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Tuesday, 19 June 2001
Page: 27866

Mr SWAN (2:59 PM) —My question without notice is directed to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, will you confirm that your Minister for Family and Community Services has written directly to older Australians about the $300 payment without actually telling them that age limits apply? Will you also confirm that many of these letters have been sent wrongly to some mature age allowance recipients under age pension age, including this one to Mr John Gill of Bendigo? Prime Minister, how much of taxpayers' money has been wasted in the process? Prime Minister, is your excuse for spending over $4 million advertising these changes that your minister cannot get a simple mail-out correct?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I will investigate what has been said by the member for Lilley. I am quite certain, though, that the minister to whom he refers, who I think is doing an absolutely remarkable job in her portfolio—

Mr Reith —First class. Run through the ministry!

Mr HOWARD —Indeed, like all of my ministers. I would have thought, without having looked at the letter, that the minister probably would have been observing the following injunction. And I think it is quite a sound injunction and perhaps, with the patience of the House—it will not take long—I should read it out:

The government stresses that all Australians have equal rights of access to information about programs, policies and activities which affect their benefits, rights and obligations. The government therefore expects all departments, agencies and authorities to carry out their public information programs based on the principles which guide all of the government's relations with the community: fairness and equity.

I do not think anybody in this House would argue with that; that seems a very sound principle. It goes on:

All departments are required to conduct their public information programs at a level appropriate to their impact on the community, particularly where they concern the individual's benefits, rights and obligations.

That is a full statement of the February 1995 MCGC guideline that was issued by the previous government. I am quite certain that the minister has been acting in the spirit of that guideline, which has been adopted and followed by this government.

We are very proud of the changes that were introduced in the last budget to help older Australians. They are changes that have been widely welcomed in the community, but to have the full benefit of those changes people have got to know they exist. As I indicated yesterday and again on radio this morning, when we extended the Commonwealth seniors card, despite all of the publicity that was given at the time, we discovered that something in the order of more than 200,000 older Australians—according to the department advice—who were entitled to get that card had not applied for it. I would have thought that the member for Lilley and the Leader of the Opposition and all of those other warm-hearted characters on the other side would be interested in older Australians getting their full entitlement.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Lilley!

Mr HOWARD —I cannot understand how on earth the member for Lilley can attack the government for wanting to tell pension age Australians what their entitlements are. I find that an absolutely extraordinary proposition. I can only say again that this government makes no apology for telling people what their entitlements are. The member for Lilley talks about looting the Treasury. He sounds as though he has been to a meeting of the board of directors of Centenary House.

Mr Swan —Mr Speaker, I seek leave to table the letter from Senator Vanstone to Mr Gill.

Leave granted.