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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2534

Medicare


Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:30): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. In relation to the government backflip on the Medicare levy, the Minister for Finance said:

What do people expect us to do, just to keep it on the books without any prospect to actually collect the money in practice? That just does not make sense.

Given the Turnbull government's plan to axe the energy supplement has no prospect of passing this parliament, will the Turnbull government now abandon its unfair attack on the two million Australians, including 400,000 age pensioners, who depend on the energy supplement?


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South WalesMinister for International Development and the Pacific) (14:31): I thank Senator Farrell for the question. The Turnbull government are committed to ensuring Australia's welfare system provides appropriate support to those in need while remaining sustainable for future generations. This measure is one that is very simple: we have repealed the carbon tax and so we are repealing the carbon tax compensation. It is simply not sustainable to continue to compensate people who have not yet even entered the welfare system for a tax that no longer exists.

Had the carbon tax not been repealed in 2014, it would have caused long-term increases in electricity prices. When the carbon tax was repealed on 1 July 2014, the Australian—

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Fierravanti-Wells; I've got Senator Farrell on a point of order.

Senator Farrell: Yes; thank you, Mr President. That's all very interesting, but this question was about the energy supplement and the government's intention to abolish it. Can you please direct the minister to answer the question?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Farrell, you know I can't direct the minister how to answer a question. Listening carefully to the answer, I interpret the minister is talking directly about the topic raised and is directly relevant to—Senator Wong?

Senator Wong: We asked about the backflip on the Medicare levy—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Do you have a point of order, or are you just—

Senator Wong: The point of order is on direct relevance. You really do have an issue, don't you?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order around the chamber! Senator Wong, please address your comments to me.

Senator Jacinta Collins: And he's getting worse!

Senator Wong: Seriously!

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, please direct your comments to me.

Senator Wong: I'm looking at you; I would much rather look at you.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald! I have asked Senator Wong—the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate does have the right to raise another point of order, and I'm giving her that—

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, I'm asking Senator Wong to address her comments to me.

Senator Wong: If you would like me to rephrase the point, I'd ask you, if you are able, after question time to come back to the opposition on how it is that an answer about the carbon tax is directly relevant to a question about keeping a measure on the books in the context of the Medicare levy?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, I'm happy to come back. I took notes on the question and that the final part of it referred to the maintenance of the energy supplement. I took Senator Fierravanti-Wells to be directly talking about that in her answer. If I'm incorrect, I will come back to the chamber, but I've interpreted—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Can I rule before the interjections start again? Senator Fierravanti-Wells was talking about a payment and the reason for its placement, removal and maintenance in all those scenarios, and I rule it as directly relevant even if it's not in the terms that the questioner would ask.

Senator Wong interjecting

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It doesn't surprise me to hear that interjection; you don't even know what your position is on this measure. Let me take you back: in their 2016 election document, the Labor Party published a list of 30 measures that they would reverse in government. It's a detailed list, but there's not one mention of reversing the decision by the government to end the carbon tax compensation of the energy supplement. After the election, the Leader of the Opposition confirmed that this document would be their consistent position. Which is it? The member for Jagajaga says they're against it. The member for Maribyrnong says they're going to bank it and spend it. Only in the minds of the opposition could you have both. Meanwhile, the shadow Treasurer is sitting there wondering if he has a $1 billion hole in his books. Therefore, as I have said, had the carbon tax not been repealed in 2014, it would have caused long-term increases in electricity prices. When the carbon tax was repealed on 1 July 2014, the Australian— (Time expired)

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator Wong interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald and Senator Wong, I didn't hear who that was but I don't think it was the person referred to. Senator Farrell, a supplementary question?




















Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:35): Yes, I do have one. Given the Minister for Finance's statement, does the Turnbull government intend to give up on its plan to force Australians to work until they're 70 by making Australia's pension age older than it is in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand?


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South WalesMinister for International Development and the Pacific) (14:36): Thank you, Senator Farrell, for that. When the age pension was introduced, the average male life expectancy was 55 years. To ensure the pension is sustainable, the government supported the move, under Labor, to a higher pension age of 67 in 2009. While not yet legislated, increasing the age pension qualification age to 70 by 2035 remains government policy.

Labor's measure was, and is, to increase the pension age to 67 by 2023. It's laughable that those opposite, who extended the pension age, because it was responsible reform, now do not want to keep the pension sustainable. You were the ones who put this in legislation. We supported you, so don't hypocritically come in here and ask the sort of stupid, silly question you just asked.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left and right. Senator Farrell, a final supplementary question?



Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:37): I do have one and it's not silly or stupid. How is it fair to force Australians to work until they're 70 and to cut $365 a year from single age pensions, and $550 a year from couples, while handing out $80 billion to big business?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: I remind senators to maintain silence during questions so I can hear them.



Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South WalesMinister for International Development and the Pacific) (14:37): Since the coalition came to government in 2013, pensions have increased by more than $99 per fortnight for singles and by more than $149 per fortnight for couples, and pensions will continue to rise twice a year. The age pension is paid at the highest fortnightly rate of income support and has the most generous indexation arrangements in Australia's social security system.

In 2015, the government made a decision to rebalance the age pension asset test to make the system better targeted and more sustainable. The asset test thresholds were also raised, making it more generous for people with modest levels of assets. Ninety per cent of pensioners are better off or have no change in their pensions under these measures. And you banked those savings at the 2016— (Time expired)