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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 8186

Dr JENSEN (6:55 PM) —Crosswalk attendants—we see them every day but they are invisible. They guarantee the safety of our children but we fail to see them beyond stopping for an anonymous flag. They safeguard our children every day but we do not really see them at all. What drives these people to this onerous task? They choose—and it is not just a choice but a commitment—to contribute their time to ensure the safety of Australian children. In return for a low wage, they turn up every day to make sure our children are safe. They launder their uniforms and use their own cars to get to work. It is 40 degrees in the shade and they are working. It is freezing cold and pouring with rain but still they are working. They are among the many heroes in our society, but how do we thank them? Do we cheer their contribution to society? No. We hit them with punitive taxes. Senior citizens—and that is what most of them are—who put up their hand to aid the society they helped create just get a kick in the teeth. For such charitable acts, we penalise these people already left on a pension which even the Prime Minister says he could not live on. We are putting the boot into these people who simply want to help. They are just an example of the utter contempt with which the government treats our senior citizens.

With the baby boomers entering retirement, we have a huge pool of skills, but instead of tapping it the government seeks only to tap its income. What is the incentive to contribute when the small amount you earn results in a reduction in an already insufficient pension? Retirees who simply want to help are penalised. They must pay for the privilege of contributing to society. Something has gone very wrong when we as a nation tell our senior citizens that we do not want their help, that we want to stick them out back till their time comes. There should be no penalty for wanting to contribute to society. There should be no penalty for being an older Australian. But the sad fact is, under the current government, being an older Australian marks you out for abuse at the hands of the state. With a pension that no-one could realistically expect to live on, with benefits that are steadily being eroded, our senior citizens are truly hurting. Next year, even those who had the foresight and capacity to plan for their retirement will feel the wrath of an uncaring government. Superannuation payments will be treated as income for the first time, meaning that many self-funded retirees will miss out on basic benefits such as subsidised medicine.

I am not talking about ultrawealthy seniors of the sort who move in the Prime Minister’s circle. These are everyday people who are just getting by. They get a pittance from the country they helped to build, they get hit for expenses they have been told were covered and, when they have the temerity to try to contribute further to society, they are forced to hand over the petty sums they earn. This is not government; it is highway robbery. We must ask ourselves who in society is most deserving. Can anyone say that the elderly do not warrant our respect and gratitude? Why then does the government seek to penalise them for simply getting old? Rather than forcing people who have already made decades of contribution to the wealth of this country do full-time work, perhaps we should be looking at a variety of solutions to help those mostly older Australians to remain active and engaged in the workforce without expecting them to work full time. But this requires a caring and sensible approach. The challenge I lay down to this government is to understand the dedication and commitment of these Australians and make the necessary changes to enable them to continue making a valuable contribution to our society without being unfairly financially penalised. Is this government up to such a challenge? My constituents and I sincerely hope so. I urge all members to support this motion to deliver some justice to those who created the great society we all live in today.