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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2320

Senator PATTERSON (4.28 p.m.) —Senator Lees this afternoon and also in her speech in the second reading debate said that the first mention of this concept of increasing the pension age for women was first mooted before the last election in the coalition's Fightback document. That is actually totally wrong. It is right that this concept was mentioned and talked about. In fact, we were very right in telling the Australian public that that is what we intended to do. We were up-front and told people that we were going to increase the pension age for women. We were honest. We did not win on the basis of that honesty, but at least I can lie straight in bed at night in knowing that we told the Australian public what we intended to do.

  This government in fact hid its intention. It not only promised things but failed to tell people what it was going to do. One of the things it was going to do was increase the pension age for women. That is where this government has fallen down. That is the area in which we take issue with this government: that it hoodwinked the Australian public, in particular Australian women. The government failed to tell them beforehand. That is an incredible situation. The government should be held accountable for that.

  Given that and the fact that we were planning to increase the pension age for women, we are not of a mind to support the Democrats' request that their amendments be agreed to. First of all, I refer to their first amendment, which seeks to lower the pension age for men. Because they have this problem that they have to come up with the concept of equality between men and women, one way around it is to lower the pension age for men.

  Senator Lees interjecting

Senator PATTERSON —I did not hear what Senator Lees said, but her argument is aimed at lowering the pension age. I thought that I would ask the Department of Social Security how much that would cost the Australian public. The answer I received was that if we were to lower the pension age for men to 60 years in 1994-95 it would cost $540 million; in 1995-96, $605 million; in 1996-97 it would cost $635 million; and in 1997-98, $670 million. I do not see that as the most sensible way in which to use taxpayers' money to solve the problem posed by Senator Lees. The coalition is not of a mind to support that proposal

  When Senator Lees pointed out that this was the first time this idea had been mooted, I said she was wrong. In 1985 the New South Wales Equal Opportunity Tribunal ruled against the enforcement by employers of different retirement ages for men and women by employers. In 1986 a report by the Human Rights Commission supported a uniform qualifying pension age for men and women. In 1988 a committee of this Senate, the Standing Committee on Community Affairs, tabled a report entitled, Income Support for the Retired and Aged: Agenda for Reform. The report recommended:

The age of eligibility for the age pension for women be increased from 60 to 65 years, thereby establishing a common age of pension entitlement for both men and women and that this change be phased in over a period of five years.

Members on both sides of the House expressed some concern at such a proposition. Certainly the suggestion has not just suddenly popped out of Fightback, but has been around for some time and has been debated.

  I am also concerned that, with the difference in pension ages between men and women as more and more women move into the work force, it is possible that retirement ages could be linked with pension eligibility in the workplace. If there is downsizing in an organisation, somebody who is very clever could manoeuvre the situation so that the woman loses her job, with the excuse that she could get the pension, with the male being kept on because he has not reached pensionable age. That is a problem and one reason why it is not a good idea to have a different retirement age as between males and females. I can see why it is suggested that the retirement age for men should be reduced to 60. However, I think that is not tenable or affordable.

  The second request from the Democrats is that, if the first request is lost, there should be a delay in the start-up date by 10 years beginning in the year 2004. I regard that as not a sensible suggestion and I agree with Senator Crowley on that score. I believe that a 20-year lead time is extraordinary in terms of government policy and planning. The third request extends the phase-in period to 40 years. Well, I believe that is not acceptable and the coalition will not support that request. Indeed, we will not be supporting any of the requests in this area because we believe a 20-year phase-in period is adequate.

  We ask the government to monitor the phasing-in period, especially for those women who would otherwise have qualified for an age pension but who find themselves unemployed. We do not wish to see them disadvantaged as a result of this change. We believe they should be eligible for some alternative form of income support, such as partner allowance or widow's allowance. If the conditions that brought about the introduction of the mature age allowance persist—that is, the massive unemployment that has occurred as a result of the recession we had to have as a result of Mr Keating's policies—and if the unemployment level is maintained, we believe that a mature age allowance or similar safety net be considered. In other words, there should be a safety net to cover that interim period in the case of people who at 60 or 60 1/2 suddenly find themselves unemployed.

  Given that the government will give an assurance that there will be close monitoring of the transition phase, the coalition will be supporting the government amendment rather than the Democrats' requests.