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Thursday, 24 May 2001
Page: 24330

Senator KNOWLES (3:11 PM) —Isn't it interesting to see the opposition come in here today and talk about mean and tricky governments? Let us talk about dishonest and deceitful oppositions, because that is what all this is about. Today we are debating the question: why is a one-off payment being made only to people over age pension age? Let us talk about what that opposition did in 13 years of government for people of age pension age and for people on disabilities. Senator Evans is just walking away from this debate, as Labor did from their policies in 13 years of government.

In 13 years of government, the Labor government increased pensions only according to the CPI and retrospectively. This government increased pensions four per cent in advance of the new tax system and has kept pensions two per cent ahead of any CPI increases—not retrospectively. So it will be very interesting to see what happens tonight in Mr Beazley's huff and puff over in the other chamber. It will be fascinating to see whether or not he is going to extend these payments. Labor did not do it in 13 years in government and they have never ever suggested from opposition that they would be able to fund it.

We are talking about whether this payment should be made across the board. This payment has been made in recognition of the major contribution of older Australians, and other measures will help all pensioners keep pace with changes in prices and wages. Did the Labor Party make those changes to pay for CPI indexation up front? No. Did they look at making sure there was a parallel with average weekly earnings? No, they did not. It has taken a coalition government to do that. There is also the relaxation of the pension income test, bonuses and tax cuts. Did Labor do any of that in 13 years of government? No.

The Labor Party had the taxable threshold for pensioners at just under $6,000. It is now $20,000. Did it take a coalition government to do it? Yes, it did. This dishonest and deceitful opposition kept that tax threshold down low. People on other income support have benefits through welfare reform as well as indexation. We are talking about disability support pensioners below age pension age receiving a non-taxable payment—the age pension is taxable. Senator Evans did not mention any of that. It will be interesting to see whether any of the subsequent opposition speakers are honest enough to mention that simple fact.

The people on the DSP, and single people on parenting payments, are already receiving more money than other people of workforce age—recognition of the barriers they face in supporting themselves. They receive the pharmaceutical allowance, the telephone allowance and a pensioner concession card. Did the opposition when they were in government for 13 years extend those benefits to pensioners, self-funded retirees and the older community? No, they did not. They firmly believe, for example, that self-funded retirees are never going to vote for them—`So why should we do anything for them? We'll squash them right down. We'll make sure that they have a taxable threshold of $5,700 instead of $20,000.' That was their concern for self-funded retirees: absolutely nought—and they increased that tax free threshold so a single person of age pension age had an effective tax free threshold of $20,000 per year.

Senator Gibbs —That is why they have been bagging you lot for the last five years.

Senator KNOWLES —It is interesting that Senator Gibbs over there flaps her gums. I would not have a clue what she is saying, but there she goes prattling off. I want to hear substance, and I want to hear it either from Senator Gibbs or from Mr Beazley if he has the courage tonight, but—no ticker, no start—we do not expect to hear anything. Let us talk about what the opposition would do if they were ever lucky enough to get into government in this country.

Senator Hill —We should get the alternative budget, you know.

Senator KNOWLES —It should be the alternative budget. It is supposedly the last budget before an election. Where is Mr Beazley going to fund this? Let us talk about how you would fund any extra increases, where you would be cutting taxes or where you would be increasing taxes. Senator Conroy has told schoolchildren today that increasing taxes are on the cards if a Labor government comes in. So you have a choice: either increase taxes or increase the rate of the GST if rollback is going to be a viable option. Let us have a look at the colour of your eyes and let us not waffle any longer. (Time expired)