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Monday, 11 May 2015
Page: 2741

Pensions and Benefits

Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (14:54): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, Senator Fifield. The Prime Minister has argued for a year that his cuts to the pension indexation were fair. Now that Labor has shamed the government into scrapping its cuts to pension indexation, will the minister finally admit the government got it wrong by trying to cut pensions by $80 a week?

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:55): I thank Senator Polley for her question, but at the outset I must clear up a misconception that I think Senator Polley is still labouring under, and that is that the government at any stage put forward a proposition to cut pensions. It did not. Pensions have continued to go up under this government and, even under the proposition of the previous budget, would have continued to go up. But it was clear that the proposition in relation to indexation did not enjoy the favour of this place and would have enjoyed a challenging future here.

But one of the great things of the last three, four or five months is that there are a number of senators in this place—and I am looking particularly at the crossbench—who have been very prepared and very willing to engage in discussions about how to put the pension on a more sustainable basis. Minister Morrison has had very fruitful discussions with senators across the chamber—including on occasion with the Australian Greens, it is important to add. We have always made it clear that, for a proposition to come off the table, there had to be something else on the table. We now have something else on the table, and we have made it clear that if colleagues of goodwill and, indeed, stakeholders, including ACOSS, had propositions that they thought could achieve a similar outcome in a different or even a better way then we were only too happy to engage in that discussion. Minister Morrison, I think, has brought forward a very good and positive package in relation to pensions that will see them more sustainable, will see them fairer and will see a lot of pensioners get more money. (Time expired)

Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (14:57): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the government stand by its plan to give Australia the highest pension age in the world by increasing the pension age to 70?

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:57): It is important to note that the first party in this place that actually put forward a proposition to increase the qualifying age for the pension was in fact the Australian Labor Party. So clearly, as a matter of logic, there is nothing wrong in principle with increasing the qualifying age for the age pension, because the Australian Labor Party did that.

I should also point out that we have always been in the position of seeking to honour our aged-care pension commitments, because our commitment before the election was that we would not make any changes that would apply in the current term of parliament, and we have not put forward at any stage a proposition that would see pensions change in this term of parliament.

Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (14:58): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Does the Abbott government stand by its $1.3 billion in cuts to concessions for pensioners and seniors?

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:58): I think Senator Polley is referring to some changes to partnership agreements with the states and territories in relation to certain concessions, and I think the position of the government on that is well known: on concessions for services which are primarily state services, delivered by states, we have taken the view that it is appropriate that the states have prime management of things that they have the responsibility for providing.