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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 8189

Mr NEUMANN (7:10 PM) —This motion is a stunt—pure and simple. When I was at Riverview for their community festival on Sunday, doing a mobile office, the age pensioners and the disability support pensioners who came to me talked about the stunts of the new opposition leader, and they are aware that this motion is simply a stunt. If this was Liberal Party policy we would have seen it at least once in the last 12 years. I would like to see the private member’s bill that the member put up. But 16,070 pensioners in my electorate are being ignored by this motion. It is a fact: there are 1,144 carers, 7,491 people on disability support pensions and 7,435 pensioner couples who would probably be ignored by this sort of motion.

It is interesting that we see this new-found compassion from those opposite after 11 years. Where was the fair go in the workforce? Where was the fair go for pensioners during that time? We have not seen it. In fact, pensioners are much better off under this government. We understand the financial pressures that working families have, we understand the pressures that carers have and we understand the pressures that pensioners have. We understand and we are committed to helping seniors to meet the ever rising cost of living that was bequeathed to us on 24 November last year.

We have done more in the last nine months than we saw for years under the coalition. We have given the $500 bonus as the previous government did but we have increased the utilities allowance to $500 and paid it in quarterly instalments. They could give only a measly $107. We have made sure seniors card holders can access travel concession on public transport anywhere in Australia. We have delivered on so many of our commitments, including extending the utilities allowance to many people, including disability support pensioners. These are modest measures, we accept, but they do help pensioners with cost-of-living pressures and they are a start. I can assure the constituents in my electorate that I understand where they are coming from because I grew up in a home which was a battling home as well. I can assure you that I am committed to their long-term financial security, as are so many people on this side of the chamber.

The inquiry that we have set up by Harmer and by Henry will go a long way to a root and branch amelioration of the problems we faced in the tax system and in the pension system for so long. That inquiry will be responded to by the government and will be reported back by February next year. Getting the priorities right is crucial for the government. It is crucial that we get everything right. It is not the adhockery that we saw for so many years. It is important that the people in my electorate understand that the government is committed to assisting them and providing for financial security.

It really distresses me to see the sort of motion we have seen tonight. It really is disingenuous for them to get up here after so many years sitting on the government benches and think that all of a sudden they can do this sort of thing and think that the people of Australia will accept that this is a fair dinkum approach. They could have done so much for so long but they did not provide the long-term support, certainty and security that pensioners need. The bonuses were a help but they were not factored in year after year. They were done with election commitments in mind and they were done with the election facing the government. They were all a matter of getting through the political cycle, and that is what it is about. It is not about improving the pension system; it is not about improving long-term security for people; it is about providing for a political fix. That is what this is about. All pensioners in my electorate are doing it tough and they know they are. We have seen the rising cost of living. That has been happening for some time.

It is interesting that when it comes to pensions it was Labor governments that made such a difference—the Curtin government, the Chifley government, the Whitlam government. A former federal member for my electorate, Bill Hayden, did so much for the pensioners of this country when he was social security minister. It has been Labor governments that have shown a commitment to those in need, whereas coalition governments have ignored those who have been battling for so long. You can go through one after another: the widows pension that was brought in under the Curtin government, child endowment, extensions for supporting parents during the Whitlam government, wife allowances, mothers benefit. It has been Labor governments which have done all this. Coalition governments have ignored the needs of my electorate in terms of infrastructure and pensioners and their entitlements, and I condemn the member for Tangney what he has done.