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Wednesday, 2 September 2020
Page: 6463

Ms BURNEY (Barton) (10:38): In the electorate of Barton, there are many pensioners. For the first time in a quarter of a century, the pension will not increase this month. It has been frozen by the government. This will hurt 2.5 million pensioners in Australia, 290,000 people on carer payment and 750,000 people on the disability support pension. Indexation might not seem a lot to many people—in March it was equal to about $10 a fortnight—but it makes a real difference to pensioners. It is a difference between being able to go out for dinner or for afternoon tea or not, being able to afford fresh fruit and vegetables or not. Pensioners plan their budgets on the basis that they get two mandated increases each year in March and September.

This is the worst possible time to be putting the squeeze on household budgets of seniors and the most vulnerable. Scott Morrison needs to explain why he is allowing pensions to stagnate in the middle of a coronavirus epidemic. Pensioners have been facing rising health, dental, energy and grocery bills for years, and now they are set to go a full year without the payment being indexed. The cost of fruit and vegetables has gone up by more than five per cent in the last six months, and the average GP out-of-pocket costs alone have gone up by $11 under this government.

With interest rates at record lows, pensioners with modest savings are facing a double whammy. The government has set the upper deeming rate at 2.5 per cent, and the cash rate is just one-tenth of this at 0.25 per cent. It is very hard for pensioners to get secure returns on their modest savings, and this is putting more pressure on pensioners' budgets. And the Pension Loans Scheme's interest rate is still 4.5 per cent. Pensioners deserve a clear explanation from the government about how on earth it is fair to be charging an interest rate that high in the current climate. It is now time for the government to release its much-hyped retirement incomes review. The delay raises another question: what other nasty surprises does the Prime Minister have up his sleeve for pensioners?

The coronavirus crisis has hit pensioners very hard. For many there are extra costs of grocery delivery, transport and poor health. This is not the time for indexation to be frozen. This is not the time for the pension to be frozen. And, in particular, with the virus ravaging older people, this is not the time for a freeze on pensions.