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Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Page: 5501


Senator XENOPHON (2:46 PM) —I direct my question to Senator Evans, the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing. In light of the difficulties faced by people living on the age pension, as well as calls for the pension to be raised by $30 a week, does the minister agree that the provision of concession cards for seniors could help ease the burden? Further, can the minister confirm that a South Australian pensioner who decides to visit their grandchildren interstate will pay the full cost for public transport and other services interstate? Can the minister confirm that a seniors card holder living in Albury will not have their seniors card entitlements recognised if they cross the river to Wodonga? Does the government support Australia-wide uniform conditions and benefits for seniors concession cards?


The PRESIDENT —The Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing on this occasion is Senator Evans.


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —Thank you, Mr President. I am actually not. The question was correctly directed to me but in the wrong capacity. I am representing the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, who is responsible for the area. I appreciate the question. I think it is fair to say that the issues raised by Senator Xenophon are a focus for the government. As he knows, in the budget we concentrated on the helping seniors make ends meet package.

One of the things we have been very keen to do is to try and extend the concessions that are available and try and regularise those. As senators would be aware, the federal government already issues to all pensioners—those on age pension, carer payment, disability support pension and others—a pensioner concession card. This entitles them to a range of benefits, concessions and allowances. Self-funded retirees who exceed the eligible income level have access to the Commonwealth seniors health card. That card also has a range of benefits, including the seniors concession allowance and pharmaceutical concessions.

As the senator indicated, there are other seniors cards issued by various state and territory governments to their residents which have a whole range of different concessions and variations to the rules around them. I know it has been of concern to many seniors that those concessions are not consistent and also that those concessions are not transferable. We are working with state and territory governments to introduce national reciprocal transport concessions, and that is the major focus at the moment. I know former Senator Patterson attempted to do this in her period as Minister for Family and Community Services.

In this year’s budget we did allocate $50 million over four years to allow the provision of reciprocal public transport concessions to holders of seniors cards issued by those various state governments. Currently, there are only limited reciprocal arrangements in place to allow seniors card holders to receive concessions on public transport services when they travel interstate. We understand the frustration older Australians have about the lack of transferability and the fact that those entitlements stop at state borders. When they visit interstate relatives or go on holiday, they are denied those benefits.

So it is a focus for us. We are working with the state and territory governments to try to have those concessions in place for all seniors card holders by 1 January 2009. That work is ongoing. I know there has been bipartisanship across the chamber on this endeavour for some time but without much luck, I have to say. As I said, this government has committed $500 million over four years to try and drive the achievement of that objective, which I think is supported by everyone. It is currently a focus for us, with the focus on the public transport area, but there is work going on with state and territory governments and we have allocated in this year’s budget funds to help make it happen.