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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26857

Mr WILKIE (12:32 PM) — Firstly, in referring to the matters contained in the Compensation (Japanese Internment) Bill 2001 and related bills, I endorse the sentiments that have been expressed about the need for the compensation for our POWs. My only regret is that it is too little, far too late. I personally believe that it does not go far enough in dealing with the issues of POWs in wartime generally—but that is another debate for another time.

Since 1 July 2000, older Australians in particular have been hit hardest by the GST. This is a tax that has seen them pay more for bus fares, telephone bills, clothing, electricity, et cetera: the list goes on and on and on. The government promised older Australians relief for the GST. It promised them a lump sum payment of $1,000. It also promised a four per cent pension relief. Last night, the Treasurer short-changed older Australians. He did not short-change them by 10 or 20 or 30 per cent; he short-changed them by a massive 70 per cent, to the tune of $700. Labor will support this $300 payment, but it is a payment that falls far short of providing adequate relief for the GST: a GST that has mugged the economy, mugged small business and, sadly, mugged the elderly—a GST that is for life and a GST that will be inadequately compensated for by this meagre payment.

Let us look at what the government is providing for pensioners. Finally the government is giving something back to seniors; but, as I said before, it is too little, too late. It is a one-off payment, and the GST is for life: our pensioners will have to put up with paying this obscene tax for the rest of their lives—every year, every time they go to the shop, every time they purchase something, they are hit with the GST. And what are they getting? A meagre $300, when they were originally promised $1,000.

Also, where is the pension clawback? I do not see in the budget an extra two per cent for our pensioners, which they were promised. No; once again the government is ripping them off. This is symptomatic of the government's treatment of the elderly generally. For example, it promised pensioners that they would get 25 per cent of average weekly earnings but, on 12 occasions since that promise, the government has failed to deliver that 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. In the electorate of Swan, a large proportion of residents are over 55. Thanks to this government's mean-spirited policies, these older Australians are still getting mugged by its GST and its broken promises. I have spoken to many of these older Australians in recent weeks, and the common sentiments they have expressed to me are that they hoped this budget would bring them some relief.

The stories I hear about older Australians doing it tough upset and anger me. Last night's budget does nothing to change that opinion. Already today I have spoken with a number of seniors from my electorate who cannot believe that this budget provides no light at the end of the tunnel for them. At a time in their life when they should not be worrying about their future, about where their next dollar will come from, about whether they will be able to buy enough food each week or pay their heating bills, last night's budget means they will continue to worry. These older Australians were asking where the extra $700 was that they were promised. Perhaps the Treasurer could explain.

Perhaps the Treasurer could explain what happened to the adequate compensation for the GST. In fact, after listening to the Treasurer last night, I cannot actually recall the dreaded term `GST' being mentioned in his budget address. Sadly, older Australians are finding it hard to believe that the $300 is all the relief they will get, and they cannot believe that they could be so blatantly lied to by the government. The government promised that it would compensate them for the GST. It has not. Older Australians know this because the Treasurer's budget address failed to acknowledge at all that they needed compensation—in fact, as I said, it did not even mention the GST. All the Treasurer said was that older Australians `deserved' this payment.

Let us look at the benefits promised in the budget to self-funded retirees. Sadly, the government has grossly exaggerated the benefits to self-funded retirees. Whilst I welcome the measures, I question the government's honesty in relation to what it has been saying. For example, the tax-free threshold rises to $20,000 but it was actually increased last month to $15,000 and, therefore, what the government has done is give a real increase of only $5,000. It is another tricky little Treasurer's taunt that he can throw up to our seniors. It is really only an extra $5,000.

It is a welcome measure, but obviously it will not be accessed by all self-funded retirees. Based on our figures, only one in 10 will actually be eligible to receive it at all. It is another broken promise. It is a little like the old savings bonus when 40 per cent of the people did not receive it at all. When it was announced everyone thought, `Wow, this is fantastic. We are all going to get this great bonus,' but of course 40 per cent missed out. Also, no-one aged 55 to 65 will actually receive it at all. So, if you are a self-funded retiree in that category, you miss out completely. And no-one with an income over $35,000 will receive it either.

Labor supports the measures, but we do not believe that the government has been honest. I believe the government should release the figures detailing the eligibility and how many people will actually receive the benefits. I think we might sadly come to the realisation that, yet again, the Australian people have been misled.

What older Australians really deserve is a government that is honest. They deserve a government that honours its commitments. They deserve a government that does not give with one hand and take with the other. Earlier today the member for Lilley quite rightly said that this issue goes to the heart of what sort of society we want to live in. The government is wearing its heart on its sleeve with this measure. It is saying to older Australians that it does not care if it adequately compensates them. It is saying that it does not care if it lies and deceives older Australians. It is saying that it does not care if its policies mean older Australians will struggle to afford to feed, clothe or house themselves.

A Labor government will commit itself to ensuring that in this society older Australians receive the support and treatment that they deserve. That means we will honour our commitments to them. We will ensure that the benefits they receive allow them to maintain their quality of life. Older Australians will not forget the promises the government made to them before the 1998 election and have since broken. They will not forget the hardships of the GST that have been brought about since July last year. They will not forget the government's measly attempts to compensate them that were announced in last night's budget. They will not forget that when they go to the ballot box later this year and elect a Labor government.

The sad reality here is that the government does not care about senior citizens; it only cares about votes. I would like to quote from today's West Australian. I will describe a wonderful cartoon which really sums up the situation, and I will follow on with a quote from the editorial. It is a cartoon of Little Red Riding Hood visiting granny. Granny is in bed and two wolves have stormed through the door—in this instance, one is the Treasurer and one is the Prime Minister—and their pockets are bulging and their fangs are showing. Little Red Riding Hood turns to them and says, `Oooh ... What big pockets you have!' `All the better to lure granny to the ballot-box with!' says the Treasurer. The title of the comment section of the editorial is `A Budget of politics, prudence'. It says:

Mr Costello also plans to give more than two million pensioners or part-pensioners a $300 non-taxable lump sum. His attempted justifications are that the economy can benefit from it, the Budget can afford it and older Australians deserve it. The first point is true, the second questionable and the third glib.

In fact, it is a brazen election handout. And many people will see in it an unspoken acknowledgment by the Government that some older Australians were inadequately compensated for tax reform—or generally believe they were.

It goes on to say:

... Mr Costello has left the Government open to the accusation that this Budget is aimed at saving its bacon.

I used to have a small piggery in years gone by, and I have never smelt such a stench of pork since I left the piggery business! Certainly that is what has been going on here—it is definitely an election budget.

As I said before, the government here is giving back some of the benefits that it has ripped off from our older Australians in past years. Those seniors who have been least able to afford the government's impositions have been forced to pay. But seniors know that, if this government shakes your hand, you had better count your fingers. They know that, if this government promises something, then you had better check out the fine print because the chances are you will not get it. This government cannot be trusted. It speaks with a forked tongue and the Australian community will not forgive or forget. I welcome these initiatives. I only wish they had been introduced before so many of our elderly were forced to suffer at the hands of this government.