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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6825

Senator SHERRY (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Vanstone. Can the minister confirm that the Department of Finance and Administration consulted with her department in preparing the secret agenda document for an ageing Australia, which was revealed in the media yesterday? Doesn't that document prove that the Liberal government is planning to increase the pension age?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank Senator Sherry for giving me the opportunity to yet again set the record straight. Senator Sherry, I think it has been pretty clear through the media—perhaps you are not in touch with mass communications; I do not know why— that the paper you refer to was prepared by the Department of Finance and Administration. I do not know whether anyone from there consulted anyone in my department.

Senator Sherry —They did.

Senator VANSTONE —It did not go to the Minister for Finance and Administration; it did not come to me. It was not sought by me, nor by the finance minister. Here is the bottom line, Senator Sherry: you wish, don't you, that you could have an issue to run on to attack the government?

Senator Sherry —Never, ever?

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Vanstone, would you address your remarks through the chair.

Senator VANSTONE —Mr President, he wishes that he had an issue he could attack the government on. Do you know why he wishes that? Because he has not got an issue to run on himself. His party have got nothing to say, no policies—

Senator Sherry —Never, ever?

Senator VANSTONE —other than I know that you are not too sure about whether you will protect Australians if they were under attack. You can have a few meetings about that and decide what you are going to do. So let me make it unequivocally clear for you, Senator: this proposition to which you refer is a no-goer—full stop.

Senator SHERRY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Isn't it true that as recently as 20 November the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, alluded to changes in the pension when he said:

In maximising labour force participation, it is important that the skills and experience of older Australians are fully utilised and that the social safety net is focused on those in need, yet does not deter participation and self-reliance.

Why is the government so determined to make Australians work until they drop?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —Senator Sherry will not get a job writing novels either, because that is just a bit too melodramatic. The Prime Minister's remarks stand. Of course some people are wanting to work longer and of course we are interested in people working longer—

Senator Sherry —And you want to make them do it; you want to force them.

Senator VANSTONE —but that is, as it has always been made clear, a matter of choice. Since Senator Sherry did not understand the first answer, let me repeat it to him: this proposition is a no-goer. It was not sought by the ministers, it is not being entertained and it is a no-goer.

Senator Sherry —Never, ever?

The PRESIDENT —Senator Sherry, I remind you that shouting across the chamber is against the standing orders and is disorderly.