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Thursday, 24 May 2001
Page: 24333

Senator MURPHY (3:26 PM) —What a very interesting expose from Senator Brandis and his colleague Senator Knowles. They seem to be overly concerned about why we are alleging that the government is mean and tricky in its payment of $300 to pensioners. We are not the only ones who seem to think that. Listen to what one particular pensioner has to say:

The budget decisions targeting older Australians have vindicated the Australian Pensioners and Superannuants view that the GST compensation was inadequate and that the living standards of retirees had been undermined.

But the government has shown that it still isn't listening to Australia's poorest retirees, because like any policy announcement, the devil is in the detail—

That is very true. She continues:

The Government, as expected, has delivered a bag full of goodies for self-funded retirees. However, it would be a mistake to think that all self-funded retirees are big winners: 110,000 self-funded retirees under pension age will miss out on the budget benefits, just as they missed out on savings compensation when the GST was introduced.

This one-off $300 will go nowhere near meeting the drain on incomes caused by policies like the GST. This bonus won't help pensioners who consistently find they have nothing left a few days before the next pension payday.

By ignoring calls for a restoration of the two percent GST `pension advance', the Government has missed the opportunity, however small, to provide a permanent benefit to all pensioners.

The Government seems simply out of touch with the everyday realities of ordinary people's lives: the nursing homes fiasco, the GST on Caravan Park rents, the Commonwealth Dental Health program and constant undermining of the Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme.

The Government risks further voter backlash because of its approach towards older unemployed and the scrapping of the Mature Age Allowance. The harsh Centrelink breaches, which affect six per cent of those aged over 50 on Newstart, will be applied to more and more older people.

This is hardly a move consistent with a Government claiming to be listening to the electorate and being compassionate.

Unfortunately, this is a budget from a Government without a vision for the future. It is a case of too little, too late.

That was Norah McGuire, vice-president of the Australian Pensioners and Superannuants Federation.

The reason the opposition raises the question is that of course we support the fact that the government is going to give older Australians $300. Why wouldn't you? You have hit them with a GST that has cost them so much extra on everything: food went up 6.6 per cent; health went up 3.9 per cent; pharmaceuticals went up 9.3 per cent. Senator Evans and Senator Gibbs raised the question about people on disability pensions. Why wouldn't you give them some extra money, because they confront the same sort of costs? That is why we have to be somewhat cynical about this $300.

It seems, taking Senator Knowles words to be accurate, that we are going to give this to these older Australians because they built this nation. So all that effort is worth only $300? It has to be a cynical exercise. What is it for? If it is for compensation, it ought to be applicable to all pensioners because they all confront the same sort of costs. Why are Norah McGuire and the other pensioners very mistrustful of this government? They have very good reason to be mistrustful because Prime Minister Howard and this government promised them a special yearly tax rebate on savings of up to $400. What happened to that? It was scrapped. That was followed closely by the $1,000 promise for all pensioners. Who got it?

Senator Calvert —Never was.

Senator MURPHY —I suggest, Senator Calvert, that you go back and read the Prime Minister's words. A huge percentage of people received very little and over 40 per cent got nothing at all. Only a very small percentage got the $1,000. This is a government that ripped $750 million out of the concessions for pensioners and retirees. Free dental was axed. Free hearing aids were stopped. The whole process you have embarked upon since you have been in government is a mirror and smokescreen job. That is what you have been pulling on pensioners. That is why they do not trust you. Of course they have got to be cynical. This government ought to have done the right thing. If you were about being compassionate, you ought to have given this to all pensioners. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.