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Monday, 9 September 2019
Page: 2185

Mr CONROY (Shortland) (17:18): I welcome this private member's motion around support for pensioners from the member for Mayo, a most excellent member. I want to talk specifically about deeming rates, because, by keeping the deeming rate so high, this government is effectively stealing from pensioners. A high deeming rate is effectively a cut to the pension. And while the government has reduced deeming rates for the first time since 2015, it has not adequately responded to changes in the cash rate. So part-pensioners who've saved all their lives and have invested their savings to allow them some little bit of comfort in retirement are being robbed by this government.

There is no doubt that older Australians are feeling the pinch—members are hearing about it all over Australia—but it particularly resonates in a seat such as mine, Shortland, where one in five people are aged over 65. They have written to me, phoned me and bailed me up at mobile offices and events out in the community to tell me how they're not managing to keep up with the cost of living. They say, 'You tell me which bank will give me anywhere near the interest rate that the government says I'm getting.' I can't tell them. In fact, I've written to the Treasurer asking to nominate a bank offering deposit rates equivalent to the deeming rate and he's failed to respond. The truth is no bank will.

Of course, those on the other side will say that there are other ways to invest to gain a greater return. We all know that part-pensioners cannot be risky with their savings. They cannot take the chance that they will end up losing it all, so the bank is their option. The bank is not paying anywhere near what the government deems it to be.

It's a cruel joke that is being played on older Australians, but it's not new. For years the Liberals and Nationals have short-changed pensioners with inflated deeming rates. The Reserve Bank cut interest rates five times between May 2015 and July 2019, with the cash rate now at a record low of just one per cent. But the Liberal-National government didn't announce a single change in the deeming rates during this time, setting them as high as 3.25 per cent. This meant many thousands of people were pushed onto a part-pension or received a lower rate of the pension. Although the government recently adjusted the deeming rate, it is still too little, too late. And deeming rates are still as high as three per cent. The Liberals and Nationals had to be dragged kicking and screaming to make even this small change to the deeming rates, with pension groups and Labor running a campaign to make them fairer.

The failure of the Liberals and Nationals to recognise the pressure on pensioners' budgets should not come as a surprise. After all, cutting the pension is in the Liberals DNA. Despite promising no cuts to the pension in 2013, this government's track record is the opposite. In 2014 the Liberals and Nationals tried to cut pension indexation—a cut that would have meant pensioners would have been forced to live on $80 a week less within 10 years. In the same 2014 budget the Liberals slashed $1 billion from pensioner concessions, a support designed to help pensioners with the cost of living. In 2015, as social services minister, Scott Morrison did a deal with the Greens political party to cut the pensions of around 370,000 pensioners by as much as $12,000 a year by changing the pension assets test. And in 2016 the Liberals tried to cut the pensions of around 190,000 pensioners as part of their plan to limit overseas travel for pensioners to six weeks. And for two years now the Liberals and Nationals have planned to scrap the energy supplement, cutting the age pensions of around 1.5 million pensioners. For four years the Liberals have also tried to raise the pension age to 70. And to add insult to injury, this government has cut and outsourced over 2½ thousand jobs from Centrelink. This has coincided with a blowout in waiting times for Centrelink calls and pension applications. It is now too hard to access the pension, with many people waiting many months for payments to come through.

Labor fought tooth and nail each and every one of these Liberal cuts to the pension. History shows that the current Prime Minister will cut the pension the next chance he gets. It doesn't matter who leads the Liberals or Nationals, cuts to the pension are in their DNA. Labor will continue to stand up for pensioners and hold the government to account on deeming rates. By holding the deeming rate so high, they are imposing a cut, by stealth, on part-pensioners. It is unacceptable. It stands in stark contrast to their professed love of pensioners and self-funded retirees at the last election. It is hypocrisy writ large by this Liberal-National government. I have been very active in opposing it. I have been very active on behalf of the one in five people in Shortland aged over 65 in saying that deeming rates must be reduced now.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Gillespie ): The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.