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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4080

Mr SULLIVAN (3:30 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister outline to the House why the decision to raise the pension age is a tough but necessary reform for Australia’s long-term economic future?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question because it goes to a necessary reform in the parliament to provide the single greatest addition to the single age pension for the future. This government proudly backs what was announced on budget night to aid those millions of pensioners around Australia who will benefit from this particular reform. I noticed on budget night that those opposite said, ‘That was our policy.’ For 12 years they had an opportunity to act on the single age pension and they did absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing! Then, a bit like we have seen in the debate today in relation to infrastructure, what they have done is say: ‘We sort of meant to kind of support it. Out there in the community we are going to tell people that we really did support it, but back in Canberra we don’t want to fess up to the fact that that’s really what our position was.’

The Australian people actually see through the double standards of all of that. They saw a government here for 12 years, awash in cash, with $300 billion-plus in revenue coming in off the back of the mining boom beyond the budget parameters. They see this government wrestling with a $210 billion budget revenue collapse because of the global recession, yet they see this government addressing fundamentally the needs of single age pensioners with a necessary reform for the future.

The other part of achieving the sustainability of the age pension for the future, however, is to make sure that we make retirement income policy in general, and the age pension in particular, sustainable in the long term. That is why the government have embraced a range of tough spending proposals for the budget, which we announced on budget night—$22 billion worth. These proposals are tough, they are difficult and many of them will actually cause the government considerable difficulty in our communication with the Australian public. But they are necessary for the long term because we need to make sure that, in providing pension reform for all those Australians who need that support, we are also ensuring long-term fiscal sustainability. That is why we have taken the position that we have in relation to the age entitlement for the age pension and that is why it will be moved along the lines which were outlined by the Treasurer on budget night.

On top of that, however, I noticed very carefully that those opposite seem to be wobbling around a bit on the question of the age pension. I noticed that as soon as we announced this, again, quick as a flash, the good old member for Warringah, the shadow minister for families, was up and about saying that that was his policy too. In fact he was saying they would bring in the upping of the age pension entitlement age earlier than us. I think that is accurate. I do not think I am misrepresenting you, Tony. I think I have it exactly right—he nods in agreement—that the Liberals’ position is to up the age pension entitlement age before the government.

We have said quite plainly that we think that age pensioners should be given plenty of time to prepare. That is why we will not start introducing this change until 2017 and we will therefore not bring it into full operation until 2023. The Liberals and those opposite seem to be quite uncomfortable about these dates and indicated on day one of the budget, through their relevant shadow minister, that their position was not to bring it in in 2017 but to bring it in much earlier. I take it, given the absence of any repudiation of that position, that that is the formal position of the Liberal Party.

Then I seemed to see some criticism this morning about the government’s ‘consultation processes’ on this matter. Are we beginning the great Leader of the Opposition crabwalk on this position as well? The Leader of the Opposition was always for an emissions trading scheme until one was actually introduced into the parliament. The Leader of the Opposition was always for a whole range of things including infrastructure investment until hard decisions had to be taken. The Leader of the Opposition was supporting the shadow minister for families, with whom he has such a close personal working relationship, on the question of upping the age pension entitlement age until we saw the debate beginning to unfold at the doors this morning.

The question which the nation at large would like to know is: what date will the Liberal Party propose to bring this in? Ours is plain—2017 through until fully operational in 2023—and necessary to underpin long-term sustainability of the age pension. I would say to those opposite: are we still sticking to the position that the Liberals would bring this in earlier? If so, what is the date, or is this now a matter of inconvenience, profoundly so, within the inner sanctums of the Liberal Party? Given the silence on the part of those opposite I would suggest that we are about to see a crabwalk with pike on this question. The government’s policy is clear.