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Wednesday, 18 March 2015
Page: 2792

Mr BOWEN (McMahon) (15:11): The Australian people know that this is a government completely out of touch with the needs of working Australians and pensioners. They know how heartless this government is. They know how this government completely misunderstands the impact of their own decisions. They know this Treasurer completely misunderstands his own policies and the impact they have on the Australian people. They know that this Treasurer puts together policies which impact on them and then he does not understand the impact of his own actions. They know all this because the Treasurer has told them. They know all this because the Treasurer has laid bare his lack of understanding of the impact of his own decisions.

He told them that poor people do not drive cars. He told them that if poor people have cars they do not drive them very far. He told them that the GP tax does not apply to people with a chronic illness. He told them that the GP tax was only the cost of a couple of middies—what an insult to the Australian people. What an insult the Australian people this Treasurer and this Prime Minister and this entire government are. The Australian people know how heartless they are. They know how out of touch they are. They know how they do not understand the impact of their own policies. But the Australian people say to this government, 'At least be confident as you go about your program of cuts to us.'

What we get from this government are cuts and chaos all at the same time. The alibis change. The narrative changes. Everything changes accept the cuts. We get the changing stories over the course of one interview, or one day, or one week. We get the changing alibis and excuses for their actions, but at its heart the government strategy remains the same: make those who can least afford it pay the cost for their policies. The prejudice remains the same and the result remains the same. We have seen it the over the last day or so. Remember we have been told how dire everything is, because that pesky Senate will not rubber-stamp their broken promises. We are told regularly how bad things are, how we are heading towards cataclysm for our economy, and then we are told something different. We were told today by the Prime Minister: 'Well, we've made a lot more progress than people think. Actually, things are all right, because the Intergenerational report apparently tells us that with everything that has been passed we get back to balance in just five years.' It is okay; the Intergenerational report says it. 'No problem,' we are now told. 'Nothing to see here.' 'Move along,' says the Prime Minister. The fact that there are 40 years of deficits after that—'Oh well, don't worry about that. We wouldn't worry about that, because everything is fine now.'

No wonder the Australian people are confused by this government's economic narrative, because they are confused themselves. Former Treasurer Peter Costello, says, 'There are mixed messages here from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer.' If Peter Costello cannot work it out, no wonder the Australian people say this government is not up to it. This Treasurer in particular is simply not up to it. He is not up to the task before him, the task entrusted to him by the Australian people. He is incompetent as he goes about his chosen project of cutting from the Australian people and from Australian families.

We had the Prime Minister say today: 'Don't worry about it; we're back at balance within five years.' When the Treasurer was asked, 'When will we be back to balance? When will we back to surplus?' he said, 'I'm not putting a date on it. I couldn't possibly put a date on it!' Again, we have dysfunction between the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. The one thing though—to give the government credit—that is always consistent, is its attack on low- and middle-income earners. That is the one thing that never changes when it comes to this government. Everything else changes—the stories change, the alibis change, the excuses change and the blame game changes, but the answer is always the same: 'Those who can least afford it will pay,' says the Treasurer. That is what he says. That is his one consistent narrative. He says to the Australian people, to Australian working families and pensioners: 'You will pay.'

I want to spend a minute talking, in particular, about the pensioners of Australia. We had the Treasurer at the dispatch box yesterday telling us how much he respects taxpayers. 'I respect taxpayers,' he said. How about a bit of respect for Australia's pensioners, people who worked hard all their lives. How about not telling Australian pensioners that they are leaners. They are not leaners. The Treasurer's own report—written by the Treasurer himself—tells us something very interesting about Australia's Treasurers. Do you remember how many times we have been told by the Treasurer that the Australian age-pension system is unsustainable? He makes himself out to be the hero. 'I'm making the pension sustainable by cutting it,' he tells us. But what does this report tell us about the age pension? This highly-political document contains three scenarios.

One of those scenarios is previous policy. While this is a complete dodge by the government, I am proud to say that the previous policy, included in this report, is the Labor government's: fair indexation for the age pension; fair indexation for Australia's pensioners who worked hard all their lives. This report tells us how much that policy will cost, how much fair indexation of the age pension will cost over coming years. It tells us that it will cost 3.6 per cent of GDP by 2054-55. That is 3.6 per cent of Australia's GDP. I say Australia's pensioners are worth that. I say it is fair when the OECD average cost for pension systems is 7.8 per cent. I think Australia can afford 3.6 per cent. I think Australia's pensioners have worked hard all their lives. They have lifted all their lives and deserve that support.

We, when in office, commissioned a review. That review found that CPI, inflation, was a woefully inadequate indexation measure for the age pension. So we said: no. We will have three measures to improve the age pension. One will be average weekly earnings, one will be the CPI and one will be a basket of goods that pensioners primarily buy. That is fair.

We saw the Prime Minister in a shameful performance, in the House, earlier this week say: 'Under your system, under the Labor Party system, Australia's pensioners would be worse off.' That was blatantly untrue. It was clearly and undeniably untrue, because the pension goes up by the highest of those three measures under our policy. It is a policy we will defend in this House, and that house across the country, because it is a fair one.

Forty years ago a Prime Minister we recently mourned said to the Australian people, 'As Australia grows and prospers, Australia's pensioners should share in the prosperity.' He introduced a link to average weekly earnings for males. He said, 'As Australians earn more, pensioners should earn more.' He indicated new government policy to link the pension to weekly earnings of 25 per cent.

Before we hear from members opposite that this was unsustainable and unaffordable and typical Whitlam spending, let us remember that this policy was continued by his successors. They were Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. They all continued that policy. In fact, the previous Labor government said, 'We can do better than 25 per cent. We can lift that to 27 per cent, because Australia's pensioners deserve it.'

All this remained bipartisan policy for 40 years, until this Prime Minister and this Treasurer—without a skerrick of a mandate—said to Australia's pensioners: 'You do not deserve that. You do not deserve to share in Australia's prosperity. You do not deserve to share in Australia's wage growth. We will institute a policy that will see your pension fall to 16 per cent of average weekly earnings.' It is shameful that without a skerrick of honesty, without a word of a mandate and without one indication to the Australian people that this would be the case they implement the policy. They tell us what the policy is eight months after the election. How dare this Treasurer lecture others about when they should release policies when he released his policies eight months after the last federal election, when he stood there and delivered the federal budget.

There are facts. Australia has the second-lowest spending on age pension as a percentage of the economy in the OECD and has the second-highest level of poverty, for people over 65, in the developed world. We said in office that we can do better. That is why we increased the age pension and improved the indexation. It is also why we made it easier for Australians to save for their own retirement through superannuation, why we increased the superannuation guarantee to 12 per cent and why we gave low-income earners a fair tax concession, which this government has abolished and is proud of abolishing.

On Monday night the Treasurer said, 'I'm always cautious when taking money off people.' No, he is not—not when they are low-income earners and not when they are people who have worked hard all their lives. He calls them leaners, but they are not. They have been hard workers and they deserve this parliament to defend them. He deserves this parliament to stand up for them. Only half this parliament does, and they all sit on this side of the chamber. We will defend pensioners in opposition and we will defend and improve them in government as well. (Time expired)