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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 128

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues) (6:14 PM) —I am not going to go over the measures in this bill, because they were very clearly outlined in the second reading speech. I know that we tend to get a bit slower at this time of the year but, this time next week, we will be jamming bills through, so I hope that we can be a little efficient this afternoon so that we can get this bill on the way and deliver these benefits to people and have some more time for some of the other bills later.

Senator PATTERSON —I am just saying it would be very nice if we could get this bill through this evening. I want to comment on a couple of things that were said. Senator Evans and, I think, Senator Greig both made the comment that we had failed to deliver on our offer of core concessions to the states. I have to disagree with that. We offered the states in, I think, the 2001 budget an amount of money which would have enabled Commonwealth seniors health care card holders to have about 60 per cent of their concessions paid for by the Commonwealth. We were asking for the states to come up with a 40 per cent contribution for self-funded retirees. Many of them are people who have been frugal throughout their lives, who have provided for themselves, who do not get the pension but who argue—and I think rightly so—that, because they have in fact provided for themselves, they should get some of the benefits that pensioners get. I then increased the offer to about $75 million last year. I got two nibbles from two states; I got a rejection from some states. In fact, there was very little interest on the whole. We were not going to wait any longer and made a commitment during the election to give self-funded retirees with health care cards a $200 contribution towards their utilities, rates and car registration and to give pensioners a $100 utilities supplement in order to assist them.

It has to be understood that pensioners receive from the states and territories concessions ranging from—I cannot remember the exact figure—about $450 at the lowest right through to over $900 in one of the other jurisdictions. So pensioners now receive between $450 and over $900 in concessions across the jurisdictions. That will be added to by the $100 supplement to a pensioner couple. What we have done is offer $200 to each Commonwealth seniors health care card holder to recognise the contribution they have made.

Senator Evans said that we failed on the original offer. I met with the ministers last week and said that there was still $19 million difference between what we had given to the Commonwealth seniors health care card holders and the original offer. I think in one state our contribution for a self-funded retiree couple exceeds or just matches the benefits that a pensioner gets, so there is no need for that state to even contribute. But some states, where there are larger concessions, could have their proportion of that $19 million and then put in their 40 per cent—so the offer is still there. The states could step up to the plate and assist these people who have looked after themselves all their lives. That is to put paid to Senator Evans's proposition that we had not met the commitment; we have, but we were not going to wait any longer. This has been sitting on the table since the 2001 budget. That is how long it has been there—and I have increased it in accordance with the change in numbers of Commonwealth seniors health care card holders—and the states failed to respond. There were a couple of nibbles, as I said.

Senator Mark Bishop —Do you want to get the bill through or not?

Senator PATTERSON —It is there. I would like to get the bill through, so I commend the bill to the chamber.

Question agreed to.

Original question, as amended, agreed to.

Bill read a second time.