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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7081

Mr HAYES (Fowler) (21:45): I rise tonight to express my bitter disappointment in the New South Wales Liberal government's recent decision to raise the cost of public housing for local pensioners. New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell has used the federal government's decision to compensate pensioners for the predicted rise in the cost of living as an excuse to raise rents for public housing tenants. As a result, from March next year pensioners will be paying significantly more in public housing rents.

We all know that pensioners are one of the groups in our community that need support and financial assistance the most. This is why we have implemented the historic increases in pensions, starting with the first pension increase in 12 years, in 2009. Since then, pensions have steadily increased, with pensioners receiving an extra $338 a year. In addition, more than 27,600 pensioners in my electorate alone recently received an advance payment of $250. This payment was intended to assist pensioners with the costs of living resulting from the Clean Energy Initiative and to ensure that pensioners are adequately compensated as we make the transition to a less carbon-reliant and more sustainable economy. With an expected $204 increase to the cost of living, Fowler pensioners would be $134 a year better off as a result of the recent cost-of-living pension supplement.

Pensioners have the least room to move when it comes to managing their costs. These pension increases were intended to give pensioners a little extra breathing space. The federal government encouraged all state and territory governments not to include pension increases in public housing rent calculations. That is why we distributed the recent increase in the form of a separate supplement and wrote to each state premier asking them to leave pensioners alone. The O'Farrell government is now the only government in Australia that has decided to ignore the reasons for the adjustment and disregard the needs of its own pensioners living in public housing. Barry O'Farrell is simply trying to claw back money from pensioners into his state coffers, and this selfish move will certainly be felt by those in our community who are struggling to make ends meet. There are 3,500 pensioners in Fowler living in public housing, one of the highest numbers in New South Wales. My electorate will therefore be one of the most affected by the New South Wales Liberal government's decision to once again siphon off pension increases into the state government's revenue.

This is not the first time the Liberal government has betrayed New South Wales pensioners living in public housing. When the federal government increased pensions for the first time in 12 years back in 2009, it took the incoming Liberal government only six months to renege on the agreement with the Commonwealth not to increase the public housing tenancy rents. As a result of the state government's decision, more than 20,000 pensioners in New South Wales, including more than 1,720 war veterans and war widows, are now paying an extra $618 per year. The most recent decision to raise public housing costs will add another $84.50 a year to the rents of people living in public housing. This is money our pensioners can least afford to pay. Pensioners in public housing in New South Wales already pay 25 per cent of their pensions as rent.

Barry O'Farrell needs to explain himself. He needs to explain to the pensioners of New South Wales why he has decided it is necessary to take away extra money that they so desperately need—pensioners such as Mrs Eileen Strickland of Cabramatta, who spoke to me only last week, asking how this could happen, because the Commonwealth increase was a non-taxable cost-of-living supplement. They are important payments to support pensioners as part of our clean energy housing assistance package. These payments will support public housing tenants in their adjustments to the cost-of-living impact from a carbon price. The increased payments were intended to assist pensioners in New South Wales. They are not there to assist Barry O'Farrell in furthering the interests of his state Liberal government.