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Liberal leadership woes overshadow pensioner -

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ELEANOR HALL: The Federal Opposition's campaign to get a better deal for struggling pensioners has
been blunted by the continuing speculation about Peter Costello and the Liberal leadership.

And today Liberal backbencher Wilson Tuckey has come out swinging. He is challenging anyone in the
party who is privately canvassing for a leadership spill to identify themselves, saying the
destabilisation is severely damaging the party.

The Government, meanwhile, is still trying to fend off the push to deal with the aged pension issue

In Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Peter Costello, though just a humble backbencher, is still managing to dominate the
political agenda. The release of his memoirs was supposed to coincide with a clear declaration on
his future but instead, his latest responses are viewed by some as refusing to rule out the
possibility of ever being drafted to replace Brendan Nelson.

Dr Nelson says he's looking forward to the book and is confident about his own leadership position.

BRENDAN NELSON: Of course. Of course. Very. Thanks mate.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Frontbencher Ian Macfarlane would like to see Mr Costello in the shadow ministry.
Mr Macfarlane is seeking a clear message from the former treasurer.

IAN MACFARLANE: I think we are all being as patient as we can be with Peter Costello. He has done a
fantastic job for Australia.

Brendan Nelson needs clear air to demonstrate what a really good leader he is and I think that
clear air will only come when Peter decides to stay or says I'm never, ever going to be prime
minister and decides what his career future is.

We need to know that so that we can then move on and ensure that we deliver strong opposition and a
good alternative government at the next election.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Backbencher Wilson Tuckey's getting fed up with all the focus on Mr Costello.

WILSON TUCKEY: I mean yes, there will be the odd chatterbox and I hope to deal with them tomorrow.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Tomorrow he's planning to lay down the gauntlet, in the Coalition's party room
meeting, challenging number-crunchers, wishful thinkers or anyone planning to bring on a spill to
come out of the shadows.

WILSON TUCKEY: I will ask those in the party room, if any, tomorrow will they identify themselves.

If they don't and assuming these people are actually honest to their own colleagues whom, if
they've done it, they are doing severe damage.

How would you like to be one of the one or two per-centers in our party knowing that people, your
colleagues, are going around destabalising our party.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Brendan Nelson's focusing on the plight of pensioners. While he's been advised he
can't introduce a Private Member's Bill that would increase the base rate of the single aged
pension by $30 because only a government minister can appropriate money, he is planning to give
notice to parliament tomorrow of a push to help the pensioners.

The issue's been highlighted by a report from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and
Social Research at the University of Melbourne. It shows that between 2001 and 2005, more than half
of the nation's elderly, most of whom rely on the single aged pension, were living on less than
half the median Australian disposable income and elderly singles remain the poorest.

While the Government's so far resisted calls for action, pointing to the tax reviews report due in
February, Coalition MPs are stepping up their campaign.

Backbencher Dennis Jensen arrived at Parliament House this morning, carrying a box, which he
emptied onto the ground.

DENNIS JENSEN: This here, these are postcards from 3000 seniors' households in my electorate
expressing their disgust at the Rudd Government and their treatment of seniors.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Coalition's sent out the material to its MPs.

DENNIS JENSEN: What I did was I sent these out to pensioners in the electorate and asked for them
to return them expressing their disgust with the, disgust and disappointment with Mr Rudd's
treatment of seniors.

REPORTER: And who paid for the postage on these?

DENNIS JENSEN: Most of them I did but on quite a number of them, the seniors actually put on a
stamp themselves, which is quite an ask given that they are only getting $273 a week.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Michael O'Neill, of National Seniors Australia, says the problems faced by aged
pensioners go beyond simply lifting the base rate. He says it's just part of the answer.

MICHAEL O'NEILL: Rent assistance I think is a good example of where you can't just rely on the
blunt instrument of an overall pension increase. You need to also provide for those specific target
areas such as, rent is a very good example, where there is a group within the broad pension cohort
who are reliant, who are renters and obviously highly exposed because of the cost of the rental

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And is there an inherit inequity in a way that the pension system is constructed

MICHAEL O'NEILL: There is certainly some inequities in the way different groups are dealt with.

The prime example of that is the treatment of singles versus couples. The inequity being that at
the moment singles get 60 per cent of what the couples get. That is inconsistent with the cost
pressures they face and it is inconsistent with international comparisons around similar, similar

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what about the issue of assets?

MICHAEL O'NEILL: There will be some, you know, self-funded retirees who are feeling the pressure at
the moment who perhaps may not have been eligible for the pension previously who might fall back
into that category.

But equally I think we have to come to grips with some of the bonus payments and similar things
that are provided without regard to any assets or income test.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr O'Neill says the onus is on the Government to assist the most vulnerable group
now and continue the longer term pension review.

ELEANOR HALL: Alexandra Kirk reporting.