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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 160

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (21:00): I rise today to call upon the government to provide certainty to pensioners in South Australia and reverse their decision to axe funding that provides relief for concession card holders. I am extremely concerned about the impact that this cut will have on concession card holders in southern Adelaide. In last year's horror budget the federal government axed the National Partnership Agreement on Certain Concessions for Pensioner Concession Card and Seniors Card Holders. We are now seeing the impact of this decision on the ground, with the Local Government Association of South Australia reporting that, without ongoing funding, the councils of South Australia will no longer provide concessions on council rates.

As a direct result of the federal government's cuts concession card holders in South Australia will lose up to $190 of their concessions on council rates from July this year. The amount our state of South Australia receives from this agreement is almost equal to the cost of providing relief for concession card holders on council rates. The funding that the Liberal government withdrew from South Australia was approximately $30 million per year, which equalled $123.2 million over four years. There has been a lot of information going around about these cuts but the truth is that the federal government cut covered 96 per cent of the total cost of providing concessions on council rates.

This funding has been over the last many years provided annually by the federal government under a longstanding national agreement with state governments and was not due to expire until June 2016. Unfortunately, the Liberal government broke their agreement with state governments right around this country. This was a sneaky move because it did not need the Senate's approval. After the Liberal government announced this cut last year, the South Australian government funded councils for one additional year, with the hope that the federal Liberal government would see sense and reconsider its decision. Regrettably, this has not occurred.

When speaking with my local community, many people have told me that they are going to struggle to find money for this increase. Many are scared and do not know where they are going to find this extra money each year. My electorate office has also received over 1,000 calls, letters and emails from upset local residents who are extremely concerned about this cut and the impact it will have on them. When describing how she was going to find the extra money, Roslyn from O'Halloran Hill said:

All we can do is cut back on food and go without heating and cooling, when these things are a priority with our age and failing health.

Maria from Reynella said:

I just turned 70 and unable to work to make up any other money to pay the difference in the rates. Please be considerate of people like myself, I do not want to lose my home at this age, I know that I will not be able to pay the full rate price. Please help us.

Gloria from Old Noarlunga said:

I am an 82 year old pensioner and it will cause me real hardship to have my council concession rates cut and taken away. It is hard enough to cope with electricity and gas bills without the government taking the council concessions away. Have a heart.

Robert from Moana said:

Prior to the election, promises were made that pensioners would be no worse off. It is reprehensible that these promises are in the course of being broken.

I know that for many concession card holders every extra dollar counts and this modest concession relief went a long way for those in our local community who are already struggling with the increased cost of living.

My federal Labor colleagues and I, the local government association and the South Australian government have all called on the federal government to reverse this cut urgently. The Liberal government's decision to cut this funding is appalling. It was appalling when the budget was brought down and it is appalling now. It is an attack on those in our community who can least afford it. I will make sure we continue to campaign on this issue and continue to hold the Liberal government to account. There has been a lot of finger pointing and blame shifting. The fact is that the federal Liberal government broke a longstanding national funding agreement with the states, but it is now the pensioners who will pay the price. The government need to reconsider this cruel cut and honour their agreement to pensioners before their council rates go up on 1 July this year.