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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5764

Senator BERNARDI (3:12 PM) —It is extraordinary to listen to what Senator Arbib has to say. I preface my comments today by saying that this is a man who is touting himself as a future cabinet minister. I fear for the future of the Rudd government if this is the talent that is going to be in the cabinet. Senator Arbib has said today that, because the coalition bill only seeks to redress disadvantage for age pensioners and only seeks to redress disadvantage for veterans, that is not good enough and so nothing should be done. If you cannot have all of the cake, according to Senator Arbib, you should have none. That is simply arrant nonsense, and it is from a contemptuous government.

This is a government without a heart. It is a government that is hopelessly out of touch with the needs of the people of Australia. The government is prepared to ignore the plight of the Australian senior. It is prepared to ignore the plight of the veterans who are struggling to make ends meet. It is prepared to ignore the very real demands that they have to be able to heat their homes, to put food on the table, to access their local community clubs and to volunteer in the community. They need funds to do that. Some people are doing it really tough. This is a government that admits that people cannot afford to live on the age pension—no-one in the government has been prepared to admit that they can—but still the government does nothing.

Where are their priorities? That is the question, because whilst Australians are suffering and doing it very tough, Senator Arbib, your leadership is flying overseas trying to create moral crises and is seeking audiences with people about climate change in moves that are going to put up the price of electricity in this country by 40 per cent—and they are still out there doing that. One leader talks at press conferences about how he has dialled all the leaders of countries all over the world. None of them ring him because they know he is quite insignificant, but he rings them all trying to say, ‘Look, I’m star-struck’, like a schoolgirl at a Miley Cyrus concert. I would say to you, Senator Arbib, not to look at Miley Cyrus but to look at Billy Ray Cyrus and the words that he penned—‘don’t break my heart, my achey-breakey heart’—because I tell you now that Australian pensioners’ hearts are broken. They have been broken by this government because you have promised so much and delivered so little. This is where the coalition has to pick up the mantle. We have drafted a bill which we have brought into this place, and it has got through here because people have supported it. The only people who do not support it and the only people who do not want to see some changes for pensioners leading to benefits are on the other side of the chamber, members of the Labor Party.

Senator Arbib comes in here with his canned notes—and he has been sent in here because he wants to be a cabinet minister—and he says, ‘Oh, look, we can’t do anything. We’ve only got a surplus of $23 billion and we’re not going to do anything until we get the reports.’ Let me tell you this, Mr Deputy President: if you give pensioners a $30 a week pension rise, that will help them to buy more. That will help to stimulate the Australian economy and that will help to grow our economy in a very difficult financial time. But what does the government do?

Senator Arbib interjecting—

Senator BERNARDI —It is still in denial about it all. It is a tragedy, one that is happening in our own backyard. It is a tragedy that this government is more focused on things such as spin, is more focused on its own media profile and is more focused on its members climbing the greasy pole to get into cabinet rather than helping pensioners through a crisis. Senator Arbib was just talking about a crisis; I heard him interject to that effect. There is a crisis at home. Yes, there is an economic crisis—we know that—but there is also a human crisis that is taking place under the noses of this very government, and there are none so blind as those who do not want to see.

Those opposite do not want to see. They admit it and then they wash their hands of it; they do the Pontius Pilate—‘No, it’s not our fault. We’re not going to have anything to do with it. It’s due to 12 years of inaction.’ That is arrant nonsense too, because for 12 years our coalition government did everything we possibly could and so pensions are markedly higher. We took a policy to the last election for pensions to better reflect the cost of living but unfortunately we were not able to enact that. But this government is full of inaction. It has not even got a policy to lighten the load of pensioners so as to see them do better. That is the tragedy of it. We have had enough talk, spin, symposiums, orchestrated media releases and things. We actually want to see some action for those in society that are really doing it tough. So it is very hard for me to sit here and listen to what the people on the other side have to say when they say, ‘Oh, we’re not going to do anything till next year.’ Next year will be too late. Pensioners need some help now. The government should get on with the job.