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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 8079

Mr MELHAM (3:12 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Will the minister update the House on the government’s commitment to fixing the pension system for the long term, including for carers and people with a disability? What are the consequences of any proposed alternatives?

Ms MACKLIN (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) —I thank the member for Banks for his question and for his real concern for Australia’s pensioners, unlike the politics that we are seeing from those opposite. When those opposite actually had the power to do something about pensions, what did this Leader of the Opposition do in cabinet? He voted no. What did the Deputy Leader of the Opposition do when she was in cabinet? She voted no. That is what they did when they were in government. What this government is doing is actually delivering to pensioners.

Let me inform the House that this fortnight pensioners are going to receive $128—the third quarterly instalment of the increased utilities allowance. This fortnight, age pensioners, widow pensioners, carers and disability support pensioners will all receive $128. It was the decision of this government to increase the utilities allowance. Under the previous government, the utilities allowance was only $107. Under this government, the utilities allowance is $500. This fortnight, the government is delivering $128—the next quarterly instalment of this very important utilities allowance. This, of course, enables pensioners to pay the bills that are always increasing. It was up to this government to extend the utilities allowance to those on the carer payment and the disability support pension. In their last year in government, those opposite refused to give an increase in the pension to anybody and also refused to extend the utilities allowance to people on carer payment and the disability support pension. This government has delivered to those people.

We know that this is becoming a bit of a pattern with those opposite, playing politics as they are over in the Senate right now. They have also decided to exclude carers and those on the disability support pension in this latest political game that they are playing in the Senate, even though it is the case that single age pensioners, people who are single and dependent on the carer payment and people who are single and dependent on the disability support pension—and I am glad the Leader of the Opposition is listening—are all being paid exactly the same pension rate. They are all dependent on the same pension rate. But of course, in the effort to play politics by those opposite, they have completely ignored those carers who are doing it tough and those people on the disability support pension who are doing it tough. Each and every one of them is living on $281 a week.

I just want to make sure that the Leader of the Opposition understands this by reading from a letter that a woman from Gippsland, Jean Tops, has written to all senators. She says: ‘We are alarmed at the suggestions being made by the Liberal Party that only single age pensioners should be thrown a lifeline of $30 a week. We are alarmed,’ she says, ‘that they are considering putting this proposal to the Senate for approval next week when there are millions of single pension persons who will miss out if such a proposal were to be adopted.’ She goes on to say: ‘Is it so difficult to understand that single primary carers on pension payments are in the same boat as single age pensioners? Is it so difficult to understand that single disability support pensioners are in the same boat as single age pensioners?’ All of these people are being completely ignored by those opposite.

Of course, those opposite do not understand this. It was just a quick political fix, a bit of a game that they tried to play in the Senate, a game on the part of the Liberal and National parties. Because they have tried to do this so quickly, rushing it into the Senate to try and save the skin of the previous Leader of the Opposition—well, that didn’t work—in yet another complication, they forgot to index this little measure that they have put into the Senate today. In their rush to score political points, there was no indexation for this measure.

There is another complication—which of course they are not the faintest bit concerned about—that many people who have written to our pension inquiry are certainly concerned about. Many of them are pleading with us to not just increase the base rate of the pension, because if that happens they will see a lot of the increase in the pension go in increased rents. One of the submissions has actually come from the member for Flinders. He has passed on a submission from one of his constituents, who says, ‘If the pension alone is increased to cover all the cost-of-living expenses, landlords will be able to raise rents accordingly.’ Many, many people who are in the public housing system know exactly that. They know that—as does the member for Warringah, of course. Where is the member for Warringah? He seems to have disappeared. We knew he was bored with his job, but we did not know he was so bored as to not turn up today.

Reforming the pension system is a very complicated task. It is not something that should just be handled as some sort of political plaything by one opposition leader after another. This government intends to get this right. In the meantime, this fortnight, we are delivering an increase of $128 in the utilities allowance to make sure that pensioners have got increased money in their pockets to help pay their bills.

Mr Haase —Mr Speaker, would you ask the minister to table the piece of correspondence that she was extensively quoting from that asserted some criticism in relation to the proposition of the Liberal Party to increase the pension but said nothing about—

The SPEAKER —Order! The member will resume his seat. Was the minister quoting from a document? Was the document confidential?

Ms Macklin interjecting

Mr Tuckey —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. If the minister names the author and reads from the letter, how is it marked confidential?

The SPEAKER —Order! We have dealt with the matter as has been the practice of the House for quite some time.