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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2524

Mr SULLIVAN (2:23 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Will the minister update the House on government support for pensioners and on any responses?

Ms MACKLIN (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) —I thank the member for Longman for his question and particularly for his very real concern for the 28,000 pensioners in his electorate. He understands, unlike those opposite, that these are very, very hard economic times for Australia’s pensioners. While there is more to be done, the government has certainly made a start. We have made it clear to Australia’s pensioners that we do intend to introduce long-term pension reform in the upcoming budget. Our Economic Security Strategy payments were a down payment on that long-term pension reform.

I will just remind those opposite that the Economic Security Strategy payments went to four out of every five Australians aged over 65. I have to say it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what on earth the position is of those opposite. We remember when the Economic Security Strategy was announced the Leader of the Opposition came out straightaway and said he supported it. Then, a couple of days afterwards, he said he wanted to change it. Then he voted for it, and now it seems that they oppose it. It seems that they did not want those four million pensioners to receive a down payment on long-term pension reform.

Just this morning we have discovered that the odd couple, the members for Sturt and Warringah—they seem to have finally buried the hatchet—

Mr Albanese —In each other!

Ms Gillard —Which one’s Felix and which one’s Oscar?

Mr Albanese —He’s Oscar!

Ms Gillard —I don’t think there’s any doubt who Felix is!

Ms MACKLIN —I’m getting quite a lot of help from behind me, Mr Speaker!

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister has the call.

Ms MACKLIN —I am sorry to say that they were both out and about whipping up sentiment because some of these payments have gone to pensioners living overseas. Let me just remind each and every one of those opposite that we have 22 social security agreements with overseas countries and 10 of those were announced by Liberal governments—

Mr Pyne interjecting

The SPEAKER —And I said that the member for Sturt was warned!

Ms MACKLIN —As every member of this House should know, migration is a much valued part of Australia’s history, culture and, of course, economy. Until this morning, these international social security agreements were considered to be bipartisan policy. Now we see that the Liberals opposite want to axe them. Why would that be the case? You only have to ask yourself the question once. For base political reasons, of course. These ambulance chasers opposite—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr Hockey —Behind you!

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There is an ambulance chaser in the House, but not on this side of the House. I ask the minister to withdraw the suggestion that anyone on this side of the House is an ambulance chaser. If she wants to talk about ambulance chasers, she can look behind her.

The SPEAKER —The member for Sturt does test the tolerance of occupants of the chair. But, ignoring that, I will make a very serious point about the matter that he has raised. People can go through the writings on practice and events that have occurred in this chamber before. Expressions should be thought of in the context in which they are used. By the interjections that the member for Sturt raised, he has highlighted the problems that there have been with that term in the past, because it has been taken as a very serious, literal accusation. On this occasion, I think that this was an expression used in the hurly-burly robustness of this chamber.

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Often that might be open to the chair, but on this occasion I do not think that it is required, because it is the context of the use of the expression that is important. Otherwise, the past practice of the House, which was to have a list of words that were automatically ruled out, would have continued. But that is not the case. I take it that the member for Canning, because he has some experience in this matter, is going to speak further on the point of order. I will allow him a short contribution. I know I will get criticism for this, for not keeping an open mind, but I am not sure that it will change my attitude on this occasion.

Mr Randall —Mr Speaker, on the point of order: in order to be consistent, because I had to withdraw the term when I used it to refer to the Deputy Prime Minister, I would ask that the term be withdrawn by the minister.

The SPEAKER —The member for Canning will resume his seat. That is why I have tried to give a fuller explanation than I usually do of the ruling that I have made. It is very important that the context of the situation be taken into account.

Mr Abbott —Further to the point of order, Mr Speaker: the minister was hardly using it as a term of endearment, was she? Given that she was not using it as a term of endearment, it should be withdrawn.

The SPEAKER —The member for Warringah will resume his seat. I thank him, actually, for the words that he has used because they will be well remembered on both sides. But even in that case—whether they are terms of endearment or not—this is hardly the chamber for faint hearts. Expressions have been used that are robust. Again, I underscore the fact that the context is important and, whether people believe it or not, in the first case, which the member for Canning has raised, it was the literal use that was the objectionable aspect.

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, on the point of order: I understand the point you are making but, with due respect, there are a number of people on this side of the House, former solicitors and barristers, for whom the term ‘ambulance chaser’ is very deeply offensive. I am one of those, as is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and as are others. For that reason, regardless of the context, the accusation that we are ambulance chasers I find deeply offensive and, as such, I am asking you, for the benefit of the House, to ask the member to withdraw the remark.

The SPEAKER —The member for Sturt will resume his seat. The very point that I am trying to explain to the chamber is that I believe the use of the expression by the minister was in the context of all members, not members by their past professions.

Mr Abbott interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Warringah does not have the right to enter into a debate with the chair whilst he does not have the call. I do not think that is very helpful and it is not endearing at all. I am explaining that referring a remark to a group of politicians in a political sense is different to directing an offensive remark to people because of their profession. I suggest to the member for Warringah that he might like to read—and I will assist him by offering him a copy—about practice in the past, because I find it slightly surprising that somebody who has been here as long as he has does not understand that that has been the practice of the House for many years.

Ms MACKLIN —To go back to the issue at hand: until this morning these international social security agreements would have been considered bipartisan policy. Given the comments made by both the member for Warringah and the member for Sturt this morning, I say to those opposite that they now need to explain to the 388,000 pensioners from overseas who live in Australia, whether they are Greeks, Italians, Americans—

Mr Pyne interjecting

The SPEAKER —The minister will resume his seat—her seat. The member for Warringah will resume her seat—his seat.

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —I admit that this is taking terms of endearment a bit far. I am trying to get around to punishing the member for Sturt. He will leave the chamber for one hour under standing order 94(a).

The member for Sturt then left the chamber.

The SPEAKER —If the member for Warringah is seeking the call I will give him the call, but it has to be a point of order.

Mr Abbott —It is a point of order, Mr Speaker. She is making a very serious charge against members of this House without providing any evidence to sustain it, and I would ask her to table the comments that she feels prove the point that she is trying to make.

The SPEAKER —There is no point of order but there are devices of the House that the member can use at the end of the response.

Ms MACKLIN —As every member of this House should know, these incoming pensions provide a very significant boost to our economy. The arrangements in fact mean that $1.6 billion comes into Australia from overseas pensions compared to around $517 million in payments going to pensioners overseas. So, in net terms, our international social security arrangements deliver more than $1 billion to the Australian economy each year.

Of course, it is not just pensioners living overseas whom those opposite want to get stuck into. We already knew that the opposition’s theatrics on the pension last year were just a political stunt, but last night in the parliament we had the member for Warringah making absolutely crystal clear what the opposition’s position on a pension increase actually is. Let me read what the member for Warringah last night said:

… the ability of the government to afford this kind of generosity towards pensioners is under enormous question.

In other words, the opposition do not support any increase to the pension. It demonstrates just how completely out of touch the member for Warringah is. We of course all know how bored he is with the job. We all know that the member for Warringah does not think he is in the main political game. Here is a wake-up call to the member for Warringah: if you want to be in the main political game, you cannot be asleep in your office.