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Tuesday, 20 September 1994
Page: 972

Senator ZAKHAROV —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. Does the government remain committed to the regular indexation of pensions and other social security payments and to its benchmark of maintaining pensions at 25 per cent at least of average weekly earnings? Can the minister advise the Senate of the implications for pensioners of these commitments?

Senator CROWLEY —I am delighted to have this question. This is a very important day for this question to come up because today is the day on which one of the twice-yearly indexations of pensions will occur for pensioners across this country. That means an increase of up to $3.50 per fortnight for single pensioners and $2.90 per fortnight for each member of a couple. These increases represent a 1.1 per cent increase in the consumer price index for the first half of this year. The new maximum payment rates, including pharmaceutical allowance, will be $326.80 per fortnight for a single pensioner and $270.80 for each member of a couple. At the same time, the maximum rate of rent assistance will increase by 80c per fortnight. The new cut-out points beyond which no pension is payable exceed the equivalent of $19,300 per year for single pensioners and $32,200 per year for pensioner couples.

  Turning to the second part of Senator Zakharov's question, very importantly this extra indexation maintains the government's benchmark of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings for pensions. Indeed, that long-term ambition of the government was reached in May 1990 and has been maintained ever since. In fact, the latest available data from May 1994 shows that we are ahead of the commitment and that pensions are now about 25.4 per cent of average weekly earnings. In real terms, which may be an even more significant figure, the standard pension is now 14 per cent greater than when we came into office.

  That record stands in remarkable contrast to the record of the opposition. During the opposition's last term of office, if anyone can remember that, the real value of the pension declined by two per cent.

Senator Kemp —I take a point of order, Mr President. This was a straightforward question which I thought required a straightforward answer. Senator Crowley is now attempting to debate the issue. If she wants to raise those debates, we will debate the recession which Mr Keating caused and we will debate the long-term unemployment which he caused. I ask you, Mr President, to bring Senator Crowley back to the question and to ask that she be relevant to the question.

The PRESIDENT —Again, I cannot see that the general thrust of the answer was not relevant to the question, but I would ask you, Senator Crowley, to desist from debating the issue as far as you can.

Senator CROWLEY —Always, Mr President. Merely reflecting on the extraordinary real value increase of the pension under the terms of this government seems not unreasonably to provoke a comparison with the previous term of government under the opposition.

Senator Kemp —Get on to the people you have thrown onto a pension.

Senator CROWLEY —It was not straying too much from the real point. If we want to get more contemporary, Senator Kemp might like to explain to this Senate what it is that he wishes to do with pensions, because nowhere can we find a clear statement. About the only thing the opposition will say about pensions and pensioners is that those opposite intend to devote themselves to savagely cutting public sector expenditure. Explain how.

Senator Kemp —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Crowley is really quite absurd in this answer. This question related to the indexation policies of her government. If Senator Crowley wants to get into welfare policies, she should get into the effects that her government's policies have had on long-term unemployment, causing a massive recession, the worst recession for 60 years—

The PRESIDENT —Order! You have made your statement: you have not made a point of order. But, Senator Crowley, I would ask you not to bait the opposition, otherwise you are going to beget that sort of thing.

Senator CROWLEY —Thank you for that advice, Mr President. I believe that members of the opposition, who are past masters at calling us to task for irrelevance, might reflect on the irrelevance of their own points of order. I will conclude my remarks by reminding senators of the achievement of today's indexation, that this government maintains its commitment to pensions and in particular to those pensions remaining at 25 per cent of average weekly earnings or above. That commitment is on the record and the life of this government shows an absolute or real increase in pension values. The government's commitment to pensions and pensioners is unquestioned, as I say, at the risk of provoking the opposition, in marked contrast to the opposition.

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.