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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6166

Mr NEUMANN (8:23 PM) —I speak in support of the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Pension Reform and Other 2009 Budget Measures) Bill 2009. How we treat those with disability, our carers and our senior citizens—those who have gone before us and made this country what it is—says a lot about what we expect our country to become and of our aspirations for the future, not just for ourselves but for our children. If we neglect those who have gone before us—our senior citizens of 60 years of age and older—what does that say about us? What does it say about what we expect our society to be when we become senior citizens? We have 3.3 million age pensioners, disability pensioners, carers, wife pensioners and veteran income support recipients in Australia. They will benefit from these pension payments.

This reform package does improve the adequacy of the pension system and ensures its security and sustainability in the long term. We must have a system of social security in this country which is responsive to the requirements of individuals and families in our community and we must ensure its long-term sustainability. We cannot do that unless we make reforms. The reforms being undertaken here are long overdue and make the pension system in this country fairer and simpler. These reforms give certainty and security and are adequate in the circumstances. The reforms tackle the reality that we have an ageing population. In terms of longevity, only Japan surpasses us. The situation in this country is that, if we do not do something about our social security system in the long term, it cannot be sustained. What sort of social security system are we going to leave for those who come after us, our children and their children?

The age pension was first paid in 1909, so this year marks its centenary—and that is important. The age pension is the largest-spending Commonwealth own-purpose program. That is the reality. The federal government spends in excess of $28 billion per annum on the aged-care and other pensions. It is a big-ticket item in the budget; it is a very important item. Millions of Australians will be affected by these reforms.

The member for Hinkler always says interesting things. He comes from a truly beautiful part of Queensland—Hervey Bay is simply a wonderful place. I am always interested to hear what the member for Hinkler says. He has been here a long time; he is a man of some experience. His longevity in his seat shows that obviously he has been working hard in his electorate for a long time. But I have to pull him up on something. He said that the Howard coalition government made substantial changes to help pensioners. The truth is they did not. There was 12 years of neglect. The truth is that, for 12 years, the Liberals and Nationals knew that the single pension was simply inadequate, and yet they did nothing. They covered it up with these ad hoc payments from time to time to conceal the inadequacy of the basic pension. We know that the former member for Longman, Mal Brough, took to the Howard-Costello cabinet the notion to increase the basic pension in 2007. We know he took it to cabinet and we know they said no. Those ad hoc payments were made simply to cover up the inadequacy of the single age pension—that is the reality.

We know, of course, that the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey showed very clearly that the Howard coalition government failed in this area. Let us look at the report handed down today. Between 2001 and 2006 rates of income poverty were consistently highest among the elderly, particularly single person elderly households, and that one in three elderly people living alone spent all their years in poverty. This was 2001 to 2006. We were not in power then. The Howard-Costello government was in power. Twenty per cent of the persistently poor were over 65 years of age, compared with 11 per cent of the non-poor. Income mobility was considerably lower for elderly people than for non-elderly people, and mobility was more downward than upward. That is the reality. That is an independent survey in relation to this matter—it cannot be denied because that is the reality. A number of ad hoc payments were made to cover up the failure to lift the basic single rate of pension. That is the reality.

The member for Higgins, whom I wish well in his retirement, actually knew about this and, on 16 April 2002, he said: ‘The population is ageing and we have got to think about how we’re going to cope with that.’ The coalition were in power until November 2007 and what do they do about it? Zero, in fact. That is the reality. He said a number of times—

Debate interrupted.