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Prime Minister reverses decision on payments for carers and pensioners; considers rolling bonuses into regular welfare payments in future budgets.

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Wedne sday 12 March 2008

Prime Minister reverses decision on payments for carers and pensioners; considers rolling bonuses into regular welfare payments in future budgets


MARK COLVIN: It's t aken five days, but the Federal Opposition's prodded the Government into giving a specific guarantee on lump sum payments for carers and seniors. 


The Prime Minister says the benefits will be paid in a lump sum, by June. 


But Mr Rudd says the situation beyond that is now open for discussion, as the Government considers folding the bonuses in to regular welfare payments in future budgets. 


It was a win for the Opposition, but Question Time didn't go all the Coalition's way. 


Julia Gillard unveiled an analysis of Australian Workplace Agreements, which she said showed workers were "ripped off" to the tune of hundreds of dollars a week. 


From Canberra, Sabra Lane reports. 


SABRA LANE: It was the first big test for the Rudd Government and its first major U-turn. 


For five days, interest groups and the Opposition hammered the Prime Minister over leaks that the Government's razor gang had sliced the $500 pensioner and $1,600 carer bonuses from this year's budget. 


Earlier this week, the Prime Minister promised they'd be no worse off.  


Today, the Opposition leader Brendan Nelson challenged him confirm new leaks that the lump sum payments would stay. 


BRENDAN NELSON: Will the Prime Minister himself confirm that carers and seniors will receive their lump sum payments this financial year? 


KEVIN RUDD: As I said to the Parliament yesterday, when it comes to carers and pensioner's bonuses, they will not be a single dollar worse off. 


Not a single dollar worse off when it comes to this Budget, and, are consistent with normal practice, those payments will be made within the financial year. 


SABRA LANE: But carer groups are still unhappy with Government, as the lump sum payments are guaranteed for only this year. 


The Government's now considering if the bonuses should be incorporated into regular welfare payments in future budgets. 


While the Opposition's inflicted a fair amount of pain over the bonuses, the Government retaliated in kind this afternoon with Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard revealing the results of an investigation of 670 Australian Workplace Agreements. 


The Howard government went to great lengths over the past two years to keep the figures secret. 


In Question Time, Ms Gillard had no such qualms, revealing that 45 per cent of the Agreements underpaid workers by $1 to $49 every week. 


JULIA GILLARD: Then, when we go further, we find that approximately 50 per cent provided from $50 to $199 per week below the required rate of pay. 


Approximately five per cent, approximately five per cent provided $200 to $499 per week below the required rate of pay, ripping people off by that amount week after week.  


We've heard a lot in this House about so-called compassion from the Liberal Party. This is laughable hypocrisy from a party that not only authorised the rip-off of working families, but delighted in it, and they continue to do so. 


SABRA LANE: The issue of workers' pay is firmly on the Government's agenda. 


On Friday, it's expected to provide details of its submission to the Fair Pay Commission, on how much Australia's one and a half million lowest paid workers should receive in their next wage claim. 


Since taking office, the Prime Minister's urged restraint, insisting it will help fight inflation. 


Today, the ACTU revealed it wants a $26 a week increase, taking the minimum wage to $548 a week. 


ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence says workers are entitled to know exactly how much the Rudd Government will advocate. 


JEFF LAWRENCE: We do think that it is absolutely desirable for the Government to indicate its position. I think it's their responsibility.  


SABRA LANE: And in Parliament, Shadow Treasurer Malcolm Turnbull claimed the Government already had a recommended figure, that it's choosing to ignore. 


MALCOLM TURNBULL: Has the Treasury provided advice to the Government on its minimum wage submission that includes a recommended specific dollar increase? 


Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government is planning not to recommend that specific dollar increase in its submission? Why, if the fight against inflation is the Government's number one priority, does the Government lack the courage to follow Treasury's advice? 


KEVIN RUDD: It didn't take until the third question for compassion to expire on the part of those opposite. 


Our position is that working families deserve a decent outcome, a fair and balanced outcome from this upcoming case, the Government's position in response to the case is yet to be determined, and when it is, and when it is, the country will know about it. 


SABRA LANE: And The Prime Minister later turned Mr Turnbull's question into an attack on the Opposition. 


KEVIN RUDD: And what I find remarkable about this entire exchange, Mr Speaker, this entire exchange, Mr Speaker, is that the new born party of compassion, which lodged its birth notice last Friday, registered its death notice with its earlier remarks by the Member for Wentworth saying that working families don't deserve a decent outcome when it comes to the minimum wage.  


SABRA LANE: Mr Turnbull claims he was misrepresented. 


MARK COLVIN: Sabra Lane.