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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26335

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank Senator Ridgeway for the question. We have a number of social security agreements with various countries, and some have been a little happier than others. I take this opportunity to say that enormous work has been done by former Senator Newman and by Senator Vanstone. I have made some attempts to have some sort of move from the UK government on indexing their pensions for pensioners when they come to Australia. If you go from the UK to America as a pensioner, it is indexed; if you come to Australia, it is not. If you go to Canada, it is not indexed; if you go to some other countries, it is. We have challenges when we work with various governments in establishing agreements.

We have in fact been working with Greece over some period of time in establishing and resolving the issues with Greece. Various governments have done that in order to resolve a social security agreement with Greece. We have made several approaches to Greece since 1996 but they have been rejected. Australia's proposals have been designed to take into account the fact that most Greek-Australian residents were not covered by the Greek social security system.

We believe that the current offer we have on the table is a very generous one, given the circumstances—the disparity in the flow of benefits between the two countries. Last year the Prime Minister appointed my parliamentary secretary, Christopher Pyne, to try to progress this important matter. As you know, a new government was elected in Greece on 7 March. Discussions between the two governments will continue as soon as is mutually convenient. An offer is there. If the Greek government elected on 7 March wishes to take it up with us, Mr Pyne would be only too pleased to progress it.