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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 5263


Senator COONAN (8:14 PM) —I must say that an enduring image of the lead-up to the last budget was the sight of Labor scrambling to pay the carers bonus and the bonus for seniors, having refused to make any commitment, and then scrambling to provide the list of so-called benefits that I think Senator Evans has now outlined on four or five occasions. It does not actually get any better no matter how many times you say it; it is still meagre. What the coalition is proposing is to provide, in addition to those bonuses, a $30 payment. One of the things that appears to be confusing Minister Macklin—and she has infected Senator Evans with her lack of understanding—is the idea that this payment will actually affect the base rate. That is not the intention and the bill expressly provides that it will not have that effect. It is a payment in addition to the base rate pension. Ms Macklin was quoted as saying something which I think is quite extraordinary and which I will share with the chamber. She said:

Many of them are pleading with us to not just increase the base rate of the pension, because if that happens they will see a lot of the increase in the pension go in increased rents.

She obviously has not read the bill, because quite obviously the additional $30 per week is not added on for the rate used under the income test and is not used for other purposes—for example, like setting the daily care fee in a nursing home, which is currently 85 per cent of the single pension rate.

So, yes, it is complex, but rather than creating policy on the run we have actually thought this through and done it in such a way that this is calculated to actually give the intended recipient some benefit—rather than the endless empty rhetoric and promises we hear from the Labor Party. I must say I find it really peculiar logic that the Labor Party is engaged in in this debate—about the 928,834 people included in this measure—that, because not every pension recipient is included, those 928,834 people should miss out. That is quite extraordinary: to actually be advocating that if you do not have everybody in then nobody should get it. And then they are opposing an amendment of Senator Fielding because he wants to put them in. Go figure. You cannot have it every which way. This has to be a serious look at a rationale for looking after the most vulnerable, disadvantaged age pensioners. The rationale for that is clear—that is not something that is difficult to talk about or difficult to justify. Nobody says that carers do not deserve some urgent attention, and I certainly think that the government should be looking at them before there are two reviews and a couple of years of water under the bridge.

Recently the Rudd government presented the states and territories with a proposal that would actually transfer all disability services to the states’ responsibility. The Rudd government has clearly washed its hands of the aged, carers and people with a disability—just as it is attempting to do through its proposal to transfer control of disability services over to the states and territories. All that carers have got from the Labor government is uncertainty. It refused to rule out cutting the carers bonus. Reluctantly, kicking and screaming, the Rudd government backed down under pressure from the coalition and from constituents. We are currently looking at a comprehensive policy that will cover all pension recipients and do it in such a way that the most vulnerable in our society, including carers and people with disability, are assisted.

The rationale for our current bill, however, is that there is, as Senator Evans quite rightly points out, a lot of different rates and benefits. I am very pleased to see this, but age pensioners are not eligible for some of the extra benefits that disability support pensioners receive for their particular circumstances. That does, of course, make them particularly vulnerable because they do not get some of the extra benefits, say, that a single at-home under-18-year-old gets if they have a disability—$295.10 a fortnight. A single independent under 18 gets $456 per fortnight. A single at home aged 18 to 20 gets a different rate. A single independent aged 18 to 20 gets a different rate again. None of these is applicable to the age pension. A member of a couple gets $456 per fortnight, but that is not applicable to the age pension. A member of a couple with disabilities gets a different benefit not applicable to the age pension.

So there are different benefits that are available to different pension recipients. That is in no way to say that, across the board, pension recipients do not need some urgent attention, but the rationale for this bill is very clear. It has been thought through. It is anything other than policy on the run. The coalition is deadly serious that this is a group of people who need help. They need it now, and the Labor government should get on with it and deliver it.