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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5762

Senator HUMPHRIES (3:01 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (Senator Evans) to questions without notice asked by Senators Humphries and Adams today, relating to pensions.

Referring to ‘answers’ might be an overly generous reference to what Senator Evans had to tell the Senate today about the government’s response to the plight of Australian pensioners. The minister declined to indicate whether the government would support the $30 a week increase which the opposition has placed very squarely on the agenda. He declined to indicate whether there would even be a response to the idea of a one-off payment to Australian pensioners who are facing immediate difficulties in light of a number of serious economic pressures. He was unable to enlighten the Senate in answer to the question from Senator Adams as to whether there was any information as to the number of Australian retired people who might be pushed towards collecting the pension or a part pension in light of deteriorating returns from share portfolios.

We have here a government which is somewhat ignorant about the extent of the plight facing Australian pensioners, has an attitude which is contumelious, even contemptuous, of Australian pensioners and the difficulties that they presently are facing. The government’s lack of interest, their lack of focus on making a difference to the financial position of these people is really very disturbing. In fact, Mr Deputy President, I think it behoves all of us in this place today to try and imagine what kind of pressures are being faced by these people and what uncertainty must confront them today as they look at what is unfolding about them. Consider their position over the last 12 months or so. They have seen real increases in the cost of the basics that they consume each day of the week. Grocery costs, the cost of rent or other financial costs associated with housing, and the costs of maintaining their houses have gone up, as has the cost of buying petrol to move about and to stay inside the community. All of those things have risen quite dramatically. We have seen of course other unfortunate economic messages being received by Australian pensioners, which must make them even more uncertain about where the future is heading.

Obviously in the past decisions were made, particularly by the former coalition government, to link Australian pensioner’s pensions with measures of indexation to provide them with some sort of security in these circumstances. The decision to link pensions to the expansion in the male total average weekly earnings was an important decision to provide some security for people who are living in retirement in this country. But those decisions do not, by themselves, provide enough of a barrier to these sorts of pressures to provide everybody with a sense of security. Everybody, of course, has a different financial position. That is why a $30 a week increase of the kind proposed by the coalition is an appropriate and fair response to the enormous pressures which Australians in retirement are facing today.

Of course we know that there are other kinds of pensioners, or kinds of retired Australians, who are under increasing and serious pressure. Those people who are living as self-funded retirees of course have had the sight in the last few weeks of their shareholdings, upon which many self-funded retirement packages are based, reduce in value. That is a matter of considerable concern. So it is with some relief that many people in this constituency, in the Australian Capital Territory, would have regarded the announcement yesterday by the Canberra Liberals that if elected at the election this coming Saturday they would be making a one-off payment of $500 to single age pensioners to relieve the position that they find themselves in. That would have been regarded as being very positive news by those people.

However, it needs to be asked why it has to be governments at the second tier of  Australian government who are stepping into the breach in these circumstances. It is of course primarily the Commonwealth government which should be providing for the income security of Australians in retirement, particularly those on pensions. It is a dismal condemnation of the performance—or lack of it—of the federal government at this time that state governments or state oppositions are now looking at providing additional support to those people who are on pensions to face the pressures and to deal with those issues in a proper and appropriate way. They at least understand that we owe something to these people and that these are Australians who are owed a great deal because of the wealth that they built for Australians of today. To not provide them with security in their retirement is a completely disgraceful sham.