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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2140

Mr HAYES (Fowler) (21:46): The Gillard Labor government is committed to bettering the lives of older Australians. Labor is delivering a world-class retirement income support system but, importantly, we have delivered historic pension increases. We understand that older Australians have worked hard all their lives to make Australia the great nation it is today, and they deserve to be treated with dignity. It took a Labor government, in 2009, to increase the pension rate—for the first time in 12 years. This was the greatest pension reform in 100 years. The maximum pension rate went up by $148 a fortnight for singles and $146 a fortnight for couples. This increase followed 12 years of neglect by the former Liberal government. No, it was worse than that. It was not neglect because they repeatedly refused to increase pensions.

As the purpose of our reform was to repair the cost-of-living impact on pensioners, the Commonwealth sought the agreement of state and territory governments to quarantine this amount from the calculation of public housing rents. This was to ensure that the increases would go straight into the pockets of those it was intended to assist. It took Barry O'Farrell and the NSW Liberal government only six months of office to tear up the agreement, to gouge rental increases from pensioners living in public housing. As a result, more than 20,000 pensioners in New South Wales public housing face an additional housing bill of $618 per year. This group includes 1,720 war veterans and widows.

Older Australians were one of the first groups that we thought of when introducing household assistance to help with the possible costs associated with the climate change initiatives. In my electorate, there are 27,000 pensioners and more than 500 self-funded retirees who will soon receive assistance to help them do their bit in terms of climate change as well as helping them look after their household budget. As a consequence, all pensioners will get an increase of $338 per year for singles and $510 per year for couples combined to help older Australians deal with the extra cost to their household budgets. This is in addition to the increases in 2009 which I previously outlined. This latest increase means that after the impact of a carbon price is taken into account pensioner households should not be any worse off.

What do you think that the state Liberal Party were going to do about that in New South Wales? The Prime Minister wrote to state premiers with a view to having the clean energy advance and the clean energy supplements permanently excluded for the purpose of calculating public housing rents. Exempting clean energy payments from public housing rental calculations would ensure that low-income public housing tenants would retain the full amount of their housing assistance payments to help them in adjusting to the cost-of-living impacts of a carbon price. It is not surprising then that the New South Wales Liberal government have not responded to this request. Once again, they have not agreed to lend support to pensioners by quarantining these payments from the calculation of public housing rents. The Gillard government understands the cost-of-living pressures faced by older Australians. We have demonstrated that federal Labor gives priority to older Australians and will ensure that they are treated fairly and decently. The challenge is now for the state government to do the right thing and stop gouging from those in our community who can least afford it.

There are 27,000 pensioners in my electorate of Fowler, many of whom reside in public housing. With all the efforts of the federal Labor government to improve the lives of our senior citizens, it is absolutely appalling to find the state government of Barry O'Farrell working overtime to claw back these benefits by jacking up the rents of public housing tenants. As I said, these are people who can least afford to pay. They are on fixed incomes, and yet this is what is happening. We saw it before in 2009 and we are seeing it again. When the Commonwealth moves to act to assist the welfare of those who are least able to support themselves, particularly those on pensions, you would think that state governments would actually use their muscle to lend assistance to that objective, not work against it. They are working in the worst tradition of cost shifting. They are putting the cost directly on pensioners, people in our community who can least afford it.