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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 7234

Ms HALL (3:16 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Will the minister outline how the government’s secure and sustainable pension reforms will prepare Australia for future challenges, and of any responses to these reforms?

Ms MACKLIN (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) —I thank the member for Shortland for her question and for her very hard work on behalf of more than 26,500 pensioners in her electorate of Shortland.

I can inform the House and the 3.3 million pensioners around Australia—age pensioners, disability support pensioners, carers and veterans service pensioners—that we expect and hope that this afternoon in the Senate this government’s historic reforms to the pension will become law. These laws will deliver a historic level of pension increase and historic reforms to the pension from September this year. These reforms are long overdue. A new report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development reveals that the government’s reforms are certainly essential. The Pensions at a glance report shows that the poverty rate for older Australians is double the OECD average. The report bases its figures on 2006 figures. Only Ireland, Korea and Mexico have higher rates of old-aged poverty than Australia. The OECD makes it clear that Australia’s pension system has been inadequate for some time. It says:

The high risk of old-age poverty in Australia is mainly due to the relatively low level of the age pension.

Page after page in this report shows how the former government ignored the plight of pensioners for 12 long years. For 12 years they did nothing, despite knowing just how tough it has been for pensioners in this country. The previous cabinet even rejected a proposal brought by the previous minister to their cabinet to increase the pension. I say to the current Leader of the Opposition: shame on him and shame on every single member of the former Howard government that ignored the plight of our pensioners.

By contrast, of course, this government is delivering the biggest pension reform for 100 years. For 100 years we have seen the pension as such a critical part of our social security system, and these reforms are long overdue. We know that these reforms have also needed some very tough, very difficult decisions made that the previous government did not have the bottle to make. They did not have the decency to increase the pension and they certainly did not have the bottle to do some of the difficult things that needed to be done—decisions like increasing the age pension age. Of course now that they are in opposition, they say that they support some of these tough decisions. Here is what the Leader of the Opposition had to say in relation to the age pension age on ABC radio back in May:

… I think a modest increase in the age is a structural reform that is worthwhile.

But of course we have got very used to the Leader of the Opposition saying one thing and his members of the coalition rushing out there and saying the exact opposite. We know he cannot control his party on climate change or on alcopops legislation and he certainly cannot control his party on pension reform. What I have here is something from yet another member of the Liberal opposition. This is from the South Australian senator Simon Birmingham. He is out there in his latest newsletter saying:

The Labor government has once again shown its mean and tricky colours by raising the retirement age.

That is the exact opposite—

Mr Rudd interjecting

Ms MACKLIN —That is exactly right; the Prime Minister reminds me. The member for Warringah says we should increase the age pension age more quickly, the Leader of the Opposition says we should do it and Simon Birmingham said it is somehow ‘mean and tricky’. Of course, we know who was the best at mean and tricky statements. What we would hope to see from a real leader is the capacity to get behind these tough decisions, to pull his party together and to make sure that we get these tough decisions through the parliament. But what we know, in fact, is that he has completely lost control and the opposition is now a total rabble.