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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26863


Mrs MOYLAN (1:03 PM) — First, may I add my congratulations to the Treasurer for a splendid budget and for addressing some of the concerns expressed by people in my electorate. I know these measures will be welcomed by the many pensioners and self-funded retirees whom I have talked to over the last long period of time. Indeed, in these bills their concerns have been reflected. I have heard a few of the members on the other side talk about broken promises, but I can remember going back to when I first came into this place not so long ago, in 1993—it was when John Hewson was leader of the Liberal Party and leader of the coalition—when we proposed to put into place a fairer tax system.

We know now that the former Labor Prime Minister did all he could to prevent that from happening and promised the electorate tax cuts. In fact, he said in this House—and I heard him—`These are l-a-w tax cuts and they will happen.' Of course, immediately after the election we saw sales tax increases on all goods. That had a dramatic effect on our pensioners and on our self-funded retirees. Labor made no attempt whatsoever to provide any offsetting increases in the pension or, indeed, give pensioners or self-funded retirees any bonuses to offset the effect of very dramatic increases in sales tax. So not only were there not tax cuts; there were additional taxes applied to a very wide range of goods and there were no offsetting benefits for pensioners and self-funded retirees.

People on the other side need to remember that, because this is the first time that pensioners and self-funded retirees have been given offsetting amounts and, indeed, bonuses. They do deserve them. There is no doubt about that. These are the people who have been our nation builders, and who have allowed us in this generation to live very comfortably. I think that these measures are well overdue, and I welcome them.

I want to talk briefly about some of the measures. One is the one-off payment to the aged. This initiative will provide a new one-off payment of $300 to two groups of older Australians, but this bill in particular relates to people on income support over age pension age, that is, 61½ years for women and 65 for men, and veterans on income support who are over the veteran pension age, that is, 56½ for women and 60 for men. This group will receive the payment automatically by 30 June 2001 if this bill passes through this House and, of course, the Senate. It is a very important measure that gives pensioners this benefit right now; they do not have to wait. I think that is a very positive thing.

People over the pension age who are outside the income support and the personal income tax system and who do not have a partner in either system may also benefit. That certainly will help farm families in my electorate who are asset rich but cash poor. So there will be an opportunity for people in that category also to share in this benefit. Those payments are expected to be made any time through Centrelink between 1 July and 31 December 2001. So people in that category can apply to Centrelink during that period for their $300 one-off payment.

This measure will give a great boost to the living standards of older Australians on income support or where both they and their partners are outside both the income support and personal income tax system. Such a measure has been widely advocated by groups representing older people. As I said, certainly I have had many representations from pensioners and self-funded retirees in my constituency. The tax-free payment may assist people to meet winter bills and certainly will provide an alternative to other options, particularly the $500 lump sum that is available to them now to meet lumpy expenditure, such as house maintenance and repairs. It is a very welcome and important measure.

There are also other measures that will support this. One, of course, is the telephone allowance. That will provide $17.20 a quarter to eligible self-funded retirees who qualify for a Commonwealth seniors health card. Again, this is going to be very important for many self-funded retirees in my electorate, particularly those living in the outer metropolitan region, for whom the telephone is literally their connection to their family and others. There is not the same opportunity for social interaction, so the telephone is used quite extensively. That is also going to be much welcomed by self-funded retirees and seniors in my electorate. Of course, we will see the extension of the seniors health card. Again, that will be a very welcome measure.

There is another issue that self-funded retirees have raised with me which is part of the measures being announced. When I first came into parliament, the big issue was that self-funded retirees paid a higher rate of tax on their earnings than a pensioner who also had small private earnings. The tax-free threshold for self-funded retirees was different from that of pensioners, which was very unfair. Their pleas to the Labor government to change this fell on deaf ears. That is something that the Howard government took up in its very first term of office and changed. Under the previous Labor government measures, the tax-free threshold was $5,400. This government increased it to $11,000. Under the measures that the Treasurer announced last night, that will increase further to $20,000. This is an enormously important measure for both part pensioners who earn income and pay tax and also fully self-funded retirees. I am sure that that is going to be a very welcome measure.

In relation to compensation for people who were prisoners of war in Japanese war camps, there are some very prominent people in my electorate who were Japanese prisoners of war. These are people like Jack Sue, who really is a national hero, and people like Keith Flannagan, who spent so much of his retirement promoting the work of Weary Dunlop and educating schoolchildren, in his own time and at his own expense, on that part of our history. This measure is going to be a very welcome one for people in my electorate who were prisoners of war of the Japanese. Of course, this measure also applies to the widows of prisoners of war of the Japanese, and they will also welcome this initiative.

I welcome the measures that have been outlined in this budget. They build on other things that we have done. It does not tell the whole picture to just talk about the one-off payment of $300 or the initial four per cent increase in the pension to compensate for the introduction of the GST and the ongoing two per cent above indexation which pensioners now get in the pension. There are so many other measures that this government has brought in to support seniors in our community.

I remember early in my career in this place talking to Avril Fink of the Carers Association. She said, `Judi, carers have never been recognised by the federal government.' We went to the Prime Minister and got funding for carers. It was a great joy for me to go to Northam, one of the regional centres in the country part of my electorate, the other day and open the Carelink centre, because this was part of the initiative announced when I was minister to establish resource centres and respite centres all over the country to assist carers and those who need access to care. A good many of the people who fall into that category are the seniors in our community. So in the health area we have done so much to assist the seniors in our community.

Commonwealth funding for health care will increase by $2.9 billion over the next five years. Measures such as additional funding for the prevention of diabetes, for example, also affect the seniors in our community, because many people who get diabetes type 2 are older people in our community. So these are very welcome measures. As for the gold card, an increase in the people who qualify for that is very important. Free annual flu injections have been introduced by this government for people over the age of 65. There will be free annual voluntary health checks for all people over the age of 75. A sum of $209 million will be spent on improved hearing services. These all build substantially on the very direct benefit of the $300 bonus and the increase in earnings that can be had by self-funded retirees and part pensioners before they have to pay tax.

So we need to be talking about the whole package that this government is putting forward, which really recognises the special circumstances of people who live on fixed incomes and the seniors—the people who have been the nation builders. One of the things that is very evident in my electorate is that not only have these people worked a lifetime and contributed to the development of this country during their working life but in retirement many of them are our voluntary workers: they are there delivering the Meals on Wheels to their peers who are not as well off in terms of their health; they are there transporting seniors to medical appointments and social engagements; they are there working to improve the environment—literally putting the spade into the ground—and they are there in so many capacities in our communities working in voluntary organisations to make their communities just that little bit better off. So they do deserve these measures. I congratulate the government, the Treasurer and Prime Minister on an excellent budget which has recognised our seniors as nation builders.