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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26850

Mr EDWARDS (11:51 AM) —I rise to speak on the Compensation (Japanese Internment) Bill 2001, Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (One-off Payment to the Aged) Bill 2001, Family and Community Services and Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Further Assistance for Older Australians) Bill 2001 and Taxation Laws Amendment (Changes for Senior Australians) Bill 2001. Whomever said that you cannot get blood out of a stone was wrongwrong because we now see a government that have had a heart of stone suddenly bleeding, not because of compassion or care or concern for the people that they have hurt since they introduced the GST but because they are about to get thrown out of office, and deservedly so. The government are bleeding because they are desperate to hang on to power and, as desperate as they are, they know that this budget is not going to save them. They are desperate because they know that people out there in the community are hurting: people on low incomes, people on fixed incomes, elderly Australians, Australians on pensions, Australians who are battling and Australian families who are going backwards, as many of the more recent surveys have shown us.

This is a cynical budget from a desperate government. If ever you wondered how desperate things were, you had only to listen to the desperation in the voice of the last speaker—a desperate man, from a desperate government, with a desperate Prime Minister and a desperate Treasurer, trying to find a way out of the hole that they have dug for themselves. You would have thought that, if this budget was so good, the previous speaker would have spent his whole 10 minutes talking about how good it was. But, no, he did not do that. He got into the gutter. He wanted to kick the member for Lilley because the member for Lilley hurts them—he brings into this place, as do many other members from this side of the chamber, the concerns, the worries and the hurt that people out there in our community are feeling. No wonder this is a desperate government! They have just brought down a desperate budget and, I might say, a cynical budget. It is from a government which has mugged the economy, mugged many elderly Australians on the way through and, of course, mugged many small businesses.

Having said those things, there are some good things in this budget—things that we welcome and things that we will be able to build on after the next election when we sit on the other side. And sit on the other side we will, because this is undoubtedly the last budget that this Treasurer and this government will bring down—the last opportunity for them to mug the people of Australia.

There are a couple of things that I want to talk about in a bit more detail. The first of these is the promised $300 adjustment for eligible pensioners—people who, in the words of the Treasurer, `qualify'. I want to urge those people out there who think they qualify to watch this debate closely and, the moment this legislation is passed, to get out there and get their $300 before it disappears in the same way that the $1,000 that was promised to every pensioner in this country disappeared. I would like to know what the Prime Minister did with it. He has taken $1,000 away, on the one hand; on the other hand, he has given $300 back. If that is not a cynical move, I do not know what is. I can tell you this: the people of Australia—the seniors and many elderly people who have stuck by this government over a long period of time—have deserted the government in droves, and this mean-spirited attempt by the government to win them back is simply not going to work.

But that $300 will mean a lot to a lot of our battlers out there. It is not going to cover the cost of the GST. I do not know just what those members opposite think the impact of the GST has been on a lot of low income earners, a lot of people on fixed incomes, a lot of battlers, but they are hurting. I have no doubt, Madam Deputy Speaker Crosio, that those people are coming into your office in droves as they are coming into my office, some of them very proud people who have been independent all their lives and who are now finding it impossible to make ends meet because of the way this government has mugged them. If the $1,000 was good enough when the Prime Minister said that every pensioner was going to get $1,000, it ought to be good enough now. But we know that he is not a man of his word. We know just how mean and tricky this government is.

One of the things I want to talk about is the compensation for the POWs, and that is something that I and every other Australian would applaud. But what a great tragedy it is that so many of those men and women have had to wait so long for this compensation. It is something previous governments can look back at and say, `This is something that we should have done earlier.' That this was not done earlier is a disappointment that both sides of politics ought to share. So many of those POWs who came home, and their families, could have done with this money a lot earlier. I am pleased that the government has extended this compensation payment to the widows, because many of those widows had to look after men who were ill, who were incapable of looking after themselves and who themselves had indeed to battle to get just recognition for the injuries, the traumas and the stresses that they brought home with them—stresses and injuries that some of them could not shed. So I welcome this $25,000 payment. I am not quite sure of the exact details of it, but it is something that I will look at more fully.

One of the things that does concern me a bit is that it seems to me that the payment is not totally tax free. I am not sure what the deeming arrangements are, but if we are going to give this payment to these POWs and civilian internees, we should make sure that every last cent of it is tax free. The other thing that I am a bit concerned about is the fact that we see a bit more division creeping in here in that the POWs from the Asian areas are going to get the money but the POWs from Germany, Crete and other countries are not going to get that $25,000 compensation.

I have not heard a single word from the minister as to why he has created this division amongst the ranks of the POWs. It seems to me that, if you were taken prisoner and if you served as a POW, then you ought to be justly entitled to the compensation. What is the difference between being held somewhere in Europe—perhaps in Auschwitz, as I know some Australians, unfortunately, were, but they are not entitled to the compensation—and being held in Asia? This division which is being created within the veteran community is of some concern to me. We can see it here with this compensation payment, and we see it in another measure that the government announced just before the budget, and that is the division which has now been created in the ex-service community with the nasho's medal. I do not know what the cost of that medal is, but I have some very good mates who are nashos and they are shaking their heads because, for the first time ever, men who served together overseas, men who suffered together and men who died together are now going to be treated separately. It is just another example of the division that this government has created in the ex-service community. I welcome the nashos getting a medal, but I want to look at the fine detail as to how it is going to be awarded.

But that is the least of our worries. My concern goes to those people out there in my electorate, those Australians who, as I said earlier, have been mugged by this Prime Minister, lied to by this Prime Minister and deceived by this Prime Minister—people who took him at his word and people who cannot take him at his word ever again. All of the promises, all of the things he says he will do when he gets out there and throws his arms about and says, `Yes, we care, we are concerned, we are sympathetic'—the average Australian is not going to cop that anymore because they know that this Prime Minister has lied to them in the past and they know that they cannot trust him in the future. In the meantime, on behalf of all of my battlers, all of my pensioners, all of my ex-POWs, I will stick my hand up for the money that is there, because they need it and they deserve it. As desperate as this government is, we are going to make sure that this time the Prime Minister is true to his word and that these payments flow through to those people.