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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6283

Mr OAKESHOTT (11:51 AM) —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will be very brief. I also thank the member for Werriwa for the opportunity to speak on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Pension Reform and Other 2009 Budget Measures) Bill 2009. I know he has some very fine students here to listen to his very fine words, so I will be brief. I really just want to alert the government to the ongoing conversation with regard to pensioner reform. I, like the previous speaker, the member for Lyons, certainly welcomed the Harmer review process and welcomed the announcement by the government of some of the changes in the budget. Many of them, I thought, were sensible and logical. The streamlining of the various utilities allowances and supplements into one payment is a sensible reform by government and will assist a lot. There is also the addition in some of the funding to the base pension rates and supplements, and no-one can say that is not a welcome reflection of government recognising the needs and wants of the pensioner community.

On the mid-North Coast of New South Wales, roughly one in three people are pension recipients. Of all 150 electorates around Australia, ours would have one of the highest proportions of people receiving some sort of pension allowance, and therefore this is something that is being watched very closely by many in my electorate. The point I want to make in this debate, whilst not opposing the legislation, is that I sincerely hope that the $10.14 and the $30-odd provided in the budget for various pension rates, and the embedding of the care allowances, which was sensible, are not the end of the discussion by the government, by the executive and in particular by the Treasurer.

There are two examples I just want to put on the table. Firstly, in the next couple of weeks I will be talking with the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association from the mid-North Coast, and they have made it very clear that there is disquiet about the levels of funding that were allocated in the budget. The $10.14 supplementary allowance for utilities for pensioner couples has been described as ‘disgraceful’ by the president of the Manning Valley branch of the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association. That is one example of post-budget, post Harmer review feedback from a significant lobby group on the ground. Hopefully, therefore, the government’s conversation with the pensioner community will continue.

Secondly, one of the things that all of us here do at various times is radio interviews at really odd hours. Last Friday week I did ABC Radio National at 4.30 in the morning, and one of the calls that came through was from someone who wanted a private member’s bill linking the pensioner rate to parliamentary salaries. Without passing comment on the rights and wrongs of that proposal, I do think it is an example of continuing disquiet about pension rates in Australia. That should once again emphasise to the government the fact that any announcements that were in the budget, nearly a month ago now, should not be the end of the conversation but hopefully the start of a conversation with the very large pensioner community in Australia.

Now, I know there are many people in this chamber who might see that position as the continuation of a hand being put out by a disgruntled community of pensioners. There may be some who argue that there is this emerging bubble of an aged population and, for economic reasons, any increase in rates cannot happen. But I would hope that the majority of people in this chamber, of all political persuasions, are like me and will argue the case strongly through legislation such as this and conversations with the executive government that it is not a good reflection on Australia or on this chamber that we have any members of our community who are in survival mode. The whole reason that there was so much angst leading up to the election, the Harmer review and the budget was that we were having a conversation with a pensioner community that was on the poverty line, if not below it—and that does not reflect well on any of us.

Once again, I say that I hope that the conversation can continue between government and pensioner communities throughout Australia—and particularly, my direct interest, on the mid-North Coast of New South Wales—so that we can continue to see reform that is not only in the interests of the pensioner community but in the interests of the broader community as well and therefore, by logical extension, in the interests of Australia generally.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Before calling the next speaker, the honourable member for Werriwa, I would like to welcome to the House three students from Sarah Redfern High School in Minto, in the honourable member’s electorate: Tevita Maola, school captain; Lynette Peterson, school captain; and James Papalii, school vice-captain. Welcome, and I hope that you enjoy your visit to the Australian parliament.