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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 5220

Senator BILYK (3:19 PM) —I do not know that I have heard so much interesting conversation for such a long time. It is just astounding to me that the other side have, all of a sudden, developed this social conscience. They had 12½ years to develop a social conscience and they could not do it. They could have, but they would not. They actually voted it down. But now they have become the saviours of the pensioners. I find that quite sickening and I am sure that the pensioners are not conned at all either, because they know that for 12½ years the other side did very, very little to help them.

Senator Barnett —They supported our bill.

Senator BILYK —That is not so, according to some things I have read, Senator Barnett. Over the coming months the Rudd government is fixing the whole system, root and branch, and fixing it for everyone. Today, all of a sudden, we saw just about everyone being included in the arguments. Last week it was such an important issue that there were only two questions on it in the whole of question time for the week. Did you all travel down the road to Damascus over the weekend? I do not quite know what has gone on on that side. Something heart-warming has happened over there—and I am pleased to see that it has finally happened. But it is 12½ years too late.

We are undertaking to fix the problems with the age pension and the payments for carers and for people with disabilities. We know that they are finding it hard to make ends meet and we are looking at the best way of providing some security for the long term. We are not offering them one-stop fixes that say, ‘Here we are coming up to an election; we will offer you an extra $500 and we think that you are all so silly that you will vote for us.’ Thankfully they were not so silly—I do not think they are silly at all—and thankfully they did not actually vote for you when it came to choosing who would win government.

Over the last 10 to 15 years—that is, under the Howard government—pensioners saw growth in their pensions of about two per cent, in real terms, above inflation. So, in regard to what Senator Humphries was saying, this growth was actually below average household disposable income growth. The pension review is looking at the frequency of payments, including the effectiveness of lump sum or bonus payments versus ongoing support. The previous government’s practice of paying one-off bonuses to carers and seniors when the budget allowed created uncertainty. Pensioners would hang out to see if they were actually going to get a bonus or not. We need some certainty and security for these Australians. They need to be able to know whether the money is going to be there and they need to be able to access it.

I am just amazed at the backflip the coalition have done. They could not come up with $30 a week last year, but today they want to offer the world and it is a complete joke. They are not really determined to fix their mistakes; they have left it to us to fix them and then they cry wolf over the fact that it might take us some time to do so because we choose to do it properly, not just to have a quick-fix approach. The Liberals will not support the government’s legislation on luxury car tax or the Medicare levy but all of a sudden they are happy to have us spend the money willy-nilly from the budget.

Senator Bushby —You’ve got a $22 billion surplus.

Senator BILYK —We are responsible over here. We acknowledge that there is a problem and people are doing it hard, but we also acknowledge that any fix needs to be done in a proper manner, making sure that there is security for these people. The Liberals’ economic irresponsibility beggars belief as far as I am concerned. This is a complex issue and I do not think the opposition are serious at all. I think you are just grandstanding for political media runs and that is just despicable. As I said, you only had two questions in regard to this issue in the whole of question time last week—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Bilyk, I am loath to interrupt but you must address your remarks through the chair.

Senator BILYK —Through you, Mr Deputy President, the opposition only had two questions in the whole of question time last week on this issue. If they were serious about this issue, they would have had a lot more questions. There was a lot of posturing going on last week. I could just about time every 3½ minutes when Senator Abetz would jump up on a point of order—it was a bit Pavlovian. The opposition have to be more serious about what they put their minds to. How do you think people feel? People are not silly, they do not think that just because— (Time expired)