentally it is flawed. As we have indicated previously, we do not think that it is constitutionally competent for the Senate to pass the bill. Our advice is that, it being an appropriation bill, it cannot be initiated in the Senate.

When you look at what is happening here, we have a Dutch auction going on. The Liberal Party indicated that they were going to introduce a bill relating to single pensioners. After severe criticism from carers, those with a disability and veterans, they threw in veterans. They upped their bid and said, ‘We’ll put the veterans in.’ Now we have the Greens coming in and putting quite rightly the criticism that carers and disability pensioners have been ignored and saying, ‘We’ll up the ante and throw in carers and disability support pensioners.’ Then we have Senator Fielding saying, ‘Double or nothing: I’ll make sure that those who are in partnered relationships also get the increase.’

It is really easy. We have just spent about $5 billion without thinking about it. All care, no responsibility. It is easy to up one another in the rhetorical sense by outbidding one another in the chamber. But is all a nonsense. Sure, we all acknowledge that pensioners are doing it tough. We all accept that we have to try and do more to support them and to keep their standard of living at a reasonable benchmark. That is why this government invested in the budget more than $5 billion in—

Senator Siewert —Tax cuts.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —We certainly invested in average families, Senator Siewert. But for single age pensioners we also invested $900 over their base pension, the equivalent of $17 a week. We accept that they are still doing it tough and it did not solve all their problems, but we made a $900-per-annum, $17-a-week investment. We undertook to fundamentally review the basis of the pension and to examine what else we could do to assist those pensioners with their living expenses to ensure that they have a standard of living that we think is appropriate in a wealthy, civilised democracy like ours. We have committed to do that work; we are doing that work. We have also committed, as you are trying to do, to look after the circumstances of carers and people on the DSP. The question about people living in couples also has to be addressed.

You cannot do that by having a Dutch auction in the Senate in one day. Quite frankly, it is a nonsense. It does not do the Senate any credit. We all know that much more serious and fundamental work has to occur. The government has to lead that and bring serious legislation before the parliament. Let us debate the real issues then. But this is, quite frankly, a bit of a farce.

Progress reported.

Sitting suspended from 5.00 pm to 7.30 pm