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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 8188

Mrs MOYLAN (7:05 PM) —At the outset, I thank the member for Tangney for bringing forward this motion. I think the member for Shortland was a little misguided as to the intent of this motion, because my understanding is that it is a motion to lift the amount that an age pensioner can earn from productive employment to an amount equivalent to the senior Australians tax offset before applying a penalty that reduces the age pension—that is what this is about. The argument about single pensions is probably for another day, but I will have something to say about that if time permits. So I defend the member for Tangney’s proposition.

The coalition has proved that it is prepared to take a leading role in addressing the grave concerns many Australians have about the adequacy of the age pension. We as a party are aware of the hardships being faced by some of these men and women. I am sure the member for Tangney is well acquainted with those problems—he probably was before he was elected to this place, and he certainly has been since. These are the men and women who fought to make Australia the great country that it is, only to be let down badly by the Rudd government, which is fixated on having talkfests instead of initiating immediate financial relief for pensioners and self-funded retirees.

We have to look at this in the context of the steeply rising cost of living that has been evident since the Rudd government took office. This motion makes a lot of sense, and such a policy would be a step toward greater equality for pensioners, who often seem to be an afterthought for the current government. Australians are now living longer than they ever have before, with an average age now of 82 years. Our quality of life is also better than it ever has been before, and people can expect to have a very good quality of life at 70 and beyond, which is something that we had not seen in past generations.

Anyone who read today’s Australian would have seen the story of Joseph Ciampa. I do not know Mr Ciampa, but I am in awe of him because the article said that at the age of 91 he is about to receive his first PhD. He is now planning to complete a masters in philosophy. This well highlights the fact that we have some very great minds and very great skills out there that go underutilised because we seem to put some kind of limit on the useful contribution people can make as they get older. Mr Ciampa is living proof that getting older does not mean you cannot be productive and make a contribution.

The late American publisher Katharine Graham had the right idea when she said, ‘No-one can avoid ageing, but ageing productively is something else.’ Many senior citizens of this country—and the member for Tangney highlighted those people who man crosswalks, for example—deserve the opportunity to be productive for as long as they want and for as long as they are physically and mentally able. They do not want handouts; they just want a fair go. They most certainly do not want to be discouraged from contributing to society and their local communities for fear of having their pension cut because they have earnt a little extra income in the productive workforce.

There is a significant economic equation to the motion. The Labor government has spoken previously on boosting Australia’s productive capacity, while the shortage of skilled labourers is Australia has been well documented. The Rudd government’s May budget stated:

The ultimate test of economic reforms is in their effect on the wellbeing of the Australian people. A more efficient economy, with high levels of productivity and participation, provides the means to deliver higher incomes and a more equitable society.

So supporting seniors who want to remain in the workforce on a part-time basis provides an opportunity to increase economic efficiency with higher levels of productivity and participation by seniors, which also provides them with a far better sense of contribution and a far better quality of life. We know that people who are fully engaged are less likely to have illness. It seems to keep people well. The skills and abilities of seniors should be valued and utilised while at the same time helping them to live a little more independently.

The coalition will continue to examine ways to provide the best possible assistance to those who are amongst the most vulnerable in our society. This motion, along with the coalition’s decision to increase the single age pension, is part of the first steps to help those who are vulnerable.