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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26904

Ms HALL (4:39 PM) —Whilst I support the Compensation (Japanese Internment) Bill 2001 and the cognate bills and any action that this mean-spirited, tricky government takes to ameliorate the hurt it has caused Australians, I recognise these measures for what they are—a blatant attempt to buy votes from those Australians that the GST has hurt the most. This is a government in panic. The GST is the tax that taxes every aspect of every Australian's life every day in every way. No measure that is rushed in at the last minute to try to compensate senior Australians for the great hurt this government has caused will turn that around. We might well ask: who does the GST hurt the most? The answer is: those on fixed incomes—seniors, self-funded retirees, pensioners, Australians with families. The government stands condemned for its failure to compensate pensioners and self-funded retirees properly.

Whilst there are measures in these bills to compensate pensioners and self-funded retirees, I must express my disappointment that the government has failed to recognise the great hurt it has caused people living in residential and caravan parks. This government has brought in its own GST compensation, its own roll-back—or should I say `rollover'—and in doing that it is attempting to make up for the great hurt it has caused. I was speaking today to a pensioner who lives at Swansea in the Shortland electorate. She said that, since the GST has been introduced, she has paid $1,077 in GST. She bought a new stove, video, airconditioner and TV and now she is up for new carpet. You might say that these are one-off items and that she is unlucky that they have all broken down at this particular time. But she has had a house for 23 years—and probably that is a short period of time for a pensioner. When you have had your appliances for a long period of time, they break, and after a certain period of time your house needs painting, and pensioners have to come up with the money to have these jobs done and that all entails the GST.

I see this $300 as blood money. It is the government's attempt to buy off, to compensate, to try to make up for the great hurt it has caused our senior Australians. It is a blatant grab for votes, and it is treating Australians, particularly our senior Australians, with contempt. This government thinks that, by throwing $300 at pensioners—quite a few of whom did not receive the $1,000—all will be forgotten, all will be forgiven, and that they will see the government as being a caring, compassionate government. Not so; the experience that I have had when I have visited pensioner groups does not bear this out. There is great anger towards the government. Pensioners and self-funded retirees really feel that they have been sold out by the government—and no attempt to buy their vote is going to convince them otherwise.

We also had the savings bonus debacle. Whilst I am talking about that, I might just refer to an incident where Mr Basil Kane confronted the Prime Minister last week at Erina Fair at Gosford. He asked the Prime Minister three times whether he had promised $1,000 compensation for pensioners and why he had not delivered. After the budget, Mr Kane was asked what he thought of the $300, and his answer was:

The $300 is a pittance for what the GST has taken away from pensioners who aren't self-funded.

That is what the retired salesman said from his home on Saturday. Obviously Mr Kane has not accepted this $300 as a pay-off for the hurt that the government has caused him.

When the savings bonus was promised to Australian pensioners, they believed that the government was going to deliver it to all pensioners. They did not read the fine print. They were not aware that they actually had to have savings worth $1,000 to be eligible for it. I had pensioners in my office literally crying. `Is this what the government thinks of me; am I so contemptible that they've given me $13?' one pensioner said. Another pensioner received $1. Some of the pensioners in the Shortland electorate actually sent the money back to the government. As I say, the pensioners are too smart to be fooled by this government, and $300 of blood money is not going to buy you another term in government.

Never has there been a government that has caused so much hurt and hardship to so many people, particularly to those people on fixed incomes, the pensioners and the self-funded retirees. Peter Costello and John Howard are saying that they got it wrong. Okay, we on this side of the House accept that. Everyone can make a mistake. They are saying, `We made a mistake, but we're going to reward you for the mistake we've made by giving you a pittance of $300.' `Trust us,' they say, `we'll look after you; give us another term in government.' That is what this is all about: `Give us another term in government and everything will be all right.'

The Howard-Costello government are desperately trying to convince self-funded retirees that they care about them with their GST roll-back package. They are trying to convince this group of Australians—a group that has traditionally supported the government but one that is very angry with the government—that they are going to look after them. I will refer to another piece of correspondence I received in my office in Belmont today. This constituent said:

I think there are some things that need explaining—

about the government's assistance package for self-funded retirees—

Perhaps this could be passed on ... to Canberra.

I have included some comments. I shall be pleased to receive some answers.

I ask these questions on this constituent's behalf. She looked at the budget statement and thought there was something funny about it. The first thing she said was that it was unclear as to what age a self-funded retiree becomes an older Australian. In question time today we heard the answer: that you have to be eligible for the pension. And what about the low income aged persons rebate, she asks. How old is an aged person? I will digress for a moment to say that I have actually received another letter from another constituent who qualifies for the age pension. But she is on the disability support pension and is most concerned that she will not be paid the $300 because she is not in receipt of the age pension.

What is meant by `qualifying' in the term `qualifying self-funded retirees'? I suspect that the devil may be in that word `qualifying'. People are suspicious—once burned, twice shy. Is there any age limit? The budget implies no age limit. But, once again, we need to read the fine print. This constituent whom I mentioned previously is a 56-year-old woman who is a fully self-funded retiree, and she wants to know whether she will qualify. Her husband is a 61-year-old fully self-funded retiree. Will he qualify? Obviously, the answer is going to be no. This is typical for many self-funded retirees who, once again, this tricky, mean-spirited government is seeking to dupe. What is meant by the word `effective' in the phrase `effective tax-free threshold'? And so her letter goes on. Obviously, this legislation poses many questions that the government has failed to answer. My advice to self-funded retirees is to read the fine print—because we always know there is a catch in the fine print. If you think something is not explained properly, I am sure you are right.

In conclusion, I would like to endorse the payment of $25,000 to those Australians who were held by the Japanese as prisoners of war, but I must say that the government was dragged kicking and screaming into introducing the legislation. Legislation has already been introduced by the UK, the Dutch and the New Zealand governments, but this government has shown a reluctance to introduce it. This GST compensation, or roll-back, to senior Australians is welcome, even if it is given reluctantly. This mean-spirited government's roll-back should be recognised for what it is—a tricky grab for votes—and all Australians recognise it for what it is.