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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 5196


Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (1:47 PM) —Australia’s 3.4 million pensioners are overlooked and are really struggling to make ends meet. So many pensioners need extra help to pay for skyrocketing grocery and petrol bills just to get by. According to the St Vincent de Paul Society, age pensioners can spend 30 per cent more on food as a proportion of their income than average households, and they are hardest hit by those soaring grocery prices. But all people receiving the pension deserve an increase, not just those receiving the single pension. Pensioners have been overlooked for far too long. That is why Family First has been speaking out on this important issue for some time. That is why Family First teamed up with Shirley, the pensioner from Glenroy in Melbourne, to get a fair go for all pensioners. Shirley Grant has been the unsung hero of pensioners during this campaign. Family First and Shirley organised a protest rally that really put the plight of pensioners on the map—a protest, outside Flinders Street station in Melbourne in May, where hundreds of pensioners turned up to highlight the plight of pensioners. Thirty per cent of pensioners have less than $1,000 in the bank. It does not take much to imagine a situation where a big bill comes in, or some repairs are needed to the washing machine or to the fridge, and those savings are wiped out. The stress levels they face are enormous. Many pensioners are in danger of falling over the financial cliff. The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasurer have all admitted they could not survive on the pension, but they have asked pensioners to wait until February next year for a pension review to report, until May for the budget decision, and then until July for relief from the soaring cost of living. July next year! That is way too long. Australia’s 1.9 million people on the age pension are really struggling and need help.

It is also important to have an increase in the pension for those other pensioners. The coalition’s proposal covers more than 900,000 pensioners but gives nothing to the other more than 2.4 million pensioners who are also doing it tough. The coalition’s plan gives the nearly one million pensioners that are on the single age pension, single service pension and the widow B pension a $30 per week increase, but gives nothing to the other 2.4 million pensioners such as carers, couples on the age pension and those on the disability pension. It is good that the coalition realises now, a year after it lost government, that pensioners need urgent help, but it is odd that this move is limited to so few pensioners. There are 714,000 people receiving the disability support pension. The disability support pension goes to Australians who cannot work because they are permanently blind or who have a physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment. People who have a disability and who cannot support themselves financially obviously need help. They face the same financial struggles as other pensioners but perhaps without some of the advantages of many able-bodied people. There are almost 400,000 parents receiving parenting payment single. They have a tough job bringing up their children without the support of a spouse or a partner. One study found that single parents who do not have a job spend more than 50 per cent of their income on necessities like food, housing and electricity. This can be compared to other families who spend one-third of their income on those items. Obviously the cost of living pressures have had a big impact on them as well. Carers are a key group that are doing it tough. There are 116,000 people receiving carers’ payment. Too often we forget that caring is a constant and that carers do not get a day off. It is a 24/7, 365 days a year job.

Most of us have a break on the weekend, but not carers looking after a loved one who is frail aged or sick or who has a disability. They do vital work and they need our support. Family First believes that this bill should include the disability support pension, parenting payment single, carer payment, wife pension and income support supplement for singles and couples. I move the second reading amendment on behalf of Family First:

At the end of the motion, add: “but the Senate is of the opinion that the increase in the pension rate should extend to recipients of the:

(a)   disability support pension;

(b)   parenting payment;

(c)   carer payment;

(d)   wife pension;

(e)   service pension; and

(f)   income support supplement.

All these other pensioners need help; they are facing a very difficult situation with soaring petrol and grocery prices. They are struggling to make ends meet. We have had people in tears call my office saying that they simply cannot afford to get enough to eat. We have heard of people staying in bed all day because they cannot afford to pay for heating. They are already isolated enough. These are Australians that we said we would look after; we are failing miserably and we need to do a heck of a lot more. Family First wants to make sure that all pensioners get a fair go.