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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 8191

Mr ROBB (7:15 PM) —I rise to speak on the current plight facing Australia’s pensioners and I thank the member for Tangney for bringing forward this motion. In its first 10 months, the Rudd government has ignored senior Australians and, as in so many other areas of government, it has been all talk and no action. But talk offers little solace to single age pensioners, who are doing it extremely tough at the moment. They are doing it so tough that the Prime Minister and most of his frontbench have said that they could not survive on $281 a week, yet they have done nothing. They have said, ‘You hang on for another 12 months while we finish an inquiry.’ Single age pensioners, including over 6,000 in my electorate of Goldstein, who currently receive just $281 a week are facing increasing cost-of-living pressures—food, petrol, often rent or rates, and it goes on. That is why the coalition is advocating a $30 a week increase to single age pensioners by introducing legislation titled Urgent Relief for Single Age Pensioners Bill 2008 into the Senate to allow this increase to happen. This immediate additional payment will be for recipients of the single age pension, recipients of the widow B pension and recipients of the single age service pension. It is a test for Labor parliamentary members to show where they stand on the dignity of so many senior Australians. We are giving members of the Labor government the opportunity to put their money where their mouths are.

Since coming to office, Mr Rudd has announced some 170 reports, reviews, committees and commissions. Pensioners will now have to wait for yet another one before Mr Rudd takes any action. Australia’s single age pensioners need this increase and they need it now, not in a year’s time. Despite Mr Rudd’s claims that the government assisted older Australian in the budget by paying a one-off bonus, it must be remembered, despite the rhetoric of the previous speaker, that this was the bonus that Mr Rudd was planning to scrap before succumbing to pressure from both the coalition and pension groups. It is troubling to think of what position senior Australians would find themselves in today if Mr Rudd had had his way and the bonus had been scrapped.

In government, the coalition—again, despite the nonsense spoken by the previous member—were able due to strong economic management to pay a dividend to improve the financial position of pensioners. This was after paying off Labor’s $96 billion of debt. We increased pensions at two per cent a year above the rate of inflation. We introduced the utilities allowance to assist pensioners with the cost of utilities bills such as gas and electricity. We introduced the non-taxable $500 bonus payment annually. We introduced a 30 per cent private health insurance rebate to ease the financial pressures on pensioners, which Labor voted against. Labor’s proposed changes to the Medicare levy surcharge threshold will further hurt pensioners by forcing up premiums for private health insurance—so much for compassion.

We also legislated that the age pension be set to at least 25 per cent of male total average weekly earnings or increased by the CPI, whichever is greater. As a result, the maximum single rate pension is now $72.80 a fortnight higher than it would have been otherwise. Partnered pensioners are now better off by $122.60 every fortnight than they would have been under Labor’s ad hoc approach to increasing pensions. To further encourage workplace participation, we increased the amount of age pension a part-time pensioner receives above the income test free area by reducing the pension income test withdrawal rate from 50c in the dollar to 40c and we halved the assets test taper rate from $3 to $1.50 per fortnight for each $1,000 of assets above the allowable asset limits—a whole host of things which improved the lot of Australia’s seniors.

Instead of offering token sympathy, Mr Rudd must start offering solutions and delivering on them now. There is no reason why the government could not take some immediate action while continuing with their longer term review. In its first budget, the Rudd government, backed by a $21 billion surplus inherited from the coalition, delivered increased taxes and spending and even a politically motivated slush fund, but failed to deliver for pensioners. Something must be done, they are a group who have done so much to build our country and we owe them a great deal.