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Thursday, 21 June 2018
Page: 6049

Mrs ELLIOT (Richmond) (16:50): Almost a quarter of people living in my electorate of Richmond are aged 65 years and over. Seniors are such an integral and vibrant part of our community, but they are being neglected by this government, a government with the wrong priorities. This government's priority is the $80 billion in tax cuts for big business, including the $17 billion handout to the banks. Yet, for our seniors and pensioners, what do they get? They get cuts and fewer services. Local seniors are always telling me they're under pressure with the increasing costs of living, rising healthcare costs, the Turnbull government's cuts to pensions and the lack of available home care packages. Seniors in my electorate of Richmond and indeed right across the nation are hurting as a direct result of this government's cruel actions. They're telling me that the government doesn't understand the financial pressures they're under and that the Prime Minister is out of touch. They tell me the government doesn't care and is not supporting them.

Last week I was fortunate enough to welcome the shadow minister for families and social services, the member for Jagajaga, to my electorate of Richmond on the New South Wales North Coast for a seniors' forum so she could hear firsthand about the concerns of local seniors. I'd like to thank the more than 100 local seniors and pensioners who came along to the forum at the Salvation Army community centre in Banora Point to make their voices heard. I'd like to outline some of the concerns they raised at the forum.

First of all was the government's cuts to the energy supplement. We know the government has legislation before the parliament to axe the energy supplement. That would mean a cut of $14.10 per fortnight to single pensioners, or around $365 a year. Couple pensioners would be $21.20 a fortnight or around $550 a year worse off. It would be a straight-out cut to around 24,000 aged pensioners in my electorate of Richmond. Here they are struggling day to day, and they're having these other cuts as well. Instead of supporting our seniors, instead of helping them, the government's response is to axe these energy supplements when these poor seniors are facing rising electricity prices as well.

We also know there have been changes to the pension asset test. We know the Liberals and Nationals did a deal with the Greens to change the pension asset test, leaving 2,600 local pensioners in my electorate of Richmond worse off. Because of these actions, 1,840 pensioners in Richmond had their pension cut and around 760 pensioners lost their pension entirely, so that certainly did have a major impact upon them. Many people have concerns about the government raising the pension age to 70. That will mean, with ordinary people working until they're 70, that Australia will have an older pension age than the USA, the UK, Canada or New Zealand. It is a very clear example of the application of differences in ideology. Labor understands workers and understands hard work. It shows this government doesn't understand hard work, because they're expecting people in my electorate—the local farmers, tradies and nurses—to work until they're 70. It's quite unfair. In contrast to that, Labor have made it clear we won't raise the pension age to 70. It is a ridiculous proposal.

Another big issue that comes up a lot in my electorate and that came up at the seniors forum was the lack of home care packages. Many seniors are telling me they're often waiting a very long time to access the packages. They may have been assessed and deemed eligible, but they then just have to wait. We know more than 100,000 older Australians are waiting for a home care package. That's because the Abbott and Turnbull governments have slashed aged-care funding over the past five years. In fact, with more than 100,000 people on the waiting list, this short-sighted government only found funding for an additional 3,500 places. It doesn't keep up with that massive demand. The waiting list grew by 20,000 in six months of 2017 alone. There are many calls to have a much greater investment when it comes to home care packages.

Another thing, shamefully, we hear about all the time is that age pensioners and carers are now also waiting much longer to have their payments assessed by Centrelink. I hear this regularly. Processing times for pension allocations in 2016-17 were an average of 36 days. Since then, in 2017-18, in the period until March, it's blown out to 49 days. I'm constantly hearing people saying they applied for the age pension and can't get it. We have also seen this government deliver massive job cuts right throughout Centrelink as well, which, apart from the harsh reality of the job cuts, makes it a lot more difficult for assessments to take place, so people are languishing, waiting for their age pensions to be properly assessed. Seniors are telling me constantly that this government is out of touch, that it has gone too far, that the Prime Minister and the government don't understand the pressures seniors are under.

In contrast to all of that, Labor is listening. We understand how important our seniors are. They built this nation. They deserve so much better than what they're getting from this government. All they're getting is endless cuts: cuts to services and cuts to payments. It's about the government having the wrong priorities. Their priorities are the $80 billion in tax cuts for big business. Our priority is providing for our seniors and providing those services. I think that our seniors deserve so much better. The fact is that seniors will always be better off under Labor, because we understand how important our seniors are. We understand the fact that they built our nation.